2015 marked the year that an online education platform finally joined the coveted billion dollar unicorn club. Just three months after a final round of $186 million in financing, LinkedIn announced the $1.5 billion acquisition deal of online education leader Lynda.com. The other top contenders in this space, Coursera and Udemy, quickly followed suit, raising a total of $146.1 million and $113 million respectively.
Software Programming Dominates Search
While each of these players is targeting a different audience and betting on a different business model, the value proposition to the end consumer interested in taking a course is very similar. An analysis of non-branded search terms (those excluding the name of the site) reveals which strategy is producing the most appealing course offering. Udemy dominates the top 10 non-branded search terms, owning the top three terms “xcode for windows”, “learn java”, and “interpersonal skills”.
That third spot is the only term that is specifically related to soft skills, while the rest of the terms focus on software. It might also suggest that computer geeks are still investing in people skills. Most interesting is the virtual absence of Lynda.com, which appears to be letting Coursera and Udemy battle it out in the software training search category.
Popular Courses Reveal Distinct Audience and Business Model
The key differences in each company’s approach emerge when analyzing the top 10 courses on each site.
Although both Coursera and Udemy offer courses covering similar subject matter, Coursera is bringing an academic curriculum to the masses while Udemy provides specific certification tracks. In fact, the only course that both sites’ top 10 lists share is Android mobile application development.
Udemy acts as a course marketplace, enabling instructors to make money and essentially become the site’s brand advocate. In contrast, Coursera is striving to disrupt the very nature of academic education. The site partners with established academic institutions, enabling students to takes courses online. Coursera then charges students for official diplomas, which is becoming an acceptable form of academic credit.
The top 10 list for Lynda.com is very different from the other two contenders, explaining the difference in traffic figures. While Coursera and Udemy focus on the technical training required to become a software developer, Lynda.com focuses on design skills.
This fundamental difference helps to explain why Lynda.com successfully positioned itself for a billion dollar acquisition despite getting to a late start in 2013 (vs. Udemy in 2010 and Coursera in 2012). To date, most software engineers in the west rely on theoretical academic training combined with a healthy dose of independent study.
However, while Lynda.com customers might be trained in the basics of design – they are more willing to pay for technical mastery of the latest tools in order to succeed on the job.