What does LinkedIn’s $1.5 billion acquisition of Lynda.com mean for universities and higher education content strategy?
Yesterday the professional social network giant LinkedIn announced that they intended to purchase the premium online learning platform Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. While our focus at Pickle Jar is helping the education sector with marketing and communications, we maintain a keen eye on major disruptions in the sector. I see a move like this as further sign of a major disruption.
Giant professional networks are nothing new. Online learning is nothing new. Hell, even demand-led online learning isn’t exactly radical. But bring those two things together, and we have a deep line drawn in the sand for the future of education, particularly graduate and professional education.
I’m not going to write a post here about the future of online learning. We’ve heard enough about that and by itself that’s not my area of expertise to talk about. Instead, I’m interested in the potential impact that a move like this has on developments in the higher education sector as a whole, and particularly the impact that is has on the world in which we work: content strategy for higher education.
In Spring 2013 LinkedIn made a definitive move from being social network to being a content platform when they acquired Pulse for $90 million. By Spring 2014, their in-network publishing platform (retaining the name “Pulse”) had launched, allowing members to create and publish their own blog-style content to the network’s 350 million members. The use of pulse has blossomed, and become a mainstay of the site, transforming the way people use the network from virtual Rolodex to news and information resource.
Alongside this shift towards becoming a content platform, LinkedIn has also observed another – perhaps lesser discussed – trend. The biggest growth on the network is from students, who now represent over 10% of members.
As professional communicators in higher education, we have for years viewed LinkedIn as the place that graduates head to after they have left university. But this is changing. And as we see the platform grow more serious about transforming education, we see an even more significant impact on higher education.
So what does this mean for higher education?
- A new form of competition. We’ve already seen competition from private providers, private companies, and even – to some extent – media organisations moving in to the education space. Now, we see social media organisations – with their giant audiences – also moving into this space.
- It puts more pressure on the sector not just to create great online learning materials (some would argue that MOOCs already do that), but also to truly focus on demand-led content. We must as a sector do so much more to focus on audience research and really understand our audiences and the content that would make a difference to their lives, instead of churning out the content that we have available to us based on what our academics happen to be working on. For engagement to happen, we need to focus less on what’s going on in our world, and start creating content aligned to what’s going on in theirs. This is where the competition comes from.
- It forces us to look more carefully about how we work with these organisations and become content creators and contributors ourselves to them, instead of working in silos or building competing platforms with a starting base of zero community.
- It forces us further to think more about in-stream content and third party publishing, instead of seeing our own websites or MOOC platforms as the place of pilgrimage that our audiences must flock to.
- It gives us an even more important role in the validation (and perhaps even accreditation) of great content.
- It forces us to work even harder to ensure that people perceive universities and higher education institutions as relevant to them, their interests and the world around them.
At Pickle Jar, we’re not teaching and learning experts, nor would we pretend to be. But we are content strategists and experts at creating compelling content for the education sector and work hard at protecting the reputation of education providers and the education sector. We’re excited about what shifts like this mean for the sector and how we can help. Get in touch if you’d like to work with us on your university’s content strategy, or to help understand your audiences better.