Lynda Weinman assures educators that popular tutorials website Lynda.com wants to be a resource, not a replacement, for schools and universities.
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Lynda Weinman could easily redefine herself as the founder of a Web design and computer training massive open online course (MOOC), but she would rather not -- not if it would put her in competition with traditional schools and universities, some of which are her best customers.
As the Lynda.com co-founder and executive chair said in a speech this week at the Education Innovation Summit at Arizona State University, she prefers to present her service to educators as a resource to help them teach better, rather than a replacement for what they do.
"I prefer being a complement, and not being a competitor," Weinman said. In addition to being a resource for independent, self-directed learning, Lynda.com licenses its content to thousands of universities and about 700 K-12 school systems, some of whom have purchased site licenses that make the content available to all students, faculty and staff. One of her favorite student success stories concerns a janitor at a U.K. university who wound up moving into the institution's Web team as the result of self-study.
When Weinman took the stage, someone in the audience tweeted about being relieved to see a teacher featured at the event, following a parade of technologists and edtech entrepreneurs. Weinman made it clear that she sees herself as a teacher and wants other teachers to see her as one of them.
Lynda.com has grown into perhaps the best known library for online tutorials on Web design and programming, as well as many other subjects related to computers and creativity. The company she and her husband, chief creative officer Bruce Heavin, started 18 years ago has offered instruction in many forms over the years, in the classroom and by selling VHS tape videos before settling into its current model as a subscription-based library of online video tutorials. Weinman got her first big hit with Designing Web Graphics, a 1995 book that taught many people how to make the Web look good.
"It's all teaching -- it's just different form factors," Weinman said.
In an interview prior to her Wednesday keynote address, she said she understands that some teachers may feel "a little threatened" by the proliferation of online learning content but hopes they will learn to see it as a resource rather than a threat. To keep pace with a fast-changing world, students need to be able to research and learn on their own, Weinman said. That means being "more open to outside influences, beyond what the teacher's point of view may be, where the teacher is more in a mentorship and guide position, rather than a sage everyone is going to go to for every answer," she said.
With more than 87,000 videos in its catalog, Lynda.com says it topped $100 million in revenue in 2012. Now the site is in the process of expanding to reach beyond its current English-speaking audience. Lynda.com acquired European competitor Video2brain in February, a month after it took $103 million in venture funding. The desire to internationalize the service is the main reason Lynda.com decided to take outside financing, after years of bootstrapped growth, Weinman said.
Despite the boom in online education, there is "no one solution" to all the challenges faced by educators. Online learning ventures need to partner with education and with educators, she said, rather than seeking one magic formula. "The whole idea of standardized formulas is never going to work because we all learn differently," Weinman said.
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