Do Facebook and Google Acquisitions Signal Trend?

The stories are frequent enough to have a familiarity about them. A company you never heard of is being acquired by a company you’ve heard a lot about for an awful lot of money.

On March 26, Oculus VR, the relative unknown, was purchased by Facebook, the household name, for a reported $2 billion. Oculus makes a virtual reality headset offering 3-D experiences, so it made perfect sense for Facebook to delve into a space where potentially Facebook could be hosting 3-D, interactive networking events and the segmented marketing possibilities one can imagine from that.

That deal, though, was dwarfed by Facebook’s $19 billion dollar purchase in February of WhatsApp, a mobile messaging service with an audience of roughly 400 million. In January, Google paid about $3.2 billion for “Nest,” a pioneer in the so-called “Internet of Things.” Think fridges that think, and programmable vacuum cleaners. 

After buying Nest, Google dropped half a billion on a UK firm Deep Mind, which is into artificial intelligence. 

It’s easy to see how these purchases connect at some point–virtual reality, mobile messaging, programmable toys and artificial intelligence, but do these acquisitions signal a broader opportunity to be acquired for tech enterprise in general and e-learning in particular?

Not necessarily, said Todd Tauber, vice president, learning & development research, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting. “The common factor in the acquisitions are rapidly emerging technologies with a lot of growth potential,” Tauber explained. It’s the hot consumer segment like mobile messaging for 400 million that drives the market valuations that in turn drive what price they can expect from a Google or Facebook, said Tauber.

The list of potential suitors is not as great in e-learning and a sizable company in the space is $400 million in value, Tauber noted, so you don’t have companies with Facebook or Google kind of money to invest. But the analyst did note that there are potentially disruptive subsectors in e-learning worth keeping an eye on, such as MOOCs. 

“But a lot of these MOOC products will need to evolve and adapt to the different demands of the corporate market,” Tauber said.     


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