Learning From Hypertext

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.

This article provides a solid historical view of the primary affordances that hypertext on the web offered the teaching and learning environment over a decade ago. Shapiro and Niederhauser highlight just how complex reading and learning from hypertext can be online due to the fact that learners can access hypertext in a non-linear fashion, there are greater metacognitive demands to facilitate content acquisition, and also the many learner variables that influence learning outcomes. The authors clearly outline the role that learner prior knowledge and interest plays in supporting hypertext reading on the web as well as how well-defined or ill-defined structured learning experiences using hypertexts can support a variety of learner variables, skills and abilities.

Although the Shapiro and Niederhauser research is somewhat dated due to the ever-changing structure and function of the modern web, this article showcases the important role that hypertext played in the early stages of the internet with regard to the access of flexible, transferrable knowledge that could be gained from hypertext reading as directed by a teacher or initiated by a student. According to the authors, there is a potential concern for a reader to become disoriented while navigating through hypertexts on the web which can lead to potential intellectual indigestion, loss of goal directedness or even cognitive entropy (p. 614). The bottom line is though, if hypertext reading is treated like traditional reading for reading strategies, attention or modeling is provided for stronger navigational understanding, learning experiences are crafted to include teacher explicitness about the learning goal, and tasks or assignments have been appropriately structured to capitalize on learning, considering all of those factors can lead to a more positive learning outcome for students.

This article really opened my eyes about how little time is spent preparing our students to be successful with web reading or research activities, knowledge acquisition and assignment or project completion using the modern web. In the K-12 setting, it’s fairly well known that every teacher is a reading teacher because regardless of the subject matter taught, reading is always a critical element to gaining more knowledge and understanding. Now is the time to extend that same practice to web reading and research. The web is a great place to fact find, explore topics of interest, curate specific material and even develop web content. From a learning perspective, we know that for students to own their learning that they must use prior knowledge, deconstruct the knowledge they’ve been taught or found and then apply that knowledge to new situations to reassemble a deeper application of the content. The web is here to stay, so instead of just assigning web reading or research projects with little thought or preparation, taking time to craft online reading and researching activities appropriately for a variety of learner variables, sets the web experience and learners up for a successful learning outcome.