With the acquisition of Lynda.com, LinkedIn propelled itself into the space of learning in 2015. Roughly a year later, LinkedIn announced the launch of LinkedIn Learning to help people discover and develop the skills they need through a learning path that is curated and personalized. Since then, LinkedIn Learning has solidified itself as a staple in the education-workforce landscape.
I caught up with Tanya Staples, the VP of Learning Content at LinkedIn to hear more about the growth of LinkedIn Learning, its broader impact on learning and the workforce, and bigger trends in education and employment.
Michael Horn: What growth have you seen since launching LinkedIn Learning? What learning trends are affecting that trajectory?
Tanya Staples: Since we launched LinkedIn Learning in September of 2016, we’ve seen tremendous momentum in our business and now have over 12,000 enterprise customers, in addition to millions of LinkedIn members, who are using the product. On the content side, we added 3,200 courses in 2018 alone, and we publish about 60 new courses a week, bringing the total portfolio to over 13,000 business, technology,
It’s clear that macroeconomic shifts and business trends have given us a nice tailwind. Record low unemployment numbers have accelerated two important learning trends. For individuals, learning has become a priority to either grow in their current role or be considered for a new and better one. For companies, the tight labor market has made hiring for in-demand skills a big challenge, so quantifying and closing skills gaps is a growing priority for most L&D leaders and the data proves that out. Our new 2019 Workplace Learning Report shows that understanding skills gaps is a top concern for talent leaders and we don’t see that changing for the foreseeable future.
Horn: Some people were surprised by the Lynda.com acquisition because they hadn’t historically thought about LinkedIn as a learning company. You have a massive footprint in recruiting and professional networking. How does learning fit into the broader strategy?
Staples: LinkedIn’s vision is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce. One way we do that is by helping organizations attract, hire, and develop winning teams. By combining Lynda.com’s extensive content library, with the power of LinkedIn’s network, we have fundamentally changed the way people connect to opportunity and how companies grow and retain employees. Given that frame, our acquisition of Lynda.com made perfect sense, and we’re still realizing the full potential of that vision.
Horn: LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner talks a lot about the shrinking shelf life of skills. How is LinkedIn helping companies become learning organizations specifically with regards to the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation on their workforce?
Staples: Too often, the narrative around AI and automation is driven by a fear that robots will take our jobs. While it’s certainly true that the nature of work is changing, and some industries will be impacted more than others, we’ll still need humans to do the work that robots can’t do like managing people or strategic decision-making. We’ve found that the biggest skills gaps in the workforce today are also ones that automation can’t replace—soft skills such as communication, team-building, or leadership skills.
Horn: Are you seeing signs that individuals—and employers—are beginning to embrace the shift toward lifelong learning? What are the barriers?
Staples: Given the rapid pace of change these days, continuously learning is an imperative that can put both employees and businesses at risk of becoming obsolete. And, we see plenty of signs in the market—and our own business—that the “lifelong learning” switch has turned on. From a market perspective, the latest LinkedIn Learning data shows that only 27% of talent developers cite budget constraints as a top challenge (vs. 49% in 2017), and 82% of L&D professionals say that their executives actively support learning programs. We’re not the only ones who are seeing the signs. A new ATD survey said that 45% of talent development leaders believe lifelong learning is a top priority, and 55% of high-performing organizations in the report actively encouraged lifelong learning. Our own business is also feeling the impact with a rapidly growing user base, higher learner engagement metrics, and we now have over 12,000 customers who have realized the potential of lifelong learning and offer LinkedIn learning to their employees.
The real key to lifelong learning is making sure that anyone who wants to learn has access to learning opportunities and that the online solutions are not only easy-to-use, but also quickly connects them to relevant, applicable content. A great example of this is the Government of Ontario, which has helped make LinkedIn Learning available to all students at its 44 universities and colleges.
Horn: We hear a lot about the emerging role of nontraditional credentials, and faster, cheaper alternatives to college. Are you seeing any shifts in the role and relevance of non-traditional credentials on LinkedIn? Why aren’t more employers in the US making the shift to skills-based hiring?
Staples: In this tight labor market, nontraditional credentials that demonstrate mastery in an in-demand field are increasingly valuable for both learners and employers. At LinkedIn Learning, we have many certification programs and continue to add new ones because they can make a big impact on a person’s career. For example, we host a set of project management courses that prepare learners for The Project Management Institute’s certification exam. People that earn that credential generally increase their salary by 20%. So, it’s no surprise that these courses have spiked in popularity over the last two years.
Horn: We continue to see LinkedIn share more data on the labor market, hiring and mobility trends through its Economic Graph work. How does LinkedIn view the role of data and intelligence to inform recruiting and development?
Staples: Historically, collecting data on the labor market has been costly and slow. As a result, it served as a retrospective on where the workforce had been, not an indicator of where it is going. We’re hoping to shift that paradigm with LinkedIn’s Economic Graph work. Our monthly Workforce Report provides timely insights into employment trends, including identifying skills shortages and surpluses. Businesses use this data to make smart decisions about where to invest in learning when hiring for those skills is challenging and expensive. For example, if you know that data science skills are in short supply, you may choose to build your data science muscles internally by upskilling or reskilling current employees. The bonus benefit? Higher retention rates; 94% of employees would stay a company longer if it invested in their career.
We also recently acquired a company called Glint, a leader in employee engagement. By pairing their internal view of employee sentiment and productivity with our lens into the external workforce, we will be able to provide powerful insights that can help inform the way talent leaders attract, hire, and develop teams.
Horn: What sorts of initiatives—product, partnerships, or otherwise—do you have planned for the future? What are you most excited about?
Staples: As I mentioned, we’re excited about the synergies between Glint and LinkedIn Learning—particularly around creating customized learning and career pathways.
We also recently launched a powerful social learning feature, called Q&A, that gives learners the opportunity to interact and collaborate with instructors and fellow learners in a whole new way. This is the first of many ways we plan on making learning even more dynamic, interactive, and social—which will ultimately boost learner engagement.
Horn: If the market turns south and we see unemployment rise again—that is, the tight labor market reverses—how will that impact some of these trends? Specifically I’m curious about employers investing in employees and potential hires to close the skills gap and the growth of nontraditional credentials.
Staples: The rapid pace of technology change and the shrinking shelf life of skills means that an incumbent workforce increasingly needs ongoing training and development to meet the changing needs of business. Even in an economic slowdown, it will be hard for AI to displace jobs where the worker has effective soft skills, an inherently human attribute that our members can sharpen through courses on LinkedIn Learning. Think about the impact. When workers up-skill their soft skills or gain credentials, they’re making long-term career investments, they’re equipped to do excellent work and are often happier at work. The job stability that they can get from developing their interpersonal skills could last for several years, potentially outlasting an economic downturn.
For employers, up-skilling is an especially important tool for addressing economic uncertainty when considering how automation and AI continue replacing jobs at a rapid pace. LinkedIn data through our economic graph and Talent Insights will give employers talent marketplace data at a critical time where the need to skill up, hire and grow top performers. Also, with research about enthusiasm—and expectations—for employer investments in learning, especially among Gen Z and millennial workers, we may be entering a “new normal” period of training investment. Our recent research among L&D leaders also suggest that L&D budgets are expected to continue to grow, despite looming predictions of a market downturn.