The advertisement was featured on page 73 of the university prospectus for 2020 and advertised an award-winning Diploma in Arts (Italian) Online Course.
The advertisement stated that the course was:
“based on a collaborative, communicative approach”
“sessions [would] be delivered live online via our Virtual Learning Environment on Thursday evenings for both 1st and 2nd year students”.
The complainant said the wording “sessions [would] be delivered live online via our Virtual Learning Environment on Thursday evenings” implied that tutorials were weekly rather than bi-weekly.
The complainant discovered upon commencing the course that one 50-minute class was delivered every second Thursday and that the remainder of the course involved interacting with online tests and learning materials.
The complainant believed that the advertisement was not clear enough in relation to the format of the course and how emphasis was mostly on self-teaching and self-learning.
The complainant said the validity of the claim that the course was “award-winning” was hard to verify for a prospective student as the name of the award was omitted from the advertisement.
The advertisers confirmed that the Diploma in Italian Online was indeed based on a collaborative and communicative approach and that the communicative element was delivered through online conversations and weekly discussion forums where students had to interact with each other, as well as with the tutors. In addition, the advertisers said that there were also collaborative group projects which happened later on in the programme as time was required to allow participants to familiarise themselves with the language, the platform and online learning.
They clarified that this was not a physical lecture course adopted to go online, but that it was an entire e-learning programme where participants worked through a number of activities embedded into a larger socio-constructivist framework and were encouraged to share and build knowledge through participation, forum discussions and live sessions. As they built up confidence in the language, the technology and the methodology adopted, the advertisers said that participants then progressed to work on more complex group projects, sharing roles, responsibilities and ultimately knowledge.
The advertisers said that there were 6 live online sessions per semester plus 1 introductory unit at the beginning of Semester 1 (13 per year). They said these were delivered with tutors and in small groups for conversation and tutorials and that these were 50-minute sessions, the same timeframe as any other academic lecture. The advertisers explained that each language module of 1 semester consisted of 5 learning units of 2 weeks each plus 2 revision units of 1 week each. They said new material was released every Monday via Blackboard and participants worked through activities with clear and published deadlines. The advertisers said the students received individual feedback on assessed tasks and that a number of non-assessed tasks were also available for practice only.
Furthermore, the advertisers explained that weekly forum discussions were an integral part of the learning system. They said students were also required to record themselves and at times share their recordings in order to receive feedback on each recording. The advertisers clarified that participants also continuously interacted asynchronously with their tutors, explaining that whilst the programme had an element of self-pacing whereby participants could organise the time/days when they wished to work on the activities, they had to work to deadlines and guidance was offered at every stage. They said these deadlines were published at the beginning of each learning unit.
In relation to the Adult Learning Prospectus itself, the target audience of which was Adult Learners (21 years+), the advertisers said that this was created every two years to promote the range of part-time courses on offer at University of Galway and, as such, it featured a disclaimer advising prospective students that courses were subject to change. They explained that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the printed versions of the 2020 Prospectus were not distributed and that instead it was made available in digital format on their website and was promoted on their social media channels when it was launched in 2020.
The advertisers said an open and transparent approach was offered in the printed and online communication format. They said the course page template clearly contained a contact name of the Course Director, direct telephone number and email address so that prospective students could find out further information on the course, ascertain its suitability to their upskilling needs and determine whether the mode of delivery was in line with their specific requirements.
The advertisers stated that the programme won the European Language Label in 2013, awarded by Leargas.
ASAI Executive research on the function of Leargas included information highlighting that Léargas work under the remit of the Department of Further Education, Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science https://www.leargas.ie/about-us/).
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
Issue 1 – Upheld.
The Complaints Committee noted the advertised claim that “sessions [would] be delivered ….on Thursday evenings”, that the complaint was that sessions were delivered bi-weekly and that this was not disputed in the response. Taking account of the Code requirement that a marketing communication should not mislead, or be likely to mislead, by inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration, omission or otherwise (4.1), the Committee considered that the claim was misleading and was therefore in breach of Code section 4.1
Issue 2 – Not Upheld.
Noting the complaint that the advertisement was insufficiently clear enough on the course format and level of independent learning, the Committee noted the prospectus clarity on the course being online and that stipulation of sessions delivered on Thursdays was sufficiently clear to imply the level of independent learning required. The Committee did not consider that the advertisement was in breach of the Code on the basis suggested in this complaint.
Issue 3 – Not Upheld.
The Complaints Committee noted the award by a body acting under the remit of a Government department and did not consider that omission of reference to the awarding body was material and therefore not an omission under the Code.
Action Required: The Complaints Committee told the advertisers that their advertising should correctly reflect course delivery.