* Deal worth around $500 million
* Backs digital education push, focus on U.S. market
* German publisher close to selling call-centre unit (Adds industry context, analyst)
By Douglas Busvine
FRANKFURT, Sept 17 (Reuters) - German publishing group Bertelsmann said on Monday it was buying U.S. online education provider OnCourse Learning from private equity firm CIP Capital in a deal worth around $500 million.
The acquisition backs Bertelsmann's push into digital education and training, and will boost its presence in the United States, a growth market which already contributes around a fifth of its sales.
"We are expanding our education business to include a company with significant growth potential," said Bertelsmann's chairman and CEO, Thomas Rabe.
"At the same time, the transaction will further strengthen our presence in the U.S., where we already generate more than 20 percent of our revenues. In the future, we expect this share to rise to around 30 percent."
OnCourse Learning, founded in 2007, is based in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and employs 375 people. It provides digital corporate and advanced training courses for healthcare and financial services customers and has a smaller real-estate business.
"There's certainly a significant opportunity for expanding into life-long learning," Sarah Simon, media analyst at Berenberg, said of the deal.
"We're all going to have to work for ever, so there's going to be more demand for people to re-skill themselves and change jobs."
Bertelsmann is one of the few larger companies to invest in the field, along with U.S. publisher John Wiley, while Britain's Pearson is more focused on the school and college segment of the U.S. market, added Simon.
The acquisition is part of Rabe's strategic push to invest in growth areas - Bertelsmann's education division achieved revenue growth of 21 percent in the first half of the year, albeit from a small base.
The education division's top line was just 111 million euros ($129 million) out of total revenues of 8.2 billion euros. Bertelsmann's largest business, television broadcaster RTL Group , is nearly 30 times bigger.
The publisher - which spans eight divisions - is meanwhile close to selling its Arvato CRM call-centre unit to free up capital to invest in growth projects while strengthening its established units, some of which face headwinds.
OnCourse Learning, which has an online library of around 22,000 courses, is used by around 750,000 people and 19,000 business customers. The U.S. market for continuing education in healthcare and financial services is estimated at $3.6 billion.
Its healthcare division will be folded into Bertelsmann subsidiary Relias, which was acquired in 2014 and also operates in the industry, Bertelsmann said.
The company also has a stake in Udacity, a life-long learning platform founded by German computer scientist Sebastian Thrun.
$1 = 0.8582 euros Reporting by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Riham Alkousaa and Mark Potter