Global Vision Blog

Online Training: how the scam operates

Sep 26, 2016 11:08:08 AM / by Peter Hawkins

A look at some of the training sector's darkest secrets...

Today I spoke to the victim of a very cunning scam.

There’s no other way I can describe his experience. After signing up with a supplier and paying, the product delivered to the customer’s business didn’t work. So bad was it that by the time he spoke to me he’d actually forgotten how many he’d originally paid for, because he asked them to stop sending the rest after the first ones failed so dismally.

He couldn’t demand a refund; “The contract was a bit too, um, one sided.”

It sounds odd, don’t you think that such a contract could ever be enforced? Everyone knows that goods have to be fit for sale after all?

“I couldn’t even get working ones elsewhere... the small print said that they can charge us heavy fees if we deploy another supplier’s product.”

I think the term here is ‘abuse of market power’.

“...and it gets worse”, he continued, “they started selling direct to our staff but had a clause that forced our finance team to pay whether we authorised a transaction or not. Staff only had to take one look and discard it, but this was defined as a sale; we were left with big bills we never budgeted for and had no control over.”

We are shocked to hear of a large organisation engaging in such activities. Whether we are buying a house, furniture, a car or anything else, we expect it to perform the stated purpose and we would not agree to contracts that absolve a vendor from responsibility.

What intrigues me is the number of people who shrug or indicate I should not be so naïve as to complain when I tell them the product in this case is eLearning.

Have we really reached the point where we are resigned to accepting something which would cause outrage if perpetrated by any other vendor?

Is a group who work unconscionably the best basis for a complex future legal defence if things go wrong?

Anything sold as a ‘course’ must by definition teach people! Noone actually believes their team learns effectively from an onscreen text document with a few click-and-reveals and a quiz, (what I call a text-assault). Least of all the staff asked to sit through it; in my experience, they know perfectly well when their valuable time is being treated with disrespect. They skip to the end, share quiz answers and go through the motions. Who can blame them? They are treating the material with the same disrespect shown to them and it is also unlikely they are missing much anyway.

The problem for their employer is that it is wasting money and unlikely to be meeting its compliance obligations.

Remember this - humans want to learn; if people are resisting, it's safe to assume they aren't learning. If they must be pressured to complete, both your time and theirs is being wasted.

A particular irony is when I see people being bullied to complete their anti-bullying compliance courses!

If anyone else behaved this way, we would report them to the authorities. It's about time the shonky eLearning players were treated the same way.

Avoiding the pitfalls

1) Look for hidden fees. Reputable providers charge an all encompassing annual fee.

2) Never agree to charges or limitations on loading your own or other content.

3) Don’t buy sight unseen - do the courses. If you don’t want to finish, nor will your team.

4) Don’t be fooled by the impressive list of ‘who is using our courses’.

5) Do not sign up for a multi-year lock-in contract. Ensure you can exit after 12 months if it doesn’t work out.

6) Don’t call referees chosen for you - pick your own three of their clients who are similar to your organisation and call them. Ask about:

  • extra charges
  • whether staff complete without being chased up
  • supporting responsiveness
  • whether they are likely to change providers in the future.

If you know more, I'd be interested in your experiences. Please contact me via

Topics: purchasing eLearning

Peter Hawkins

Written by Peter Hawkins

Peter is one of Australia’s foremost learning technology and data analytics experts. Originally a maths/science teacher and data analysis researcher, Peter’s work in learning technology dates from the early 1990s when he was asked to assist UNESCO to implement remote learning in Africa. He established the first learning technology system for Monash University during his period as an academic in information technology. Peter’s company, Global Vision, was the first to provide LMS services in Australia and now provides a range of learning technologies to organisations nationally, both government and non-government. Peter is a regular contributor to Australia’s xAPI community and is the founder of Australia’s xAPI Trailblazers Group.