Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The Effects of Web-Based Instruction Navigation Modes on Undergraduates' Learning Outcomes

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

The Effects of Web-Based Instruction Navigation Modes on Undergraduates' Learning Outcomes

Article excerpt


Web-based instruction (WBI) has gained considerable popularity in education due to its benefits such as allowing learner control (Laurillard, 1993; Chen, 2002; Alomyan, 2004), providing practice of self-discipline, time-management (Daugherty & Funke, 1998), and 24/7 accessibility (Chuang, 2000). To maximize the educational value of WBI, researchers in this field have been exploring the design and usability of websites. Typical design considerations of instructional websites include navigation tools, response time, credibility, and content (Nielsen, 2000). Among the above considerations, the navigation mode applied in designing navigation tools is an important element since it determines how learners experience the information they need to acquire. It is asserted that the nonlinear capability of the World Wide Web (WWW) has great potential for education because of the opportunities it offers individuals to control their own learning (e.g., Chen, 2002; Alomyan, 2004). Being able to determine what and how to learn also makes the learning experience meaningful to individual learners (Laurillard, 1993). However, some researchers (e.g., Lazonder, Biemans, & Wopereis, 2000) argued that certain learners are not prepared to construct their own learning paths. The question of interest is, "Do all the learners today benefit from the web's nonlinear capability? If not, which types of individuals would or would not benefit from this capability?" Through examining the interaction between web navigation modes and learners' characteristics regarding web navigation, useful suggestions for designing web-based instruction were provided based on the results of this study.

Literature review

Nonlinearity vs. Linearity

Web-based instruction (WBI), taking advantage of the advancement of hypermedia technology, has become a popular alternative to mainstream face-to-face instruction. The potential of WBI has led to the shift of research focus to examining variables that may contribute to the success of this kind of instruction. Research has shown that the advantage of WBI lies in its affordance of nonlinear interaction (Laurillard, 1993). Nonlinearity of WBI is believed to provide individuals with learning decisions that allow them to control their sequence and pace while learning the target material. In addition, allowing individuals to have control over their learning also makes them more motivated to learn (Keller, 1983).

In a hypermedia/hypertext learning environment, information is organized by various nodes and links. Texts, visuals, or organizational cues are displayed by nodes, while links are used to connect the nodes (Barab, Young, & Wang, 1999). The initial appearance of these nodes and links constitutes a mental cognitive map in learners in terms of the scope and structure of the information to be learned. Linear navigation ensures that the decision relative to information processing is in the hands of the instructional designer rather than the learners. Research has shown that by presenting information more explicitly and structurally, linear navigation presentation makes the material more likely to be assimilated by learners (Dillon & Gabbard, 1998; Meehan & Shubin, 1997).

Hypermedia navigation preference

A large body of research has investigated how individual differences affect students' learning in hypermedia/hypertext environments (e.g., web-based instructional modules) that adopted varied navigation patterns. The individual differences explored include learners' cognitive styles (e.g., Dufresne & Turcotte, 1997; Chen, 2002; Gauss & Urbas, 2003), prior knowledge (e.g., Recker, Ram, Shikona, Li, & Stasko, 1995; McDonald & Stevenson, 1998; Lawless & Kulikowich, 1998; Holscher & Strube, 2000; Last, O'Donnell, & Kelly, 2001), gender difference (e.g., Ford & Miller, 1996; Reed & Oughton, 1997), learner interest/motivation (e. …

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