Specified Learning Goals and Their Effect on Learners' Representations of a Hypertext Reading Environment

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A hypertext reading environment differs from a traditional printed text environment in that the hypertext learner has the ability to self-select the type and sequence of information to be acquired rather than following the path provided by the author of the text. Recent research has suggested that the navigational opportunity of a hypertext changes the nature of how individuals interact with the information. Further, it has been suggested that the implementation of a specific learning goal will enhance the structure a hypertext reader gives to the acquired information. This investigation examined the nature of a reader's representation of hypertext content in the presence or absence of a specified learning objective. Results indicated that although no differences were detected between the two learning conditions (specific versus general learning goal) with regard to the amount and type of information recalled, readers with a specific learning goal recalled a more unique and individually tailored representation of the text than did readers without a specific learning goal.

With the advent of new technologies, education is changing. In a matter of a few short years, the face of learning has gone from a one-room schoolhouse to on-line WWW-based courses. For researchers, these changes bring on a number of new challenges in understanding how people learn. Perhaps one of the most intriguing additions to learning environments is the advent of hypertext.

Most people struggle to define hypertext. It is often mis-defined through oversimplification; many say hypertext is simply a nonlinear text. While this can be an attribute of hypertext, it is by no means a complete definition. George Landow (1992) quoted Theodore Nelson, the man who coined the term hypertext, as saying "By `hypertext,' I mean nonsequential writing--text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks connected by links which offer the reader different pathways." Landow continues by saying that "hypertext denotes an information medium that links verbal and nonverbal information." In other words, a hypertext is a text that is more reader-driven than a traditional text. Where traditional text (such as the one you are reading) depends on the person interacting with it to follow it from beginning to end in order to ensure comprehension, a hypertext is more user-driven in that the person interacting with the text is able to access the points most relevant to that particular learner. It is similar to browsing a table of contents. Many times when a person is researching a topic, one of the research strategies is to skim many different tables of contents or indices to access only pertinent information. This is much the same with a hypertext. Learners are not forced to interact with the text in a pre-determined sequence to ensure comprehension.

Tolhurst (1995) sees two different types of definitions of hypertext: functional and semantic. Functional definitions define hypertext by what it does or elements it contains. The semantic definitions, however, try to define what hypertext is. As such, the semantic definitions seem to be some of the most widely recognized, for they treat the structure of hypertext, which is the first, and most notable, difference between hypertext and traditional text. Tripp & Roby (1990), Spiro & Jehng (1990), and Foss (1989), as well as many others, discuss the structural differences in their research and describe hypertext as nonlinear. However, research is beginning to focus not only on the structure of a hypertext, but also on its use and user outcomes.

Dee-Lucas (1996) investigated the overview structures of hypertext, and how the effect of varying structures of hypertext effected learner outcome. In this study, participants navigated different hypertexts that were identical as far as content, but were structured differently. …