Learn Business English in Rumii - Making the Impossible, Possible.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Italian VR/AR developer, blogger and entrepreneur Antony Vitillo in rumii to deliver a virtual reality business English lesson. We were 1,200km apart in the real world but thanks to the power of rumii’s VR collaboration tools, both Antony and I had the chance to embody a virtual avatar and begin learning English in a way that was never before possible, covering how to introduce oneself in English in professional contexts and how to describe information in graphs - important for those needing to fluently present slides or interact with the international community.

Our meeting lasted around 30 minutes, but time flew. Very quickly, from my perspective at least, I forgot that I had a VR headset strapped to my head because I found myself slipping into what I usually do when teaching in the physical world – listening intently and engaging with the student in ways to stimulate certain vocabulary or grammar so I could hone in on any weaknesses or areas for improvement.

Despite me using the term “lesson” I’m not fully convinced this is the best way to describe what we did. A “lesson” implies, to my mind at least, something more formal and that the student follows more explicitly the lead of the teacher, with maybe not as much free conversation as you'd find in more informal settings. I won't get bogged down in the semantics, but what happened in rumii was more than that. It was very much a coming together of two people, talking about business-related topics, with one person - the native speaker - offering support when needed.

This is one of the many curiosities of such interactions using this technology. What’s interesting is that VR collaboration spaces like rumii makes you question the whole dynamic of learning. It certainly has spilled over into my physical world interactions with students, which I’ll explain more about in a future post. There was however something much more social in our meeting than simply turning up to a classroom, plonking yourself behind a desk and fixing your gaze to the front of the class. We were able to move around in the virtual room and stand face-to-face which added to the personal nature of the learning experience. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt in the last decade as an educator, it’s that if you can nurture a good rapport between yourself and the students, they have the potential to experiment more with the English language and provide you opportunities to develop them further. Rumii facilitates that type of interaction, breaks down barriers, whether they be desks between teachers and students, or physical distances. Break those types of barriers down and you start to obliterate psychological and linguistic barriers which hinder a learner’s development.

But let’s stop and play devil’s advocate. I never want to become blinded by the technology so much that I assume that it’s the only and best way to go about teaching. So the simple question is: if we hadn’t had rumii, how would Antony and I have conducted the business English lesson? Well the facts are that I was in southern Italy at the time and he was in the north. Remember those barriers I was talking about earlier? That’s a 1,200km barrier. Oh and another thing, before I forget. Remember those barriers I was talking about earlier? That’s a 300€ barrier had I taken the plane and booked a hotel overnight in Turin to make that lesson happen:

What about the train? That’s a 153€, out-of-the-house-for-25-straight-hours barrier: