Measuring ROI in an English-asa-Second-Language Program: An Online Learning Solution

Performance Medica

Edward P. Nathan


This case study examines the methodology used to determine the ROI of an online English-as-a-second-language (ESL) program. The program was implemented in more than 20 countries, and the scope of the analysis includes data from all participating countries. A form of ROI analysis had been conducted annually prior to the addition of the ROI Methodology. The latest analysis follows the ROI Methodology approach step-by-step and has provided greater credibility as a result.


The organization evaluated is a multinational research-based pharmaceutical company. In order to respect the privacy of the client company and for purposes of this project, the company will be called “Performance Medica.” The ROI evaluation described here represents the sixth year of evaluating the online English-as-a-secondlanguage (ESL) course from a company called GlobalEnglish (GE). Due to its previous history as a holding company for many different types of businesses, Performance Medica has an HR function that does not include technical skills training, but focuses more on senior management and leadership development. While the company has shed many of the nonpharmaceutical businesses and now focuses exclusively on healthcare, technical training still resides in the various business units in the organization. As a result, the GE program was originally sponsored and rolled out by the company's learning and performance (L&P) department. This group is responsible for training (directly and indirectly through global affiliates) more than 8,000 employees in the commercial organization (sales and marketing).


Due to the size of the organization and the scope of the initiative, good metrics were very important to this project. As the process is described, this study references the 12 guiding principles of the ROI Methodology. For the company to meet its succession planning and career ladder goals, it needed to move a number of high-talent and highpotential people from country to country with an expected rotation in the United States. Succession planning was a stated business objective whereby the company was committed to develop and promote highly talented people. Those people were identified as tomorrow's company leaders. As a U.S.-based multinational corporation, the lingua franca was English. Developing the English language skills for these non-native speakers was a major concern, but one that had been left up to the local affiliates to resolve on their own.

Historically, the affiliates tried to hire high-potential employees who already had suitable English language skills—although no standard for what was “suitable” was ever established. When ESL skills were less than “suitable,” it was up to the local affiliates to offer local ESL solutions to their staff. As a result, the outcomes of ESL training have been mixed. A number of affiliates suggested it would have been more effective if the company considered leveraging its global economy of scale to drive a standard ESL learning initiative.


A number of stakeholders were involved in this effort. However, it was a complex set of relationships. While the HR group (a key stakeholder) was responsible for the succession planning process, that group offered no ESL training to support the effort. A significant number of succession planning candidates in the affiliates came from their sales and marketing departments, therefore it was felt the global L&P department (another key stakeholder) should be tasked with supporting the ESL training. In addition, the affiliate HR managers were also key stakeholders responsible for implementing the local succession planning process. These managers were also critical decision makers in terms of both funding the ESL solution and enrolling affiliate learners.

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