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Hypertext, navigation, and learning: a psychological perspective

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Hypertext has the potential to revolutionise the way we organise and read texts. Indeed, hypertext’s non-linearity and enhanced learner control are regarded by many as being an enormous advantage over the traditional printed medium. However, there is evidence to suggest that users are unable to explore hypertext without experiencing navigational problems (Kim and Hirtle 1995).The research presented in this thesis examined some of the problems associated with navigation and learning in hypertext. As regards navigation, it was found that disorientation is a problem for hypertext users and that text structure affects navigation performance. Non-linear texts are a greater problem for users than hierarchical and mixed texts (hierarchical with a small number of cross referential links). It appears therefore, that although non-linear networks capture the real essence of hypertext, users are unable to manage the freedom they are given Disorientation also seems to be particularly marked for users who are unfamiliar with the subject matter of the text. However, the results show that the provision of localised spatial maps can minimise disorientation. As regards learning, the results showed that although non-linear texts create navigational problems and disrupt learning at acquisition, they can lead to good long-term retention. Indeed, the results suggest a dissociation between navigation and learning. That is, efficient navigation is not always a prerequisite of meaningful learning. Unfortunately, the results showed that subjects prefer linear text and believe that hypertext requires greater mental effort to understand largely because of the navigational problems it creates. One solution to this problem may be to provide some form of guidance such as a map. However, the structural information depicted in spatial maps does not appear to support learning. By contrast, a conceptual map can reduce (but not eradicate) disorientation and enhance learning at both acquisition and retention.

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