Edtech Companies Hail New Rival LinkedIn As Industry Catalyst
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he sees room for many players in a future professional training market estimated to reach more than $100 billion.
“There’s a lot of space for people to play,” Woodward says. “I don’t think any one organization is going to own the space entirely.”
Woodward says Lynda.com offers quality content over a broad range of topics, but advanced IT professionals are attracted to Pluralsight.
“Lynda.com has cast a wide net but they don’t go very deep,” Woodward says. “Most of our library is focused on deep technical skills in high demand.”
Udemy, meanwhile, aims at a different set of students. Yang says Udemy’s a la carte offerings are a better option for many people than Lynda.com’s all-you-can-learn smorgasboard of courses and videos at a monthly subscription rate. Udemy markets to a global audience, with classes in more than 80 languages at prices that are easier to swallow than a Lynda.com subscription fee, he says.
“Not everyone can afford $29 a month—overseas or in the U.S.,” Yang says.
All online education companies will need to create their own strong brands in the growing market for professional training, Woodward says. They’ll have to appeal to learners and also establish a reputation with employers for helping students achieve mastery of key skills.
That task of creating a quality brand isn’t as simple for edtech companies as it has been in academia, where accrediting agencies set standards for degree curriculums, and long-established publications such as U.S. News & World Report release annual rankings of the top colleges and universities.
But a number of edtech industry players are experimenting with various mechanisms to strengthen or rate the credentials granted by online learning providers, Woodward says. In November, Pluralsight bought Boston-based startup Smarterer, which offers tests based on crowdsourced questions designed to gauge a student’s proficiency in various tech skills. “We’ve got some big plans for that, long-term,” Woodward says.
I asked Woodward whether LinkedIn could play a bigger role in helping online education companies and their students demonstrate the quality of their training by expanding the Direct-to-Profile feature. For example, LinkedIn could include a direct link to the edtech company’s website from its logo on member profile pages, allow students to link to a project they completed as an online course assignment, and even post a skill level grade from Smarterer.
Woodward says he’s thought about such enhanced options, and Pluralsight will be watching to see if LinkedIn offers them to all edtech companies rather than reserving them for Lynda.com.
“It’ll be interesting to see if they do stay neutral over time,” Woodward says. If not, competing players might rise up to try to disrupt LinkedIn itself, he says.
While LinkedIn has been providing what it calls “free brand exposure” to edtech companies through its Direct-to-Profile feature, it has also been adding to its knowledge of the edtech landscape. Recently, LinkedIn published an early ranking of the top 100 providers of online education certificates, based on the number of its members who have posted these credentials to their profiles using Direct-to-Profile buttons. (Microsoft took the number one spot—Lynda.com placed ninth.)
The rankings also show which edtech company’s certificates were cited by the most professionals within various categories, including software developers, computer-aided designers, and IT systems administrators. As this program continues, LinkedIn may amass one of the most extensive databases on the influence of online learning on career outcomes—an approach it has already taken to create its own rankings of colleges and universities.
But LinkedIn listings are not the only route by which online education companies can stake out their reputation for quality, attract students, and help them catch the eye of employers, Pluralsight’s Woodward says.
In the era of social media, word of mouth has a mass scale. Pluralsight has also seen a “Trojan horse” effect: a single individual who profits from a Pluralsight class may persuade his or her employer to buy a group plan for the entire staff, Woodward says. And employers are already hunting for new hires on sites such as GitHub, where programmers collaborate on software and display their coding prowess, he says.
Udemy’s Yang says LinkedIn’s foray into online education may arouse interest in edtech among similarly-sized potential competitors in other sectors. The Lynda.com acquisition will stimulate big companies to consider how their deep databases of consumer contacts might also give them an entry point into the multi-billion dollar edtech industry, he says. Yang says he wasn’t surprised that such a major edtech acquisition came, not from a traditional education player like Pearson, but from a Silicon Valley tech company.
Many other technology companies already have educational components, and some have formed partnerships with edtech companies.
Tech giants such as Microsoft offer online consumer training and certifications for the use of their own technology products, and companies including Google and Intuit have collaborated with Mountain View, CA-based edtech company Udacity to design and endorse “nanodegrees” in tech skills such as app development. Apple runs an app store for educational programs that run on the iPad.
Like Yang, Woodward sees LinkedIn’s purchase of Lynda.com as a possible catalyst for a new class of technology giants looking to acquire small edtech companies. That might open up future opportunities for Pluralsight, though the company is happily independent for now, he says.
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