Online Courses in China Touting Fast Professional Success Prove to be Ripoffs



· 2021.12.28

Online professional course providers paint a rosy picture to consumers in which they can acquire professional skills that allow them to make money by doing professional work after only several days or months' learning. It turns out to be nothing but a scam.

Image Source: Visual China

In 2021, some Chinese people have been busy learning skills on the Internet through which they expect to cash in on.

As the new year nears, a dozen of Internet giants in the country have reportedly started streamlining their departments and laying off a large number of employees. It is said that thousands of people will be let go by Internet companies. Such moves were expected after rapid expansion in the industry. The increasing threat from the possibility of being let go by employers has made professionals realize the importance of having diverse skills, which can drastically increase workers’ competitiveness in the job market.

Supply quickly came after the rise of demand. The paid knowledge market experienced significant growth in 2021 as courses on wealth management, film post-production, video editing, e-commerce livestreaming and even plastic surgery consulting, etc. flooded advertisement spaces on the Internet. These courses are marketed towards users as “courses that can quickly equip learners with money-making skills” and can be priced at over thousands of yuan.

Once users made their purchase and took a few sessions, they would soon realize that the skills being taught in these courses are actually not easy to learn and can hardly allow users to cash in with them. What’s worse, it is difficult to get a refund in most cases. This is why such online courses are often considered scammy by netizens.

Online professional skill courses, tickets to becoming professional talents?

It is very easy to notice that online professional courses are generally marketed to consumers as courses for “beginners with no prior experience”, whether the courses are about e-commerce livestream, plastic surgery consulting or video editing.

Such marketing strategies make it easier to attract consumers since very few people are willing to invest in courses with high thresholds, let alone convince them to purchase advanced courses that are more expensive.

Online professional course providers paint an exciting future to consumers in which they can acquire professional skills that allow them to make money by doing professional work after several days or months’ learning. It becomes even more appealing when these courses are marketed as “courses for beginners with no prior experiences in relevant professional fields.”

For instance, sales agents of plastic surgery consulting courses would promise that even a rookie with very little knowledge about the plastic surgery industry would be able to look for related jobs after graduating from their courses with a certificate. “You can use it (the graduation certificate) to look for jobs. It is quite easy to find a job as a plastic surgery consultant. If our trainees could not find a job by themselves, we would also recommend job opportunities from our partners to them,” a sales agent said.

Video editing course providers use similar marketing to appeal to potential consumers. They will work with bloggers that specialize in content about videography on social media to promote their courses, oftentimes presenting statistics about viewership and comments to prove that even beginners with no experience can become successful as well. Video editing courses are the most popular content because such skill is needed on several popular media platforms and therefore generates many opportunities to earn a buck. Their sales agents would tell potential customers that they only need to spend two or three hours a day to study, and they would be able to earn thousands a month by editing video as a side job.

The content of professional learning courses might vary but their marketing strategy remains the same – professions such as e-commerce livestreamer, video editor and plastic surgery consultant no longer have professional thresholds. In other words, these professional learning service providers are trying to paint themselves as the sole providers of professional qualifications of those professions.

Potential consumers of such content might easily have the illusion that they can start off as a beginner that knows absolutely nothing about a certain professional skill and can still master it to the extent that they can make money out of it after taking a few courses.

In order to attract customers, some course providers would tell potential customers that they have accumulated sufficient career development resources that can help trainees find a job after finishing the courses. Some course providers would even include job recommendations and job opportunities in their contracts with the trainees.

Unfortunately, after graduating from online professional courses, trainees would soon discover the level of the professional skills they acquired through courses is far from enough to help them earn some cash. There are lots of relevant complaints that can be easily found on consumer complaint site Heimao.

Capitalizing from hypes

Why do scammy online professional learning service providers always focus on e-commerce livetream, video editing, illustration and psychological counseling?

