Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

What the Instructional Designer Needs to Know about HTML

Academic journal article International Journal of Instructional Media

What the Instructional Designer Needs to Know about HTML

Article excerpt


By now, most people have used or at least heard of the world wide web (WWW)--estimates are that about 17% of Canadian and American adults have access to this new medium (Starr and Milheim, 1996). Further, considering the "more than 46,000 independent networks, public and private, around the world" (Peha, 1995), the web's potential to reach virtually anyone is more reality than fiction. Instructional designers, those professionals charged with the creation and implementation of educational curricula, would do well to harness the web's possibilities. Unfortunately, to the uninitiated, the task appears formidable.

Although use of the web is intuitive, this actually stems from the friendly design of web browsers--software packages designed to interpret and display the unseen electronic code zooming among the internet's multiple sources (Castro, 1996). Such packages as Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer top the browser list and are familiar to most instructional designers. Unfortunately, familiarity stops there for many, and the mysteries of the web remain. This paper unravels this mystery by describing Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the foundational "language" of the net. Once able to "speak the lingo," instructional designers can readily assess the benefits and drawbacks of the web in light of their profession and make informed decisions regarding use of the WWW for a particular design.


Though many are adept at spelling "HTML," few know what it really is. First, HTML is not a software program, it is not the product of a profit oriented commercial venture, and it is not a browser. It is a language, like English or French, and it's used by browsers to interpret the "style" of a web page's display.

Invented less than 8 years ago by Tim Berners-Lee, Hypertext Markup Language is the common computer language of the web. Berners-Lee, a member of CERN, the Geneva based European Laboratory for Particle Physics, merely wanted independent computer platforms scattered world-wide to have a common language for easier communication ("A Beginners Guide," 1996). Now, less than a decade later, HTML is the bedrock of the world wide web, the world's unrivaled information sharing resource.

Markup and Hypertext

HTML is a type of "markup language." Forgoing the acronym laden world of computer science, a markup language "uses special characters or sequences of characters to indicate structure, formatting or other often hidden aspects of a text" (Powell, 1995, p. 55). In other words, a markup language tells the browser what to do like centering text, boldfacing phrases, and inserting pictures. HTML "marksup" with tags, depicted by less than ([is less than]) and greater than ([is greater than]) brackets to differentiate it from the text. Therefore, when looking at an HTML document it looks all "marked up" with these funny symbols within which are directions that instruct the browser (see Appendix). Of course, the WWW user (through a browser) does not see the tags; instead, the browser's implementation of the instructions contained in the tags is viewed.

Though a markup language, HTML is a special type because it can "do hypertext." This ability, commonly touted as the web's "hallmark," simply allows users to "link" among the hundreds of thousands of global web sites ("HTML Tutorial," 1996). Thus, although a user may be viewing a web page originating in Sumter, South Carolina, in seconds he can traverse "cyberspace" and view a page in Calcutta, India through HTML's hypertext feature.

While this text is not meant to tutor in writing HTML, it may be beneficial to see an HTML document. One is included in Appendix A. In addition, further information regarding HTML's structure, tags, and construct can be found on the WWW (see References for some examples) or any decent bookstore. Finally to assuage the reader's fears, the author, an HTML illiterate, took a four-hour course in HTML to prepare for this paper--the results are posted in the Appendix. …

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