With new CTO, online learning site lynda.com looks to up its game

In the last year, a new crop of online learning upstarts, such as Coursera, UdemyKhan Academy and Codecademy, has attracted plenty of media attention and investor dollars for bringing quality educational content to K-12 and college schools, as well as lifelong learners.  But lynda.com, something of an old-hand when it comes to online education, has remained relatively quiet.

Now that it’s bringing on board a new CTO, however, it looks like the Carpinteria, Calif.-based company might have more to talk about.

On Monday, lynda.com announced that it had hired Frits Habermann, the former CTO and vice president of social game operations of PopCap Games (which was purchased by Electronic Arts (s EA) last year) to expand its cloud infrastructure and build out its mobile and international platforms. Prior to PopCap, Habermann was an executive at Adobe (s ADBE), where he co-founded InDesign and was vice president of core technologies.

Since launching in 1995, lynda.com, which was founded by husband and wife team Bruce Heavin and Lynda Weinman, has built up a library of more than 1,500 video courses serving more than one million individual, corporate and academic members. On the site, users pay a subscription fee of about $25 to access the content, which aims to help anyone from novices to more advanced students learn software, business and creative skills through video tutorials produced in-house by vetted experts. The company has grown without the help of outside investment and, last year, reportedly hit $70 million in revenues.

Habermann said he comes from a family of educators and had been thinking about launching an education startup of his own when he started talking to lynda.com.

“I see a medium-sized company that is poised for growth from the point of view of things I’m interested in – the cloud, social and mobile,” he said. “My role is to help the company get to the next level.”

For starters, he said, he plans to enhance personalization and search on the site so that learners have better guidance carving out an individualized path. He also said that while the company has an iOS app, they’ll soon expand to other platforms, such as Android. Additionally, the site is minimally social in that allows members to share playlists of videos and communicates with users on Facebook, but Habermann said a focus in 2013 will be expanding into the “low-hanging fruit” in social networking.  Beyond that, he said he intends to explore live video, chat and socialization to create a more collaborative classroom – those features may take more time, but he said lynda.com “wants to be the world’s leader in that.”  To help upgrade the site’s technology, Habermann said he’ll be hiring a lean team of engineers, including those in service-oriented architecture and mobile devices.

One of the company’s advantages against its new class of competitors is its strong collection of professionally-produced content, but as other startups are showing, high-quality content is only one part of an engaging online learning experience. Updating its technology to enable more interactive and collective learning experiences will be key to helping lynda.com from falling behind.