You’re staring at a spreadsheet and you’re stumped. Waiting for you in Help is a suggestion to connect with a freelance expert on LinkedIn. You exchange messages. Problem solved.
Now you’re worried about your Excel skills. Help suggests coursework. You spend nights becoming an Excel specialist through Lynda.com, the online learning company LinkedIn acquired last year. Not only does your expertise earn you admiration at the office (and a date!), but a recruiter also discovers the new course certificates on your LinkedIn profile. New job, healthy raise.
This isn’t the real world, at least not yet. But Microsoft’s $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn includes big dreams, and among them is education.
“We're both very passionate about learning,” LinkedIn Chief Executive Officer Jeff Weiner said of himself and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on a conference call about the deal.
Weiner spoke of LinkedIn’s vision to develop its Economic Graph, “a digital mapping of the global economy,” including profiles “for every university or higher-educational organization [and] vocational training facility” that gives people the skills they need to get jobs. He mentioned the Lynda acquisition, suggested “coursework deeply integrated throughout Microsoft’s ecosystem,” and discussed an overlay in Microsoft products that would show “who you can tap within your network, within the entire broader ecosystem, freelancers, and the actual coursework itself.” A slide presentation promised to “transform learning.”
It all raises the question, with fresh urgency amid rising tuition: What is the value of a degree?
At the end of March, LinkedIn and Lynda.com released more than 50 “learning paths.” As of November, though, Lynda wasn’t the source of the most certifications on LinkedIn profiles. Microsoft was. It already has a stake in the education world, both as a provider of training and certification programs and as a maker of products that require skills to use optimally. Six of the 25 most popular courses on Lynda are related to Microsoft products, Weiner noted in discussing the acquisition.
With LinkedIn’s data at hand, Microsoft could control the currently fragmented corporate-training market, education consultant Michael Feldstein suggested to Quartz. On-the-job training has changed, with the employer now “pushing the training cost back onto the employee, in a sense, and demanding more evidence of work-readiness at the point of hire,” said Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
At the same time, LinkedIn is betting on a broad view of education. It joined a Markle Foundation initiative that helps people in Colorado and Arizona with a high school diploma, but not a four-year college degree, get skills and jobs. As part of that effort, it launched Training Finder in March. In April, it released the LinkedIn Students app in the U.S. to help college students approaching graduation find their first jobs through personal recommendations. The company also presents information on alumni career paths.