The answer is simple: these are all emerging sectors that people know little of. Video editing skills are desirable because of the rise of short-video platforms like TikTok’s Chinese sister app Douyin. The increasing popularity of shopping on livestreaming channels has also made e-commerce livestreaming skills appear to be very useful. Illustration skill and psychological counseling, on the other hand, might have been around for quite a while but people know little of what exactly illustrators and counselors actually do. In short, scammers purposefully choose professions and industries that people are not familiar with to create content.

Consumers’ lack of understanding of such professions and industries allows scammers to exaggerate their career prospects and business opportunities.

“Do you know how much psychological counselors make? They can earn money by simply chatting with people on their phone anywhere anytime. They don’t need to sit in an office or constantly go on business trips to make big money.”

“You will be thanking yourself in the future for taking three days to complete an illustration class. I can help you start from scratch and become a professional illustrator that can make money on your own.”

“Spend 9.9 yuan to get your complete guide to short video production. Get tips to grow your fan base and learn video editing and filming techniques. 9.9 yuan to unlock the full picture of the short video business. Come earn some cash for the coming Chinese New Year.”

Similar rhetoric can be found everywhere on the Internet. They all tell users that “it is easy to learn professional skills and then capitalize from them.” Unfortunately, given the fact that users know very little of such professions and industries, it is very difficult for them to detect the scammy sides of these lines.

If we are talking about a course that promises to turn people into professional doctors in a few days, then of course it would be very easy for people to know it is a scam because people understand how much time and resources it is required to train a doctor. But when it comes to emerging industries and professions that people know little of while looking lucrative, it becomes hard to see through the scams immediately.

Very few people can stay rational when sales agents keep telling them that even beginners with zero experience can become professionals and find jobs easily.

When sales agents are trying to sell e-commerce livestream courses, they would talk about how much growth the e-commerce livestream industry is enjoying and argue that it is the right time for entry into the sector, backing their arguments up with several success stories.

E-commerce livestream courses do teach their trainees at actual livestream rooms about how to sell and promote products. But they mention very little about the low success rate in the industry and how lots of small and mid-sized livestreamers only have dozens of people watching their livestreaming channels.

The e-commerce livestream industry has become incredibly competitive, requiring the livestreamers to not only be good at talking but also have good products. E-commerce livestream courses that focus on training trainees on how to sell and promote products are far from enough to ensure success for new livestreamers.

Falling for scams

There are lots of consumers who were scammed by such courses. Their complaints can be found on different Internet platforms.

People that are taking professional skill courses would gradually realize that the skills they are learning are in fact difficult to master in a short time and it is difficult to make money out of them. They would also find that it is not easy to ask for a refund. All these problematic situations and relevant complaints have not prevented other people from being scammed. Such courses just keep drawing people in.

These scammy course providers purposefully target white collars who are struggling to pay their everyday bills, stay-at-home moms and retirees that are looking for ways to earn some extra cash. They promise potential customers that they can work remotely from home and make money out of professional skills.

In fact, these online professional courses do cater to people’s pain points. The increasingly competitive job market has created a sense of insecurity for white collars, which pressures white collars to build up their competitive advantages somehow. Stay-at-home moms and retirees who face financial pressure would naturally want to find jobs that have low thresholds and bring some extra cash.

This is why there are always people falling for such scams when there are lots of complaints already on the Internet. The urge to make money leads to opportunistic investment in professional skill learning, creating cash incentives for course providers to continue their scammy behaviors.

What’s worse, these scammers have come up with innovative ways to trick potential customers.

Online professional learning service providers would appeal to potential customers with insanely cheap livestreaming sessions since nobody would want to pay thousands of yuan up-front immediately for some courses.

After luring potential customers in, the presenter in the livestreaming channel would tell people that there is an exclusive discount with a limited quota during the livestream session, which creates a sense of urgency for people to place their order right away. Then the presenter would move on to talk about the career prospect of the professional skill that they will be teaching, painting a beautiful picture for the audience. This is usually how people would fall for such scams.

(The article is translated and edited with authorization from the author @锌刻度. please note source and hyperlink when reproduce. The original article can be found here.)

Translator: Garrett Li

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