Shapiro, A., & Niederhauser, D. (2004). Learning from hypertext: Research issues and findings. In D. H. Jonassen (Ed), Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 605-620). New York: Macmillan.
Shapiro and Niederhauser explored hypertext in great detail building upon a theoretical perspective which then led to the examination of the role and needs of the reader as well as the effect of system structure. To begin with, two theoretical viewpoints were examined, the construction-integration model (CIM) and cognitive flexibility theory (CFT). Also in the article, the cognitive needs of a reader navigating a hypertext situation was examined. This included a detailed description of the additional capabilities a reader must have when reading hypertext that are not needed when reading a traditional textbook. A reader must have the cognitive ability to make effective choices as he or she makes access information via hypertext and must develop a way to cope with dealing with information being delivered in a non-linear way. For instance, not only must the reader be able to decode words and understand sentence patterns and paragraph construction, he or she must be able to chunk and remember information that is no longer on the screen as he or she is making choices as to what information to read next. Then, the focus shifted from the reader to the system the reader is navigating. The effects of ill-structured and well-structured domains were examined. The research in this area is mixed and seems to be more dependent on the reader’s abilities and post assessment tests than the way the system is structured that the student is using to learn. The article ends with the need for more research to help to build a theoretical framework which is currently nonexistent in this field. To do this, a general understanding and agreement in regards to a common lexicon and standards for methodology must be developed.
Shapiro and Niederhauser explained hypertext from a variety of angles. They did not hide from the fact that there are research studies that seem to contradict each other. They were brutally honest at the end of the article that this is a field of study that has not come to agreement on several key points, and until that is done, the field will continue to limp along. They end the article with a very important point that should be kept in mind by researchers in this field, “System structure, learning goals prior knowledge and learning strategies all interact” (p. 618). All of these areas are ones that were examined in great detail in this article.
The basic features of hypertext as described in this article are the ones that most English as a Second Language (ESL) struggle with when reading in English: nonlinear structure, flexibility of information, learner control, and metacognitive demands. I believe that both their struggle with navigating the more complex intricacies of hypertext and their lower level understanding of English could cause frustration when attempting to move through information written in English in this manner. This is where the instructor must be aware of these possible pitfalls and plan for them. Instructors must plan and share learning goals with students to encourage students to see new ideas and new relationships between ideas, and limited research seems to support the need for more well-structured learning environments for both self-regulated readers and for cue-dependent readers.
However, one question comes to my mind in regards to this: At what point will readers move from well-structured environments to ill-structured environments if support is not given to help them learn to navigate ill-structured domains? One article I read in regards to this was written by Al-seghayer (2005). In the article, he found that ESL students preferred well-structured hypertext situations where they saw an overview of the material they were going to read as well as connections drawn between the information. As I was reading this article, I kept thinking that of course a student would prefer this because then the connections have been made for them. It is more difficult to make one’s own connections, but how does this impact learning? Wouldn’t students learn more by making their own connections? I concede that if students have lower levels of English proficiency, they need support to help them and that well-structured environments would provide that support. What about higher level English proficiency students? Shouldn’t they make their own connections to support their own learning? After all, if a person wants to use English as the medium for education, won’t they have to be able to function in ill-structured domains?
Al-seghayer, K. (2005). ESL Readers ʼ Perceptions of Reading in Well Structured and Less Structured. CALICO Journal, 22(2), 191–212. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.1558/cj.v22i2.191-212