Is it who you know or what you know? LinkedIn is aiming to own the answer to both. Earlier this month, LinkedIn acquiried Lynda.com, the video elearning content producer, for $1.5bn. Why and what does it mean for how learning will happen in your business? Is it a game changer or more of the same? We look at some of the potential outcomes and do a reality check.
First off - why?
The why is straightforward. LinkedIn wants to connect every professional on earth. A related goal is making those professionals more productive. That means building their skills and increasing their potential for career advancement. Content is part of the answer. Acquiring Pulse and Slideshare were first steps into making LinkedIn a content channel for professionals - both producing and consuming business related content. Lynda.com is a serious double down on that intent.
Game-changer or just another option amongst many?
Time will tell, but here are 10 things that LinkedIn might like to see happen. There’s certainly some interesting potential, but there’s also a serious reality check to consider too.
1. Better connection between jobs, skills and learning?
Consider two routes to becoming a chemical engineer at, say, BP.
Look up profiles of Chemical Engineers at BP. See what they studied and where. Go to those schools and take those courses. Check back in a few years and see if it’s still relevant
Look up same profiles. See what they’re learning right now. Study that instead.
Route 2 is what Lynda.com could potentially enable. Companies can become a lot more specific about skills and competence they require from prospects for specific roles. BP could just say ‘want to be an engineer here? As a minimum complete all of these modules. We’re less bothered about where you went to school.’
The shift in ownership of the curriculum away from Higher Ed and towards employers is well underway. This move puts extra grease on the wheels. One of the Totara founding partners, City & Guilds Kineo uses the tagline ‘Connecting skills with jobs’ - this feels very well aligned with LinkedIn’s move.
This is a potential direction of travel, but it’s going to take a very long time for shift away from the model of formal qualifications and education for careers. Plus, of course access to video based content doesn’t just come from Lynda.com - there’s countless course libraries to choose from - LinkedIn can’t hope to be the gateway to them all. Plus, as any instructional design professional will attest, videos on their own has some limitations for learning outcomes.
2. A new platform for recruitment and talent management?
Extending the point above, BP could curate Lynda.com content into a sequence that upskills people in exactly the way they want - before they spend a dollar on recruiting them. It could also upload its own content, maybe doing a deal with Lynda.com to enable its re-use elsewhere, similar to MOOCs. It could then run its own recruitment programmes on LinkedIn. Interested candidates complete the learning via LinkedIn. Recruiters watch and review work, like talent scouts.
For a long time, elearning companies have talked about the benefits of using onboarding elearning as recruitment selection tool: ‘Do you think you could work here? Let’s see if you’ve got the skills’.
Context and alignment to the learning objectives are key elements of achieving successful learning outcomes. So while there’s undoubted benefit from generic content libraries organisations still value custom learning and design for their needs - as well as controlling access. Relying on a third party platform and generic content for recruitment and talent pipeline development won’t ever be the whole answer.
3. LinkedIn MOOC and alumni network?
While we’re on it - designing a MOOC and running it on LinkedIn? That seems like a logical extension from this move. That helps with stickiness and ad impressions on LinkedIn. So there’s a business driver. But it also helps with the goal of creating new networking opportunities. Want to connect with person X? Then enrol in the same course as them via LinkedIn. A whole LinkedIn Alumni network could emerge. Why not graduate from college AND LinkedIn?
Again, possible, the tools are there. But is the will? Does LinkedIn really want to become an L&D player in this way? Seems a distraction from the core recruitment focus. Probably too early to say if this is part of the intention, we need to see what happens next as the acquisition moves through.
4. A new marketplace for elearning content?
To remove the friction between what employers want and what skills employees have, you need a platform AND a lot of very precisely designed content that align to specific competencies. Lynda.com has a lot of content. But nowhere near enough to satisfy the needs of all employers. So more content will be needed. If the eyeballs for content are in LinkedIn looking at Lynda.com content, the likes of Skillsoft and others will want to be there too. Does that make it likely that LinkedIn becomes a new marketplace for off the shelf elearning content?
This is already possible. Any provider can link to their content from LinkedIn, or use targeted ads reach an audience. Would they try and control it? It’d be a weird world if the only piece of elearning that LinkedIn allowed or endorsed was from Lynda.com. Though you can expect Lynda.com content to be more prominent in LinkedIn, others will be there too.
Will LinkedIn want to curate, quality control, or manage this marketplace in some way? It doesn’t seem core to their intentions and why are aggregators even necessary in a more semantic web?
5. More control for learners?
If this all plays out, staying inside your LMS for your window on elearning content will be like being staunchly loyal to one terrestrial TV channel’s scheduled programming, while everyone else moves to Netflix and uses recommendations.
If your colleagues are updating their profiles and sending you learning content recommendations based on LinkedIn learning content, that’s a far more social, direct channel than being directed to specific content based on your L&D team’s ideas of what you need.
