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.
The article from Amy Shapiro discusses, compares and contrasts traditional text to hypertext. She points out the dynamic, random, nonlinear structure and how learners/users of hypertext can retrieve text in their own order. She examines how hypertext-assisted learning (HAL) shifts the cognitive burden to the learner. However, in the studies she outlines, she points out that deep learning will occur more likely if the user has prior knowledge, and active learning is utilized, and how contradictory some of the research has been, where in some cases the findings are that hypertext is better, while other research findings show that it is worse than linear text. The concept of cognitive flexibility theory (CFT), a constructivist theory, is also discussed. Shapiro’s research on hypertext-based learning, while being either structured or ill-structured states that deep learning doesn’t always occur if the subject does not have prior knowledge. She also examines how printed text differs from hypertext in that printed text formalizes the author role, whereas hypertext challenges assumptions about the roles of the author and the reader. She characterizes hypertext as emancipatory and empowering because it forces readers to participate actively in creating meaning from the text. Issues that arise with hypertext include scrolling, limited screen size, unusual color schemes and eye movement patterns that could lead to difficulty in reading.
When we compare the sequential, linear style of reading plain text, it is very evident that hypertext reading and navigation is a drastically different experience for the learner. As Shapiro states, though, the learner can create their own path through hypertext, giving them more control over the mix of excerpts which are read. However, when reading hypertext, one may skip over text that may be essential for understanding of primary concepts as compared with reading linear text. Hypertext gives the reader a more self-guided experience through the reading. There also can be a combination of other elements within the text such as navigational controls and use of the mouse, which may increase the cognitive burden, or requiring metacognitive functions that are not needed for plain text. One benefit of hypertext traversal could be that it mimics the pathways in the human brain, with seemingly random connections, but the user of the text and/or brain forms these based upon how they construct their learning experience.
The kind of research that Shapiro has presented opens up more questions for current researchers with regard to utilizing hypertext for learning. The hierarchically structured nature of good hypertext documents can contribute to deep learning, but can also have limited effect on the learning process as compared to linear text. Shapiro has opened up the discussion so that as we get deeper into digital learning, and how it contributes and affects our understanding of learning science, we can use these foundational theories and studies to further learn about and develop new digital systems that can improve upon hypertext, perhaps by making it more adaptive to the learner.