Outsourcing Career Skills Training

More students and faculty members at institutions as varied as Harvard University and community colleges are using LinkedIn's LyndaCampus to help students hone workplace competencies instructors may not have time to teach.

October 25, 2017
 
FIT
Fashion Institute of Technology students have full access to LyndaCampus video tutorials.

Students who take courses offered by Santa Barbara City College’s Career Skills Institute can practice problem solving, collaboration and other skills that can lead to badges or certificates in business, design and technology. The only prerequisite? Watching tutorial videos on LyndaCampus.

Those videos bring students up to speed on background necessary to be successful in Career Skills courses, leaving more time for instructors to focus on the curriculum, according to Melissa Moreno, interim vice president at the community college’s School of Extended Learning, who conceived of the college's LyndaCampus initiative in 2014.

“The reaction from faculty when I said this was, ‘Oh my God, this is a great idea, we can finally go into the classroom and roll up our sleeves and work with students,’” Moreno said.

Institutions of varying sizes are using LyndaCampus -- part of Lynda.com and owned by LinkedIn, which was itself acquired by Microsoft last year -- as a resource for students looking to learn or refine technical or workplace skills, such as negotiation, branding and budget basics. Close to 500 North American institutions pay to have full access to the platform’s 1,100 videos, either through an existing learning management system or through LyndaCampus’s single sign-on page. Another 1,000 institutions subscribe to a limited-access plan for small teams and departments. The number of users at existing and new campus partners has grown 25 percent over the past year, according to LinkedIn spokesperson Kenly Walker.

“Our ultimate goal is to support schools in their mission to graduate critical-thinking future leaders,” Walker told “Inside Digital Learning.” “We are not looking to be a replacement, but, instead, a complement to universities.”

In some courses, LyndaCampus serves a purpose similar to a textbook, with mandatory assignments to prepare students for upcoming lessons. Elsewhere, the platform provides a constantly available resource for learners gaining or refining knowledge. Faculty and staff members also can brush up on critical skills.

The platform isn’t entirely without flaws, users say. One common complaint is that analytics provided to institutions aren’t very specific, which means it’s often difficult to separate student and faculty users, or examine trends within a class or department.

Another concern is rising fees. As reported by Inside Higher Ed this spring, subscription fees for the service recently spiked for many institutions, due to the increasing involvement from parent company LinkedIn, as well as expanded services including LMS integration and online access. Though administrators interviewed for this article said they’re happy with the service and plan to stick with it, a few indicated that too-steep price hikes could prove an obstacle in the coming years.

Still, proponents say LyndaCampus solves longstanding problems that keep instructors from getting bogged down helping students with technical details.

“If it wasn’t available to them, these faculty would be looking for other sources,” said Jeffrey Riman, an associate professor and coordinator for the center for excellence in teaching at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. “There is Adobe TV, and there’s other alternative sources. But they don’t have what we get with Lynda.”

Jumping on Board

The Fashion Institute of Technology -- attended by close to 10,000 students -- signed on to a trial version of LyndaCampus in 2011 before launching it campuswide a year later. It purchased a limited version, available to students and faculty, that capped the number of users who could access the site simultaneously. Within a few months, users were getting locked out, and the New York City institution realized the only solution was to subscribe to the full, unrestricted version.

Between June 2016 and June 2017, students, faculty members and staff watched more than 11,000 hours of Lynda tutorial videos. The numbers for overall hours watched and new users have been steady for the past couple years, Riman said, which indicates that new students are using the service at the same rate as students who are graduating.

The most watched Lynda videos at the institution are tutorials on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop geared toward fashion students, according to Riman. Other popular videos include résumé building, HTML and other Illustrator and Photoshop lessons.

“What faculty are doing is simply saying, ‘I teach Photoshop this way; the [Lynda tutorials] are great exercises for me to assign to my students to learn about and practice in between,’” Riman said. “You’re scaffolding knowledge over the course of a semester.”

All LyndaCampus courses comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which also saves the institution time and broadens access to more students, he added.

At Harvard University, LyndaCampus started as a replacement for some in-person computer classes for new instructors, who quickly proved “gung-ho” about offering it to students, said Charles Sumner, a senior development specialist in the work-force development center.

Sumner estimates that 35 to 40 percent of Harvard’s current users are students; faculty members and staff make up the remainder. Harvard boasts almost 10,000 active LyndaCampus users, with 1,400 unique users logging in each month.

The tutorials are particularly useful, Sumner said, for international students who might not be familiar with Microsoft Word or other programs commonly used in the United States, and for students who lack knowledge in their study area. Video production courses are among the most popular at Harvard, he said.

Erica George, coordinator of student activities and outreach at Harvard’s graduate design school, kept hearing from incoming students that they struggled to quickly learn new software right after moving to campus, when they were still adjusting to their new surroundings. Now, students get LyndaCampus access as soon as they’ve accepted Harvard’s admissions offer.

George has observed that students who used to have only one another as resources for technical questions can now turn to LyndaCampus. Meanwhile, postprofessional degree students use the service to bring them up-to-date on software trends, she said.

Jen Kramer, a lecturer in web technologies at Harvard’s extension school, said her digital media capstone students often use LyndaCampus as they plan major projects in audio, video, filmmaking and instructional design. She also sees the videos as a place for students to learn more than what fits during class time.

“[It] becomes a wonderful resource for them to learn interesting tangents of material I’m presenting that week,” Kramer said.

Not Without Challenges

Some Harvard instructors haven’t yet caught on to the virtues of LyndaCampus, according to George. The same is true at the fashion institute, where some instructors think the platform is too impersonal, according to Brian Emery, an associate professor of photography who often assigns Lynda tutorials. He’s also seen some students begin to cool to the service, likely because it’s no longer a novelty.

“I just have to be very, very selective and make sure what I’m choosing for them to watch is closely aligned to what I’m asking them to produce,” Emery said.

Due to LyndaCampus’s technical configuration, institutions can’t access statistics on users as easily as they can in a learning management system. Riman said the lack of specific data makes it difficult to gauge the program’s reach on campus. In general, though, institutions spoke highly of the service’s technical support.

Subscription fees depend on the number of full-time students and staff and faculty members at an institution. Most customers commit to 24 or 36 months, according to Walker.

Despite concerns, price hikes don’t appear to have scared off users -- yet, at least. Emerson College, for instance, is facing a 57 percent increase in its annual fee, but a spokesperson confirms the institution will remain using the service. The fashion institute accepted a price hike as well, according to Riman.

On the other hand, Indiana University canceled its subscription last year after the fee skyrocketed. According to a spokesperson, the institution points students to its own workshops and self-study courses, as well as Lynda.com resources offered free through local public libraries.

Still, Santa Barbara has built entire programs around the availability of LyndaCampus; for instance, the college partners with local businesses to provide employee training using the service.

“Almost everything we do in the [Career Skills Institute] is motivated by what LyndaCampus is doing,” Moreno said. “They know best what’s trending.”

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