This more learner-centred view of the world is nothing new. Of course, with more open LMSs users can curate their own content from a multitude of sources, and recommend / share it. That’s social learning in action. . And the LMS provides a lot more functionality than just access to content.
6. L&D teams could become producers and resellers?
Internal L&D teams could curate in-house content and get it onto LinkedIn as part of feeding the ecosystem as resellers into a marketplace. Some do this already by reselling their e-learning white labelled to other companies. Is this a chance to scale that potential?
Does it make any difference? There’s already great courseware marketplaces - see www.opensesame.com. It’s too early to talk about L&D’s role changing much in light of this announcement as some have done - after all Lynda existed prior to being acquired. Yes, it creates an opportunity because that content will get more traffic. Great L&D teams will see what’s working on LinkedIn and be agile enough to bring that content into their organisations as they currently do with all sorts of pre-made content already. - whether they do that via the LMS or just by becoming influencers on LinkedIn, we’ll see.
For now we expect they’ll continue to need their own platforms for engaging with both external generic content and internal specific, or custom content. There’s a reason Lynda.com isn’t the go-to for corporates - contextualisation can provide a disproportionate value to learning outcomes so curating and custom content remains essential in many situations.
7. The LMS becomes more invisible?
If your content, your learners and their activity lives increasingly on LinkedIn, Does LinkedIn potentially become your LMS?
This question really isn’t just about LinkedIn and Lynda.com. If your content, your learners and their activity lives increasingly on the web, does the web become your LMS? We’ve talked before in this blog about the LMS pushing further into the background and there’s a whole other blog post on this around the Experience API and Learning Record Stores. In short though, the LMS won’t disappear, or be replaced by the web or LinkedIn, because we don’t think there’s anything out there that achieves some of the heavy lifting that the LMS does around access control, scheduling, performance management, reporting for compliance purposes and so on. If there was, we’d probably start calling it a LMS.
Without doubt though content increasingly lives outside the LMS. Smart platforms enable learning designers and learners to curate content from any source, LinkedIn or otherwise- TotaraLMS and Totara Social do this already. It doesn’t matter where the content lives.
8. Social learning gets a massive lift
This one is already happening. Working out loud, being open about what you’re learning, and how it’s helping, is a well established trend inside organisations. The acquisition doesn’t really move that needle. People write posts on LinkedIn Pulse sharing this already. If they’re learning from Lynda.com, they can include recommendations and actionable insights. Teams collaborating on Enterprise Social Networks (Like Totara Social) can bring LinkedIn content into their workflow for personal or team development. It won’t matter if the organisation owns the content or not.
9. Digital badges will come of age
Completing a piece of learning, from Lynda.com or anyone else, means very little unless you can show its increased competence. LinkedIn has the perfect platform to draw a straight line between what you’ve learned and where you go with your career. It could use Open Badges Infrastructure as a way of recognising not just completion of Lynda.com content, but applicability of it. Did you actually use it in the last 12 months? Does that say more about you or the learning? Your LinkedIn profile could be updated to show what skills you’re using right now, and what learning is powering them. Learning could have a new currency, in both senses of the word.
xAPI / Learning Record Stores could integrate here too. You could forsee an update along the lines of ‘Joe just put together a killer presentation using tips from this Lynda.com video’. Could that be autogenerated? LinkedIn would know you looked at the resource, so why not use that data to show learning being actually applied? It’s a great way to test the efficacy of any piece of learning.
This requires a change in standards from LinkedIn - they would really have to embrace open badges. Is that likely? Or more likely they will go their own route? There’s also the issue that Lynda content isn’t SCORM compliant. Maybe that will matter less in time but there’s a standards barrier at the moment to this.
10. Accreditation will change
This is really a scaled up version of the point above. LinkedIn is the dominant professional network. Until now it hasn’t had a common currency for accreditation of its professionals. We can endorse each other for skills, we can recommend each other, we can big ourselves up. But after a time skills and endorsements lose impact. Where’s the evidence one person’s as smart as another? If we both had the same learning experience, and were both certified - properly - does that help? It’s not a perfect common currency, but if I could see that two people were both Lynda.com (or what’s likely to become LinkedIn.com) certified to a specific level of competency, that could be really interesting. Especially to recruiters.
Interesting road to go down, but how do they get there on their own? This is already happening all over the web - in essence the world of accredited e-learning. So again, this is all technically feasible but there’s a question of focus and credibility. Does LinkedIn want to become an accreditor? If they created some strategic alliances, then over time we could start seeing some co-branded LinkedIn/University X competencies. But standards changes and partnerships like that take time and feel a bit off mission right now.If they go down this route too far do they start losing their universality?
So is it a game changer or just another combination of platform and content? Are the efforts ultimately self-defeating? Yahoo started off as a directory to the web but then got into content. Google is being accused of promoting their own shopping results.
Does a social networking strategy require you to be agnostic on content rather than becoming a publisher? We’ll keep watching with interest….