With LinkedIn’s Powerful Backing, Can Lynda.com Dominate the Digital-Skills Market?

Free 30-day offer underscores potential

Digital know-how is vital for most job seekers these days, and LinkedIn wants in on the growing online skills market. After acquiring education site Lynda.com in April for $1.5 billion, LinkedIn has provided the first hint at how it plans to compete in the competitive space this week with a promotion for free classes.

Tuesday, the San Francisco-based website began offering LinkedIn Premium paid customers—a tiered program that gives users access to all of the site's content—free Lynda.com classes for 30 days. Non-paying LinkedIn users get to test out the classes for 21 days. Of course, the goal is that if LinkedIn gets users to come back multiple times, they're more likely to become paying Lynda.com customers. At the same time, the courses could also supply LinkedIn with a bit more credibility among recruiters looking for candidates with specific skills. 

"One of the things we found was missing in our content portfolio was the ability for professionals to improve or acquire new skills to be better professionals," said Ryan Roslansky, LinkedIn's vp of global content products.

Lynda.com offers more than 3,600 video tutorials that walk job seekers through technology, business and developer classes. That large library of content, coupled with LinkedIn's 364 million users, is what initially sparked the social network's acquisition-based interest. LinkedIn's Lynda.com purchase is one of its several pick-ups over the past few years—including news app Pulse and publishing platform Slideshare—to build up a content business that brings its users frequently back to the site.

But Lynda.com seems to offer lucrative integrations, some that will build revenues and others that will enhance the user experience. For example, Roslansky hinted that LinkedIn could reward users who complete Lynda classes with virtual badges, akin to "seals of approval" on their profiles.

Digital skills explosion
Lynda.com was founded back in 1995 and is credited as one of the first digital skills companies. Since then, that education-based market has erupted with startups such as Skillcrush and established players like Kaplan vying for a piece of the lucrative business.

"The marketplace is huge, and basically everyone needs digital skills, but a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work," said Adda Birnir, founder of Skillcrush. "That has allowed for an enormous amount of companies to come into the marketplace because they are each able to specialize and focus on a specific audience."

Indeed, digital-skills companies come in different shapes and sizes. 

Companies like Lynda.com, Treehouse and Pluralsight are based on a self-service model, in which students take online classes when they want and learn at their own pace. Lynda.com and Pluralsight are two of the bigger players, and each offers a few thousand video courses in areas like design, business and Web development.

Other businesses like the aforementioned Skillcrush as well as Big Nerd Ranch, Thinkful and Mediabistro (part of Mediabistro Holdings, which also owns Adweek) play up in-person classes or live instructors with more structured classes. To differentiate themselves, these players tend to target specific demographics. Skillcrush, for example, specializes in classes for women in their late-20s to mid-40s. And Big Nerd Ranch focuses on building apps.

Still, others like Kaplan-owned Dev Bootcamp and General Assembly offer in-person, "boot camp-style" classes. Classes entail full days and usually take three months to complete, costing anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000. This route is usually suggested for people who want to completely switch careers, and the companies often work with employers to place students.

While there's obviously money to be made and plenty of room for startups to grab specific markets, Birnir said that she's not concerned with competing with Lynda.com—even with its powerful support from LinkedIn.

"When you're really specific about who you're serving, that does make competition a little less relevant," Birnir said. "I don't have to worry about [Lynda.com] because my audience is really different than theirs."