English is the global language of commerce, and a small New Zealand company has scored a major breakthrough, partnering with Cambridge University to take English language online and blended courses to market.
Vital English is a joint venture between Auckland e-learning company Intuto and Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec). Its partnership with Cambridge ESOL, a non-profit department of the famous British university, has produced four different online English courses, and another seven projects have since been won by competitive tender. These range from online and blended speaking tests to applications for iPhone and iPad.
"We’ve put a big effort into the development of English language training in a web-assisted format around the world, and it was really from that that Cambridge saw what we were doing,” says Richard Warren, CEO of Intuto and Vital English. The CEO of Cambridge ESOL recently told Warren the reason they’d chosen Intuto (after secretly trialling other English-language courses worldwide) and awarded them new projects, was "because our technology is absolutely as good as anything they’ve seen in the world, better than most, and our commitment to doing a good job is absolutely obvious to them”.
Intuto (www.intuto.com) started about 10 years ago, specialising in IT training, which it still does, along with Occupational Safety & Health, Employers Assistance, and internet safety, among other courses. Its guiding principles are to offer people training in a manner that fits their work schedule, doesn’t involve major travel time, and is of consistent quality. Being able to do this online, Warren says, is crucial for helping businesses become smarter.
"In every single case the business administrator has told us they are encouraging their staff to upskill because they know that’s going to increase productivity,” he says. "Businesses, particularly office based businesses, can get their staff to upskill really efficiently in an online format, and in many cases staff will do that if it’s a fun-to-do course and in their own time, because they know it’s good for them.”
The success of Vital English means Intuto will be putting more resources into developing these courses for other markets, and its staff of 25 is expected to grow this year as a result. It’s focused on developing a global network of distributors for the product, and expects to have 80 in place within two years. Canada is a major growth market, but there are exciting prospects in Europe and Africa. The tourism and oil & gas industries are big customers for English tuition, and the development of mobile applications has significant potential for China and the Indian subcontinent.
"It’s a fairly bold goal, but we think we can be the biggest distributor of English language products and systems five years from now,” Warren says.