Online job-training site Lynda has built a library of more than 6,300 courses that teach business and technology skills from better navigating Excel to using design software. And now that library belongs to LinkedIn. The $1.5 billion acquisition, which is the largest in LinkedIn’s history, is part of CEO Jeff Weiner’s master plan to make LinkedIn not just a resume repository, but a place for professionals to manage their careers and increasingly, learn new skills—especially in the world’s fastest-growing economies.
In the last year, LinkedIn has more than doubled its Chinese user base, but still only 9 million of its 347 million members are in China. Weiner believes Lynda could be critical to helping it expand there, and in other areas of the emerging world. “Think about what this coursework could mean for people graduating from school and trying to figure out their career paths in these developing economies,” he told WIRED in an interview today, just after announcing the Lynda acquisition. “We think it could be gamechanging.”
Lynda’s customers include individuals, businesses, government and universities, who purchase subscriptions to access its courses. The company has mastered a low-cost production process for high quality content, which it produces in its Santa Barbara offices as well as in a production studio in Austria. So far, Lynda offers courses in Spanish, German, French and Japanese in addition to English, and Weiner says LinkedIn plans to expand. “If we translate the current English coursework on leadership into Chinese, for example, we’re going to add value,” says Weiner. “Then you start thinking about local presence in these markets. What are the skills that are most in demand in the Chinese workforce?”
More Than A Résumé
To make LinkedIn more than a place to look for jobs and post a résumé, Weiner has been doubling down on LinkedIn’s content strategy over the past few years. In October 2012, the company launched its blogging program with 500 LinkedIn influencers; today more than 230 million of its members have the ability to post. In 2013, LinkedIn bought the newsreader Pulse. And it currently hosts 18 million presentations and videos on SlideShare, which it bought in 2012.
Weiner hopes Lynda will amplify these efforts. The company will remain in Santa Barbara where husband-and-wife team Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin will continue to operate it independently, but already Weiner envisions many ways to incorporate Lynda into LinkedIn’s existing products. “You can envision a world where we can identify experts who would make a great addition to the Lynda library,” Weiner said. “We can use our publishing platform as a mechanism to identify our best talent.”
Moreover, Weiner anticipates people may be incentivized to bolster their LinkedIn profiles by adding Lynda credentials. “It’s not just about completing these courses and sharing that you have these skills. It’s also about the coursework itself,” says Weiner. “If you’re a domain expert and you have a Lynda video, what better way to represent your expertise than to show that Lynda video on your LinkedIn profile?”
And of course, all of that interaction will keep LinkedIn’s users returning to the site more often, updating their profile more regularly, and spending more time on it. Thus it becomes a virtuous cycle. LinkedIn will be able to better target potential Lynda customers. When someone updates a profile with a promotion, for example, LinkedIn can send them a congratulatory note, pointing out the promotion may require a new set of skills and suggesting Lynda videos to help develop those skills. LinkedIn can also tag and classify the posts and presentations users watch, so if you’re interested in a particular post, says Weiner, “we can show you the Lynda material that would make the most sense for you,” says Weiner.
That’ll be somewhat useful to knowledge workers plugging away in Colorado, say, or California, where they likely have many options for how to learn new skills. But as Weiner suggests, the real opportunity could be in China and other markets where training is harder to come by. If Weiner has his way, Lynda could help make you smarter. But it could make a lot of other people smarter, too.