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Can LinkedIn Learning help train your employees?

A month after LinkedIn launched its online learning platform in partnership with Lynda.com, companies report using courses to teach employees programming, writing, and leadership skills.

Image: LinkedIn

LinkedIn's online learning platform launched one month ago, and several companies have reported incentivizing employees to take advantage of the opportunity to gain new tech and business skills.

LinkedIn Learning combines content from Lynda.com with LinkedIn's professional data and network. LinkedIn now has more than 450 million member profiles, and has gathered information on how jobs, industries, organizations, and skills evolve over time. The courses are available free with a LinkedIn Premium subscription for individuals. An enterprise version will soon be available as well, the company reported.

"From this, we can identify the skills you need and deliver expert-led courses to help you obtain those skills," a LinkedIn spokesperson told TechRepublic. "We're taking the guesswork out of learning."

This was the natural direction for the company to go in, after acquiring Lynda in 2015, said Elliott Masie, chair of the Learning Consortium, a coalition of 230 global organizations working on the evolution of learning strategies. The move also comes after LinkedIn was purchased by Microsoft earlier this year.

"There's an enormous desire for two things that often seem contradictory: How do we get our employees to be smart, deep learners, and how do we do it by disrupting them as little as possible?" Masie said. "Many groups do this type of thing, but LinkedIn may have the advantage that people look to them not only for today's job but for tomorrow's job. It's got a potential appeal to the employee that could incentivize participation."

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The company's library includes more than 9,000 digital courses taught by industry experts, covering a range of business, creative, and technical topics, including leadership soft skills, design principles, and programming. LinkedIn is adding at least 25 new courses a week, the spokesperson said.

Managers can customize multi-course "learning paths" for employees, and examine analytics to measure employee progress. The company is not currently sharing how many people have taken courses through the platform.

Top skills needed

Last week, LinkedIn released a list of the skills most sought after among global employers, and employers in the US and 17 other countries, after analyzing all recruiting activity on the platform since January. Cloud and distributed computing topped the list, followed by statistical analysis and data mining, mobile development, storage systems and management, user interface design, and network and information security.

From October 24-30, LinkedIn is holding a "Week of Learning," offering more than 5,000 courses--including those that teach these top skills--for free to professionals. You can learn more here.

Masie said he expects many companies will incentivize participation in these courses, rather than require them. The platform differs from MOOCs or other online classes because companies can track employee progress, he said.

"We're seeing more and more organizations are accepting and embracing a la carte training," Masie said. "If the learner is motivated, this is a great opportunity."

Who's using LinkedIn Learning?

Here is how four companies became early adopters of LinkedIn Learning:

  • Expertsure.com, a UK green energy company

Expertsure.com CEO Ollie Smith does not require employees to participate in LinkedIn Learning classes, but does highly encourage it by offering incentives for completing certain courses.

"The reason is simple: If you think you've reached a point in your career where you have nothing new to learn, you're wrong, and you're probably going to fail," Smith said. "We don't want our employees to fail, not only for our sake but also for theirs."

Each week the executive team collectively selects a course that they determine would be worthwhile for employees. If workers complete enough of those courses over a set amount of time, they are eligible for bonuses, extra PTO, vacations, and other benefits, Smith said. "It's our way of letting them know we appreciate the fact that they want to better themselves," he said. "Each and every one of us should want that, which is why I also participate in our LinkedIn Learning program."

The most popular classes so far have been on SEO, project management, marketing/sales, and writing skills. "What I love about LinkedIn is learning from experts in the field," Smith said. "This is real, useful stuff. Not textbook material you'll read and forget."

  • Ace Work Gear, a US ecommerce site

Max Robinson, owner of Ace Work Gear, previously outsourced website maintenance work and promotional writing. Now, a few employees are using LinkedIn Learning to learn programming, and if it is successful, they will take writing courses as well, Robinson said.

"By developing employee skills, I could rely less on outsourcing important work that we need, and could reduce costs," Robinson said.

  • FM Outsource, a UK digital marketing firm

At FM Outsource, employees are allotted four hours per week to work on LinkedIn Learning courses. The marketing team recently completed an Adobe Illustrator course, according to marketing manager Abbey Brown. "We've found it to be an incredibly useful resource," Brown said. "We're a business that promotes CPD massively, with salary structures that are heavily influenced by individual development and training."

The company also rarely hires individuals for seniors positions, and prefers to hire recent college graduates, and "home-grow" their skills using online learning materials like LinkedIn Learning in combination with more traditional courses, Brown said.

The company pays for the LinkedIn premium subscriptions. Many of the offerings are not relevant for the company--for example, some courses on a more general subject area like content marketing are too broad, Brown said. But those focused on specific skillsets, such as Adobe products, are very useful, she added.

"People in the tech industry are sometimes afraid to admit a lack of knowledge, and may worry that it makes them look inexperienced," Brown said. "But it shows a passion for learning and growth, which is exactly what a good business needs."

  • OHM Advisors, a US firm of 400 employees in the architecture, engineering, and planning industry

OHM Advisors created a company university to offer professional development and training for staff. Known as OHM University, it will use LinkedIn Learning as the central offering.

Most of the Lynda courses will be optional for employees. A small number of courses on topics such as effective discipline and meeting facilitation will be required for promotion for certain employment tracks, said human resources director Kelly Jackson.

Some of the company's technical disciplines require training in specialized software programs from AutoDesk, and having those courses available through LinkedIn Learning was a major reason the company selected the platform, Jackson said.

Advice for tech leaders

For tech leaders, Masie offers the following tip: If you want an employee to learn a certain skill, such as HTML5, through an online course, you should also assign them a project, either real or simulated, that requires them to use those new skills in a business capacity.

"Learners want to learn and do better, but don't usually want to go back to school," Masie said. "LinkedIn's opportunity is while they have this larger relationship with a learner around their career, and their offerings are perceived as positive but don't require you to put your school hat on, and they are valued by an organization, that's a win-win-win."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. In September, LinkedIn annouced LinkedIn Learning, an online learning platform that makes more than 9,000 courses from Lynda.com available to LinkedIn Premium subscribers.
  2. This offering differs from other online training options because managers can customize multi-course "learning paths" for employees, and examine analytics to measure employee progress.
  3. A number of companies are encouraging employees to take courses on the platform, and an enterprise version is upcoming, according to LinkedIn.

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