Skillsoft and IBM research into personalized learning holds major implications for the field.

With nearly 20 million users, more than 60,000 content pieces, and trillions of user—content interactions, Skillsoft is perched atop a goldmine of data. In 2013, the learning, talent management, and HR solution provider approached IBM's research arm for help in using this data to drive more personalized learning experiences for Skillsoft users.

In the first phase of the project, IBM's data scientists analyzed usage patterns and historical content consumption to build algorithms that would automatically deliver personalized learning recommendations via email to a test group of Skillsoft users. The quality of these recommendations was measured through user feedback, email response statistics, and users' performance in the courses.

In the feedback gathered, 90 percent of users stated that one or more recommendations was useful to them; 29 percent clicked on at least one recommendation in their first email opened; and there was a 128 percent improvement in engagement, as measured by users' interactions with the content (how frequently they accessed it and how they performed in the courses).

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In the second phase of the partnership, currently under way, the algorithms—which grow increasingly sophisticated with each interaction—will connect learning recommendations to make a personalized professional development "path" for individual Skillsoft users. The implications of this are significant for organizations, many of which do not have the resources to manage learning at the individual level.

"We hear from our users that we provide a lot of great content; this is a way of automating content curation for individual learners," says Sue Rodeman, vice president of product marketing for Skillsoft. Skillsoft's partnership with IBM shows the powerful role data can play not only in curating content, but also in facilitating employees' career development.