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Editor’s Note: Because we are a society of consumers to be satisfied and rewarded, marketing has become as significant in “selling” education as in selling any other commodity.

Effective Tools for Marketing Education
Based on Adopted Customer Service Models

Helen Madden-Hallett, Henry Wai Leong Ho


The purpose of the paper is to confirm the existence of a customer service model within the provision of on-line marketing of education.  Previous studies relating to customer service models were adapted to determine the efficacy of the constructs in the education context.  The data set comprised 328 responses from a questionnaire survey of undergraduate students enrolled in marketing subjects.  The major finding is that five factors were found relating to the use of WebCT as an on-line education tool.  These factors in order of weightings are ease of use, level of enjoyment and positive self-image, time saving elements, usefulness and its helpfulness as an administration tool.  The study clearly signposts areas of development of WebCT as a learning tool for future use in marketing education. 

Keywords: WebCT, marketing education, education as a service


This paper looks at the roll out of WebCT as a dissemination and communication tool in an undergraduate business degree in the Western region of Melbourne, Australia and is relevant for
other tertiary education providers using electronic teaching tools.

The last decade saw the inception and growth of web-based learning (Aggarwal, 2000). Most web-based learning environments use some individual face to face teaching as a featured aspect of the program and contain both static and interactive materials.  Some advantages of web-based learning include universal accessibility, ease in updating content, and hyperlink functions that permit cross-referencing to other resources (Aggarwal, 2000; McKimm, Jollie, & Cantillon, 2003). 

In Australia, most tertiary institutions use web-based learning to facilitate teaching and learning for most on-campus degrees. This use of technology supports students becoming lifelong learners by enabling them to be pro-active in their learning by independently utilizing materials available on-line (Clarke & Hermens, 2001).  Specifically, WebCT has become a popular tool for web-based teaching and learning across institutions.

Literature Review

WebCT is an online management teaching tool that works within an Internet browser. Its many capabilities include housing documents,  asynchronous communication between teacher and student, a grade tracking module, and a calendar (Merron, 1999).  Students are able to conveniently download materials and access bulletin boards and other materials posted by the teacher.

Criticism has been leveled at WebCT because materials are so easily retrieved electronically and easy access it is argued results in poor attendance, because students believe access to materials is all that is required to complete subjects successfully. This is supported by Edwards and Usher (2001) who suggest that the Internet and other forms of electronic interface provide students with learning flexibility and a lessening of the need to attend formal learning centres. The assumption in this paper is that attendance has an important bearing on a student’s academic performance and this view is supported by Woodfield et al. (2006) who state that attendance is ‘the strongest predictor’ of students’ academic success when measured with several other variables.  This is confirmed by Gump (2005) who indicates that attendance is one of many variables affecting student learning and this view is further developed by Jacobson (2005) who suggests that attendance may have a causal relationship with learning.

Education as a Service

Student communities expect materials to be provided on-line and information technology is a strong teacher to student interface to facilitate learning (Barraket, Payne, Scott, & Cameron, 2000).  Students undertake paid employment whilst studying (Watts & Pickering, 2000).  The use of information technology to assist students in accessing information relating to their subject reduces the time taken to do so.  In this way, the secondary effects of paid employment, such as fatigue and having chronic time shortage  for study could be managed more effectively with remote downloading (from home or work), 24 hour access to the materials and fast download times.

The on-line aspects of educational support mimic some aspects of on-line customer service.  Although a traditional university education is dissimilar from pure business operations, the philosophies of new age universities are however more aligned to the business perspective of viewing students as customers to be managed using customer service principles.  These principles include such aspects as customer expectation and management’s perspective of customer expectation (Cox & Dale, 2001).  Whilst the purpose of the ‘traditional’ universities such as the creation and examination of new ideas (King, 1995), and social, personal and economic growth (King, 1995; McKenna, 2001; Phenix, 1965) and a civilizing effect on society (McKenna, 2001) have not necessarily been ousted, this paper examines various constructs relating to students as customers with certain learning expectations more likely aligned to the use of knowledge to generate wealth after graduation (Prince & Stewart, 2002).

The questionnaire was developed on the basis of previous studies looking at customer internet service.  The constructs of  “most relevance” were examined and those which related specifically to the financial markets were omitted. Maenpaa (2006) and Jun and Cai (2001) consider ease of use particularly relevant when using information technology as a service media, followed by the enjoyment aspect (Maenpaa, 2006; Waite & Harrison, 2004).  The time saving construct is also noted as important and Maenpaa (2006) suggests that this allows customers in the banking industry to spend more time with family and friends.  Considering the “time poor” nature of students who are working and studying, it was thought to be an important consideration and worth including in this study.  Additionally, Alfansi and Sargent (2000) suggest that relationships are important in terms of customer support and security from the provider.  They go further and suggest that interpersonal off-line relationships significantly affected customers.  In the context of students using WebCT some aspects are relevant such as the importance of building on-line relationships to achieve mutually beneficial goals.

Web-based learning in an institution is often integrated with conventional, face to face teaching. This is normally done via an intranet, which is usually “password protected” and accessible only to registered users. Thus it is possible to protect the intellectual property of online material and to support confidential exchange of communication between students (McKimm, Jollie, & Cantillon, 2003).  Alfansi and Sargent (2000) identified ‘security of their banking relationship’ as important. However, in the context of this study, an acceptable minimum level of security is provided in the operation of universities in Australia, as Federal Government institutions.  This area, though an important consideration, was not investigated in this study. 

Customer service was also considered an important construct because of the nature of higher education which is heavily dependant on human resources.  The nature of university education has changed over the decades in Australia with more students enrolling in higher education courses and class sizes increasing (McKenzie & Schweitzer, 2001).  Additionally, typical undergraduates fit into generations X and Y, both of whom are considered to be demanding in their customer service requirements.  As a consequence academics are required to offer higher levels of customer service with shrinking resources.  Information technology (WebCT) is important in alleviating this resources short-fall by providing on-line, easy to use, relevant personal service for enrolled students.

Auxiliary services are closely aligned to customer service in this context in that the provision of any additional materials would be seen to be a higher level of provision.  The on-line offering at this university did not make allowance for subject web site developers to provide auxiliary services such as results calculators and an intelligent search agent. WebCT however has provision to include these types of advanced features if desired by the developer and wanted by users.

The construct of convenience was also considered because of the high incidence of economic and social disadvantages as compared with neighboring regions.  It was felt that, because WebCT allows students to access a plethora of relevant subject materials at any time with on or off campus, access convenience was an important aspect to investigate.  WebCT as a “one stop shop” is likely to contribute to an increase in students’ leisure time and their perception of being more highly satisfied with the level of service than if this facility were not available.

The final construct is esteem and this is investigated by asking respondents about their perception of how they viewed themselves and how they believed they were viewed by others as a WebCT user.  Research has shown that self-esteem and online learning are closely inter-related in both secondary school and higher education contexts (Department of Education Training and the Arts - Queensland, 2006; University of Tasmania, 2007).  There would appear to be a positive relationship between esteem and the use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) with users reporting greater self-esteem when relationships are developed through electronic means (Curtis & Lawson, 2001).

Case Study – Effectiveness of WebCT in Facilitating Student Learning
for Undergraduate Marketing Subjects

This study focuses on on-campus students enrolled in four undergraduate marketing subjects that have been using WebCT to facilitate learning.  One of the subjects, Introduction to Marketing (BHO1171) is part of the core of the Bachelor of Business at the university. The other subjects, Product and Pricing Strategy (BHO2251);  Business to Business Marketing  (BHO2253) and Marketing on the Internet (BHO2407) are the second-level subjects in the marketing major and electives for other business students.

The subjects were taught in two hours of lectures, followed by a tutorial of one-hour duration on a weekly basis. The course homepage (using WebCT platform) provided current information, such as announcements from course instructors, the subject guide, lecture notes, assessment details and additional documents related to the subject.


Data was collected using a one page questionnaire administered in the final week of the lecture in semester 2, 2006. The students were currently pursuing their Bachelor of Business degree at the university across three campuses. Students were informed that it was anonymous and not part of the assessment regime of the class. Both the survey and protocol were approved by the University’s ethics committee.

The survey was designed to cover a range of issues identified in the literature as possibly impacting on educational outcomes. Students were asked a total of thirty two self-developed questions most of which required a response on a five point Likert scale with ‘strongly disagree’ and ‘strongly agree’ at the extremes.  This approach has been used previously in the literature which examines teaching and learning methods (Harasim, 1999).  The majority of questions focused on students’ perceptions of the value of WebCT in facilitating learning, and as a communication tool with the main issues being ease of use, enjoyability, time saving and customer service.


Student Profile

The response number to the questionnaire survey was 328, composed of students enrolled in four marketing subjects (as listed above).  The respondents were also asked to state their age, gender, level of experience as a computer user and the subject in which they were enrolled for the purpose of their WebCT use.  The results showed that more than 79% of the respondents are between 18-24 years of age.  Gender of respondents was evenly distributed, with 55.5% indicated for female and 44.5% male.  Level of experience as a computer user, whilst a self-evaluated question, was asked because it was felt that, with the current high level of computer use in the community, respondents would be sufficiently conversant with computer use to give an accurate self-analysis (Nielsen, 2000) .  Seventy percent (70%) of respondents considered themselves to be either ‘a bit experienced’ or ‘experienced’.

