Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Individual Differences, Hypermedia Navigation, and Learning: An Empirical Study

Academic journal article Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia

Individual Differences, Hypermedia Navigation, and Learning: An Empirical Study

Article excerpt

The learning behaviour and performance of 65 postgraduate students using a hypermedia-based tutorial were measured. Data were also obtained on cognitive style, levels of prior experience, motivation, age, and gender. A number of statistically significant interactions were found. Field-dependent/independent cognitive styles were linked to strategic differences in navigation. Levels of prior experience were linked to quantitative differences in both navigation behaviour and learning performance. The implications of these findings are discussed.

The rapid rise in the use of the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) in teaching and learning has brought hypermedia into prominence as a mode of information accessing. The term "hypermedia" signifies both mode and media of information presentation. Hypermedia may be distinguished from hypertext insofar as the former may include sound and/or moving images in addition to text. However, the research reported here focuses on the hyper element in that it is concerned not with particular media, but rather with users' navigation of the particular type of information structuring afforded by hypermedia. "Hypermedia" is used throughout this article as the more general term indicating information systems offering such structuring, regardless of whether they include media other than text.

Hypermedia can facilitate relatively nonsequential access patterns as well as the relatively sequential patterns that are characteristic of print media, allowing a flexible range of design options to producers of learning materials. Increasingly, in learning environments in which students are expected to acquire information through hypermedia, students' ability to structure and manage their own navigation is becoming a required skill. The open and free browsing nature of hypermedia, whilst giving students the freedom to follow nonsequential, and potentially idiosyncratic, paths through a given body of subject content, at the same time places a premium on their ability to effectively exploit this freedom. This article presents the results of a research project that sought to explore the effects of individual differences on learners' navigation patterns and resultant learning outcomes.

Background to the Research

A number of researchers have theorised that hypermedia offers potential benefits to learning. The types of knowledge representation hypermedia affords are arguably closer than text-based representations to human associative and schema-based memory structures (Jonassen, 1988, 1992; Marchionini, 1988). It has been argued that in supporting such knowledge structures, hypermedia is well suited to facilitating learning processes, as proposed particularly by constructivist models (Cobb, Wood, Yackel, & McNeal, 1992; Jonassen, 1991; Nunes & Fowell, 1996). Jacobson and Spiro (1995) suggest that the transformation and reconstruction of information characterising deep learning is facilitated by hypermedia-based information presentation.

A number of empirical studies have attempted to investigate such claims by comparing the learning effects of hypermedia and print-based text. Some main effects have been found in which superior learning performance was associated with hypermedia-based learning (Abrams & Streit, 1986; Borsook & Higginbotham-Wheat, 1992; Crosby & Stelovsky, 1994; Frey & Simonson, 1994; Liu & Reed, 1995; Nowaczyk & Snyder, 1993). Others, however, have found advantages for text (Gordon, Gustavel, Moore, & Hankey, 1988; Shneiderman, 1987; Riehm, 1996).

The extent to which the non-linearity of hypermedia is suitable for all or the majority of students is open to question. Complementing simpler models that attempt to chart the general advantages and disadvantages of hypermedia, a range of studies of individual differences have suggested more complex models in which a range of factors are involved in interactions between hypermedia, learning behaviour, and learning outcomes. …

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