A few folks have asked me to elaborate on why I think LinkedIn is the most interesting—and possibly the most consequential—company in ed tech.
Imagine that you wanted to do a longitudinal study of how students from a particular college do in their careers, or the effect of social media for brick and mortar in a particular local geographical location for strategic placement of services that local market is lacking. In other words, you want to study long-term outcomes. How did going to that college affect their careers? Do some majors do better than others? And how do alumni fare when compared to their peers who went to other schools? Think about how you would get the data. The college could ask alumni, but it would be very hard to get a good response rate, and even then, the data would go stale pretty quickly. There are governmental data sources you could look at, but there are all kinds of thorny privacy and regulatory issues.
There is only one place in the world I know of where bazillions of people voluntarily enter their longitudinal college and career information, keep it up-to-date, and actually want it to be public.
LinkedIn is the only organization I know of, public or private, that has the data to study long-term career outcomes of education in a broad and meaningful way. Nobody else comes close. Not even the government. Their data set is enormous, fairly comprehensive, and probably reasonably accurate. Which also means that they are increasingly in a position to recommend colleges, majors, and individual courses and competencies. An acquisition like Lynda.com gives them an ability to sell an add-on service—“People who are in your career track advanced faster when they took a course like this one, which is available to you for only X dollars”—but it also feeds their data set. Right now, schools are not reporting individual courses to the company, and it’s really too much to expect individuals to fill out comprehensive lists of courses that they took. The more that LinkedIn can capture that information automatically, the more the company can start searching for evidence that enables them to reliably make more fine-grained recommendations to job seekers (like which skills or competencies they should acquire) as well as to employers (like what kinds of credentials to look for in a job candidate). Will the data actually provide credible evidence to make such recommendations? I don’t know. But if it does, LinkedIn is really the only organization that’s in a position to find that evidence right now. This is the enormous implication of the Lynda.com acquisition that the press has mostly missed, and it’s also one reason of many why Pando Daily’s angle on the acquisition—“Did LinkedIn’s acquisition of Lynda just kill the ed tech space?“—is a laughable piece of link bait garbage. The primary value of the acquisition wasn’t content. It was data. It was providing additional, fine-grained nodes on the career graphs of their users. Which means that LinkedIn is likely to do more acquisitions and more partnerships that help accomplish the same end, including providing access of that data for companies and schools to do their own longitudinal outcomes research. Far from “killing ed tech,” this is the first step toward building an ecosystem.