Factor Analysis

Confirmatory factor analysis was used to determine whether WebCT would provide students with an environment in which they would have the optimum opportunity to achieve their best scholastically.  Current literature suggested that students wanted and would benefit from an interface that was useful, robust, intuitive and entertaining to use.  Upon further investigation more particular aspects of WebCT’s benefits were built upon to create hypothetical features such as a calculator to assist students to estimate future assessment results in order to extrapolate future final grades.  Given the current emphasis on time-poor consumers, it was considered important that WebCT be examined in relation to how much time students felt they saved by having this tool.  WebCT was looked at in regard to providing a pleasant and agreeable learning environment.  Convenience was also considered relevant given the context of the modern generation and their desire for easy availability of products and services and the time saving aspects that allow them more time for leisure.  Esteem was reported as being influenced in a learning environment through development of relationships (Curtis & Lawson, 2001).

Table 1
Rotated Component Matrix


There were 32 statements of which 26 used a five point Likert scale.  These statements cover a broad range of topics including effort and performance expectancy, social influence, and attitude toward using technology (Viswanath, Morris, Gordon, & Davis, 2003).   These topics are built upon the constructs of ease of use (Adams, Nelson, & Todd, 1992), enjoyment (Liao & Cheung, 2002), esteem (Viswanath, Morris, Gordon, & Davis, 2003), time saving (Viswanath, Morris, Gordon, & Davis, 2003),  and convenience (Liao & Cheung, 2002; Viswanath, Morris, Gordon, & Davis, 2003).

Of the 32 statements, 12 were adapted from previous research by Maenpaa (2006).  The original study focused on consumers’ perceptions of Internet banking services whilst this study examines education under secure internet access.  Therefore, those questions in the prior study (Maenpaa, 2006) that dealt with convenience of managing loans, security, personal finances and investment were considered inappropriate for this study and thus were deleted. 

The 23 statements used had an inter item scale reliability (alpha) co-efficient of 0.861. The eigenvalues produced in the extraction were examined on a scree plot and revealed a clear cut-off point with five factors.  The five factors with eigenvalues greater than one are reported here.  A principal components analysis with varimax rotation was used to investigate whether these items loaded in an orderly way on five components.  Five factors, explaining the 48.68 percent of the variance were extracted and are identified in Table 2.  The five factors, and the variables which loaded on them, are described in Table 1: Rotated Component Matrix.

Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.

Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization.

Based upon these loadings, five factors were named and they are presented in Table 2, Factor Names.

a) Extraction Sums of Squared Loadings

b) Rotation sums of squared loadings

The individual factor scores had inter-item scale reliability (Cronbach’s Alpha) co-efficients ranging from 0.892 to a low of 0.703.  Given that coefficients above 0.70 are considered acceptable (Furnham, Steele, & Pendleton, 1993), the five factor model is sound.  The model reflects similar factors as those proposed by Maenpaa (2006) with some movement of items across the developed factors.  Although this model is not as comprehensive as that of Maenpaa (2006) there are strong similarities.  Maenpaa’s factor of ‘entertainment’ is here split across the factors of ‘enjoyable and positive self image’ and ‘usefulness’.

Table 2
Factor Names



Conclusion and Future Research

Society has entered an era in which web-based learning is fundamentally changing our culture and impacting upon every aspect of life, including how people learn. Knowing how to critically and strategically use web-based learning tools is becoming an ever-increasing part of being literate, as information technology has become the pen and paper of current times and the lens through which society experiences much of its world (Warlick, 2006), and the communication channels of choice for many. This paper set out to confirm the work of Maenpaa by adapting their model from Internet banking to on-line education support.  The results indicate that the service framework and the corresponding adaptation appear to be a viable model for educators to conceptualise the way students respond to using these technologies.

This was an exploratory study identifying the effectiveness of WebCT in facilitating student learning for undergraduate marketing subjects. Further research is needed to expand the scope of this paper and to see whether these results can be generalised in other university settings, including postgraduate programs. It would be interesting to research whether postgraduate and undergraduate students have similar perceptions or whether their views and needs are different.


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About the Authors

Helen Madden-Hallett
Lecturer in Marketing
School of Hospitality, Tourism and Marketing
Victoria University
Ballarat Road, Footscray
Victoria 3011, AUSTRALIA


Henry Wai Leong Ho
Lecturer in Marketing
Faculty of Higher Education
Swinburne University of Technology
Melba Avenue, Lilydale
Victoria 3140, AUSTRALIA


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