Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

An Investigation of Elaboration and Selective Scanning as Mediators of Learning from the Web versus Print

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

An Investigation of Elaboration and Selective Scanning as Mediators of Learning from the Web versus Print

Article excerpt

The last decade of the 20th century witnessed the movement of the World Wide Web from infancy to what now might be considered adolescence. Traditional print and broadcast media outlets have rushed to the Web to take advantage of the benefits of this new medium, such as speed of information dissemination. One question that begs to be answered is whether increased learning is among the advantages of the Web over traditional print.

Several recent studies in mass communication have examined differences in learning from the Web compared to traditional print media (Eveland & Dunwoody, 2001b; Sundar, Narayan, Obregon, & Uppal, 1998; Tewksbury & Althaus, 2000). The evidence in these studies has been somewhat inconsistent, but it generally supports the inferiority of the Web to traditional print media for learning. The present study provides an additional test of the relative effectiveness of print versus Web as a medium for the communication of factual information. More importantly, it also extends past work by including two information-processing variables that may mediate the effect of medium on learning: elaboration and selective scanning.

Research on Learning From Hypermedia and the Web

A central focus of many studies of learning from media is the comparison of learning from different sources, such as print and television (e.g., Chaffee & Schleuder, 1986; DeFleur, Davenport, Cronin, & DeFleur, 1992; Furnham & Gunter, 1989; Neuman, Just, & Crigler, 1992; Price & Czilli, 1996; Robinson & Levy, 1996). The present study contributes to this traditional literature by joining only a few others in mass communication that have extended the comparison of traditional print media to information conveyed using the World Wide Web (or simply "Web").

The Web is a networked implementation of a technology called "hypermedia." In many ways a simple Web document is similar to traditional print media. The Web, like traditional print, can convey both text and images. The central difference between the Web and print, then, is not so much in their content, but in their structure. Traditional print media are organized in a linear manner and are generally designed to be read from beginning to end. Although there are exceptions to this structure (e.g., a dictionary or thesaurus is not designed to be read linearly), linearity is a prototypical organization of a traditional print magazine.

The Web is unique in that it facilitates an alternative organizational structure compared to traditional print magazines. The Web, with its node and link structure, facilitates reading of content "out of order," so to speak. That is, individuals can more easily choose to move through an article in any of a number of ways instead of in a single order determined by the fixed structure of a traditional print text. Although determined traditional print users can read magazine articles in orders other than they are presented by skipping sections of minimal interest or reading out of order, this type of decision making is the structural norm in hypermedia.

Beyond the opportunity to navigate through text and images in a non-linear manner, the structural differences between traditional print and hypermedia have two additional implications that are potentially relevant for learning. When using hypermedia, it is often difficult for users to determine when all of the content has been read compared to a linear reading in traditional print media. And, the presence of in-text links indicating conceptual associations between nodes, even if not followed by users, can signal relatedness that could contribute to a more thorough understanding of the content.

Given the differences between the Web and traditional print media, both content and structural, communication scholars have sought to determine differences in learning from the Web versus print. To date these studies have not produced wholly consistent findings, although most find print to be superior to the Web when differences are detected. …

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