LinkedIn doubles down on education with LinkedIn Learning, updates desktop site

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LinkedIn, the social network for the working world that now has some 450 million members and is in the process of being acquired by Microsoft for $26.2 billion, today took the wraps off its newest efforts to expand its site beyond job hunting and recruitment, its two business mainstays. The company has launched a new site called LinkedIn Learning, an ambitious e-learning portal tailored to individuals, but also catering to businesses looking to keep training their employees, and beyond that even educational institutions exploring e-learning courses.

The new site was unveiled today in LinkedIn’s offices in San Francisco, and it comes about a year and a half after LinkedIn acquired online learning site Lynda.com for $1.5 billion. A large part of LinkedIn Learning is based on Lynda content, and goes live with some 9,000 courses on offer.

Subjects taught through the service include business, technology and creative topics, with courses running the gamut from programming skills to writing and accounting.

Courses can be both selected by employees as well as recommended by employers and their HR managers who can use LinkedIn’s analytics products to both monitor employees progress but also look at the wider range of what is being studied as a point of reference, and curators at LinkedIn itself.

LinkedIn education is available for LinkedIn Premium subscribers who look like they will get 25 new courses every week based on information on the site. LinkedIn says it will soon be releasing an enterprise tier so that large companies can take subscriptions for their entire employee base, LinkedIn said today.

LinkedIn’s emphasis on education and learning goes hand-in-hand with the company’s primary role today as a place where many people go to create and maintain their professional profiles publicly, and to look for jobs. Building on that as a place to also enhance your professional skills makes a lot of sense.

It also provides a coda to LinkedIn’s efforts in trying to court higher education facilities. LinkedIn started opening up special, verified profile pages to universities and colleges a few years ago and encouraging younger users to get started building LinkedIn profiles as young as 13 to get started.

The idea was to use this as a way of onboarding users early in their professional lives (or before they were even started), but also to potentially hook into alumni job-finding networks for the recruitment business. I always thought this was missing something, though, without offering a learning component, so it’s interesting to see that LinkedIn is now trying to address this.

Interestingly, LinkedIn Learning comes a week after LinkedIn unveiled another take on how to bridge that gap: in India, the company now has an online job placement service that tests an individual’s skills and then suggests jobs that might be suitable for him or her. It doesn’t take the extra leap to include training, but you could imagine how LinkedIn Learning could fit into that product, too.

Today in a presentation in San Francisco about the new product, LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner described how education has become “one of our most important priorities.” He noted that the World Economic Forum expects 5 million jobs to be displaced by the introduction of new technologies, and that 78% of CFOs surveyed believe that up to 25% of their workforces could be displaced by 2020.

In other words, apart from the larger ideology that LinkedIn likes to describe about being a charter of our world’s “economic graph” (LinkedIn’s answer to Facebook’s social graph), LinkedIn also sees education as a business opportunity, with “just in time” experience training from LinkedIn as a key way of meeting that demand.

Desktop refresh, and messages get bots

Alongside today’s launch of LinkedIn Learning, LinkedIn also announced that it would soon be updating in other areas of its service. They include a new desktop experience, a “smarter” content newsfeed, and additions to its messaging service, including — you guessed it! — the introduction of bots.

None of these, it seems, are live yet but are coming soon, the company says.

The main idea with the desktop redesign is to give the desktop experience, on the bigger screen and via a browser, more parity with what LinkedIn has done with native apps. In a way, this was overdue: the company counts professionals as its customer base, a mostly desk-bound, and therefore captive, audience for a better desktop version.

The new look will include quicker ways of toggling from your own profile to suggestions of others to look at, follow, and message; as well as a more dynamic stream of potential jobs and other content.

The content, meanwhile, looks like it will also get updated again. The feed will be expanding to include a bigger mix of suggested people to connect with and follow; more influencer content; and news curated by LinkedIn’s editorial team.

The news element of this is particularly interesting: it looks like LinkedIn wants to take a bigger step forward here and position itself as destination to get all the news that you might want to read that might be relevant to your professional world and beyond. Think of this as LinkedIn’s equivalent of Facebook’s trending topics.

LinkedIn has tried to offer aggregated news content to its users in the past — a service that it picked up by way of its acquisition of Pulse — but it has also peppered it with a lot of thought pieces about the news from Influencers rather than offer readers the core of the news itself.

Now LinkedIn will push breaking news alerts to you, and then, when you click on them, you will be given a wider array of supplemental links to learn more. This could include more news stories, or people on LinkedIn who are connected to you, and to the news; and (yes) those Influencer posts.

My impression is that I’m not sure how much traffic or buzz LinkedIn’s news feed gets today, and this is a way of trying to turn that around.

Last of all, LinkedIn showed off a little preview of how it will be updating its messaging and chat experience. I don’t know if this is really necessary, or just a sign of the times, or LinkedIn jumping on the bot bandwagon, but it looks like there will be more “suggested content” that will now be worked into the messaging experience.

For example, if you are chatting with someone about setting up a meeting, you can now schedule it, including setting up the meeting room, “using bot technology.”

LinkedIn has a long way to go, though, before messages are a big thing on the site. Today, Mark Hull, who is head of product in the messaging team, highlighted the progress LinkedIn has made by noting that there has been a 240% increase in messaging activity on the platform since relaunching the messaging apps last year.

He said that people are now “using messages on a weekly basis” — which may indeed be progress for LinkedIn, but is obviously well behind apps like Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp, or perhaps more in LinkedIn’s professional court, Slack, which are used daily and hourly.