At this point, it’s hard to say exactly how LinkedIn and Microsoft will integrate in terms of learning. “Suffice to say there’s a lot of opportunity,” said LinkedIn spokeswoman Julie Inouye. Lynda.com won’t be just a library for Microsoft-related Lynda courses, though. “This is about providing skill-based learning opportunities for professionals that extend beyond just Microsoft productivity products,” she said. Microsoft e-mailed information about its current training and certification programs and declined to comment further.
Ideally, Microsoft and LinkedIn would help match jobs with talent, offering courses that could provide those who are unemployed, underemployed, or seeking new positions with what they need for advertised jobs, or “last-mile training,” said Jeff Selingo, author of There Is Life After College.
They would also help with continuing education, especially for those without full-time work with a single employer, such as gig-economy workers.
The traditional certification market, in which Microsoft plays a role, has been disrupted in recent years. The tech skills that people are looking for now are “not necessarily the domain of the leading legacy software companies,” said Gates Bryant, a partner at Tyton Partners, an investment-banking and consulting firm primarily focused on education.
Meanwhile, companies such as Lynda have been gaining traction in an environment “less formally organized around specific certifications and more organized around demonstrating competencies with specific technical skills.” In terms of learning, the deal’s promise, to Bryant, lies in an even less formal category he called “unstructured informal just-in-time learning.”
The flip side: It isn’t just the skills you can learn in order to work, but also what can be learned about your skills from your work, in, say, Microsoft Office.
“In my perfect world, I have a competency profile—you know, on LinkedIn, presumably—that is kept up to date in real time on the competencies that I am exhibiting in my work, as well as competencies that I’ve demonstrated through assessments, through my education, the formal credentials that I’ve accrued,” said Ryan Craig, managing director at University Ventures, an investment firm focused on higher education. That competency profile is part of a transformation Craig sees coming, “the great unbundling of higher education,” to borrow his 2015 book’s subtitle.
“In five to 10 years, most students will buy their post-secondary education differently from the way they buy it now,” he said. “It won’t be a degree bundle. It will be a series of courses and assessments and projects and virtual internships that add up to something different.”
The challenge will be to map people's competencies against the ones that jobs require, find the gaps, and determine how to fill them. Sounds kind of like LinkedIn’s vision of the Economic Graph.
Craig doesn’t think elite schools that draw top students need to worry; their degrees will still be used by employers as a sign of quality. For other schools, “their credentials will need to be shorter, less expensive, and much more tied to employment,” he said.