Three sponsored advertisements on social media stated the following:
“Get FREE access to our Online Course in Project Management”
“Looking for something to keep you busy? Get FREE access to our Online Course which gives you a thorough foundation in Project Management which you can use to advance your career or purely for personal reasons”
“Bored of binge watching? Why not learn a new skill? Get FREE access to our Online Course which gives you a thorough foundation in Project Management which you can use to advance your career or purely for personal reasons”
“UNLIMITED ACCESS to ALL our courses for 4 weeks”
All three advertisements show a picture of a Professional Diploma in Project Management & Leadership being held in both hands by the outline of a person behind the document.
The complainant considered the advertisement not to be offering the free access but a free trial of a paid subscription service, which was difficult to cancel during a free trial period. She considered the free trial did not give unlimited access as indicated in the advertisement and only allowed student to complete one module of a course.
The complainant considered the photograph of a diploma to be misleading as it was not possible to gain a diploma in four weeks. She also said the essential course materials cost extra and were not included in the free trial.
The advertisers said they offered a wide variety of online courses across a number of faculties including marketing, design, finance, business, technology, photography and health & wellness, to name but a few and that their courses were delivered online and students could choose to schedule class times that suit them, and catch up on recordings if their scheduled timeslot was missed. They said that while a credit card was requested at registration stage, failure to submit details did not limit a potential user from accessing the content.
The advertisers said that students could sign up for a free 4-week course that gave them a thorough introduction to the subject after which students could choose to continue with their education with the advertisers by taking further lessons on that course. They said a monthly subscription fee applied if a student wished to take Modules 2 through to 4 and that each module took approximately 4 weeks to complete. They said that students could cancel the service at any time, either during the free trial or during subsequent paid modules. The advertisers considered that this business model was no different to any digital streaming services, ranging from audio books, video content and music, nor it was advertised differently.
The advertisers said that from the moment that a customer signed up to any course they provided, they could also access all other courses across all other faculties for free. They said this applied to both the initial 4-week free access to the course or during their paid membership. They said there were no limits to the number of courses that a student could attend during all stages of their Shaw Academy membership and that they could register for any course in the member’s area.
The advertisers said that a certificate of completion was available to all students who complete Module 1, with their Diploma certificate available on completion of all modules and after the final exam had successfully been completed. They said there was additional course material available such as toolkits, which were learning aids that accompany the course material. They said toolkits were a useful study aid and beneficial to students, but not essential and not required to complete any of the modules or assessments throughout the course.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response. They noted that students could sign up for a 4-week free access and that there were no limits to the number of courses that a student could attend during all stages of their Shaw Academy membership.
They noted, however, that while a certificate of completion was available to students who completed Module 1, the Diploma certificate was only available on completion of all modules and after the final exam had successfully been completed. The Committee considered while the advertisement depicted a Diploma certificate received by a student, that such an award would not be possible to obtain in 4 weeks. In the circumstances, they considered the advertisement to be in breach of the Code sections 4.1, 4.4, 4.9 and 4.10 of the Code.
The advertisement must not appear in the current form.