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most people accessed the Internet on crummy, low-resolution monitors. The company’s radical decision to put its whole training library online for $25 per month (still the basic price today) cannibalized its CD and DVD sales, and “sent us into the desert” for nearly four years, according to the story Heavin tells in one company video.
But on a hunch that the distribution technology would improve, Heavin and Weinman stuck to it, and their persistence paid off: today Lynda.com has 2 million members, and it surpassed $100 million in revenue in 2012. It’s adding 400 new courses each year, on everything from 3D animation to word processing, and the videos are now viewable from any Web browser, or on your smartphone or tablet. Michael Ninness, the company’s senior vice president of product and content, calls the library a source of “continuous learning in your pocket.”
One of the key things to know about Lynda.com is that it really is set up like a library. The individual videos are short—usually less than 5 minutes long—and although they’re organized into courses, you can watch them in any order, or dip in and out to learn just what you need.
|Survey Course: A Few of the Options in Online Training and Education|
|Online Courseware||Casual/Self-directed Learning|
|Carnegie Mellon University||Code School|
|Duke University||Creative Live|
|Harvard University||5 Minute Media|
|iTunes U||Kelby Training|
|Marginal Revolution University||Khan Academy|
|University of California, Berkeley||PluralSight|
|Yale University||Total Training|
“It’s not about what grade you’re in, it’s not about certification,” Weinman says. “It’s really about needing knowledge and having a resource that will give you that knowledge exactly the way you need it, wherever, whenever, on any device.”
Unlike Khan Academy, where nearly all of the lessons are recorded by founder Sal Khan, Lynda.com builds its videos around paid experts in each field—usually people who have been teaching their subject for a while. One of the Lynda.com courses I’m viewing right now is about Final Cut Pro X, Apple’s professional-level video editing program, and is taught by Ashley Kennedy, the digital media instructor at Columbia College Chicago. Another is on composition in black-and-white photography and is taught by Ben Long, a San Francisco-based photographer who’s written dozens of books, contributed to Macworld magazine, and lectured at Apple. Both instructors are warm, insightful, and fun to listen to.
And their courses are amazingly granular, often dwelling on minute details such as how to use the audio equalization tools to remove background noise in Final Cut Pro X or how to use shadow as “negative space” in a photographic composition. When a course is about a software tool like Final Cut Pro, you’ll barely see the instructor—most of the screen time is devoted to hands-on walk-throughs of specific features in the software interface. In Long’s course, which is more about a discipline or way of thinking than it is about specific tools, you’ll see Long behind a lectern, or sharing photographs, even in physical settings such as hills around the Quartz Mountain Resort in Oklahoma, where he teaches real-world courses.
A premium subscription to Lynda.com ($37.50 per month) gets you access to additional course materials, including, in many cases, “exercise files” that help you follow along at home. In the case of the Final Cut Pro X course, for example, the exercise files include the raw footage Kennedy uses to put together a documentary video. If you import the files into your own copy of the software, it transforms the whole course into a hands-on experience. “We are very committed to this idea of see it, do it, learn it,” says Weinman.
But there’s no set, prescribed way to use Lynda.com. If you want to lean back and watch an entire course without doing a single exercise, that’s fine. “I’m the defender of not making assumptions about how people are going to use our service,” Weinman says. “I think it’s just as valid [to use Lynda.com] at 2:00 in the morning, when you have to add something to your presentation for work tomorrow and you watch a 5-minute movie and you get it done, as it is to spend 20 hours learning something from scratch.”
Weinman acknowledges that the Lynda.com library may not be for everybody. If you’re like me, for example, you may often prefer to dive into a new software application and figure it out as you go, even if it means banging your head against various problems. “Some people are very adept at teaching themselves and would never thinking about reading a manual or watching a video,” Weinman says. “Other people really appreciate having some visual instruction.”
And there’s more to most of the courses, she points out, than simply explaining the nuts and bolts of a process or a piece of software. “You can teach yourself how to operate a camera, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from a great photographer, who could teach you about light or composition or storytelling,” Weinman says (which captures my own reason for viewing Ben Long’s course).
If you’re lucky enough to be a student at a school like the University of Southern California, which has licensed Lynda.com’s library for academic use, then you have full access to the site on top of all of your school’s other resources. At some of those places, an interesting “flipped classroom” dynamic is evolving, according to Robison, Lynda.com’s CEO. Students at the USC Film School, for example, watch the videos outside of class to learn the ins and outs of the editing tools they’ll be using, then work with instructors on creative projects in class.
Robison says he sees options like Lynda.com, Khan Academy, YouTube, and live classroom instruction as complementary, and he thinks they will all coexist as technology continues to sweep through the education business. But as long as Lynda.com can keep producing up-to-the-minute instructional videos that help people get a job, keep a job, advance in a career, or pursue the hobbies they love, it will have paying customers who are long past their school days.
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