Hypermedia in Education

Thuy-Linh Nguyen, University of Canberra & University College, UNSW (ADFA), Australia.
Ph: +61-6-2688678, Fax: +61-6-2688276, Email: [email protected]
Home Page: https://www.adfa.oz.au/~tln
Courseware Home Page: https://www.adfa.oz.au/MECH
Jan Newmarch, University of Canberra, Australia.
Ph: +61-6-2012422, Fax: +61-6-2157, Email: [email protected],
Home Page: https://pandonia.canberra.edu.au
John Baird, University College, University of New South Wales (ADFA), Australia.
Ph: +61-6-2688279,Fax: +61-6-2688276, Email: [email protected]

Keywords: Instructional, hypermedia, cognitive, constructivist, communication



 There has been a large amount of research work done in the last decade in the computing and education area to find out more about the impact computer-base training (CBT) has on education. Most papers under revision of this study (approximately 90%) report positive or promising results. However many problems or potential problems are also identified, some along with suggested solutions and some without. Most educators, instructional designers and other people who concern about applying technology in education share the same point of view that the new technology (computer and hypermedia in this context) is very powerful and is of potentially tremendous help in education. This potential however, can only be realised if a careful design with the student in mind is practised. This means a design with great concern about cognitive models and learning environment. This paper discusses the use of hypermedia in education in the light of the above concerns. It also briefly looks at the communication power of multimedia.

 Hypermedia And Cognitive Models

There have been numerous studies about the use of hypermedia in relation to cognitive models and cognitive styles. The hypothesis is that the organisation of hypermedia, which composes of nodes and links based on semantic structures, matches human cognition, thus can map fairly directly to human knowledge structures and facilitate learning. [KEARSLEY88, JONASSEN92, EKLUND95]. [ALEXANDER95] however, argued that "the extent to which it is possible for students to acquire the original author’s structure and map it on to their own existing structures is questionable."

 This is a strong argument. There are two problems identified here : (i) When browsing the Web, one of the most well-known problems is the user getting lost in the hyperspace [CUNN93, HAMMOND93, LAURILLARD93, LAMBERT95]. There is little hope therefore that the learner will be able to recognise the author’s cognitive structure and adopt it. Also (ii) according to [ALEXANDER95] it is rare to expect two people to construct the same semantic structure.

 [EKLUND95] in his study of two cognitive models proposed by the schema theory and OCTR (Orientation, Coaching, Tuning, Routinization) in relation to hypermedia system, on the other hand, has theoretically verified the hypothesis, and suggested several ways to maximise learning in hypermedia environment. Some of these suggestions are [EKLUND95]: 

These suggestions, especially the second one, seem to be able to solve both problems (i) and (ii) mentioned above. The idea of the concept map enhances both navigation and the construction of the knowledge structure acquired from browsing through the information space. The semantic structure of the whole system, visually represented in the concept map, would be recognisable and transferred across to learners. This will also solve one of the greatest problems with most browsers nowadays for their inability to give users an overview of the whole before letting them explore the vast information space in details.

 A concept map such as the one described above might have the problem of imposing one single cognitive structure on to the learner’s memory, thus inconsistent with the constructivist learning theory. It will be better perhaps, not to have a predefined or "hard" concept map, but a "soft" one which will develop as learners work their ways through the browsing space. Authors should then be able to define the possible relationships between nodes in their system, reflecting its semantic structure, and the concept map will be constructed based on this information and learners’ actions.

 Hypermedia In Constructivist Learning Environment

 Although there are still a few opposing opinions, an increasing number of researchers and educators have recognised hypermedia as ideal to support for constructivist learning [DUFF90, HODGES90, HARLEY93, HERRING95, LAMBERT95, EKLUND95]. It is most powerful in the abilities to create a student-centred learning environment, provide for interactive learning, and enable situated learning. Besides IT is also found to greatly support collaborative learning.

 Student-Centred Learning Environment

 Hypermedia is generally defined as an information network consisting of nodes and links, interacting with people via a user interface [EKLUND95]. This network structure frees the author from the constraint of organising materials into a cohesive linear presentation or narrative text as is required in writing a textbook. The system can thus grow potentially indefinitely and incorporate multiple issues and points of view, providing a rich semantic network, where learners have full control to seek relevant information by choosing their own meaningful paths (self-directed), and construct their own knowledge [CUNN93, LAMBERT95]. This is a completely new approach to teaching and learning, which complies with the constructivist theory, as opposed to the use of textbook, primarily as a knowledge teller, which is obviously inconsistent with constructivism. This method of teaching together with a rich multimedia content also provides a self-engaging and motivating learning environment due to the exploratory nature of the course materials [HODGES93, JAMES95]. This feature is also reflected in the feedback collected from the two questionaires distributed in the "Cross-platform Multimedia Courseware Project" carried out in parallel with this study [NGUYEN96], where making learning "fun" was identified as one important factor that enhances learning. Comparisons between the role of a classroom teacher and the use of computer-base training also highlight an additional advantage, where students are free to learn at their own pace (self-paced).

 Research however, has shown that many problems have arisen with this new information structure, most of which are due to the complexity imposed on the learner. Disorientation, getting lost in the hyperspace, lack of a sense of size, limits and current position in the whole, difficulties in locating relevant information sources, are those most well identified [CUNN93, HAMMOND93, LAURILLARD93, LAMBERT95].

 [CUNN93] however, argued that although hypermedia systems and constructivist learning environments are inherently complex, "learning to manage that complexity is an essential part of the learning and instructional process", especially in our information age, where "more diverse information is relevant to a wide range of decision making, and interdisciplinary work is becoming more common in all facets of business and international impacts almost always are a consideration." [IBRAHIM95] also agreed that "browsing through the Web is already an educational experience in itself." Furthermore these problems can also be alleviated with the use of more enhanced user interface, navigation and search tools; or enhanced instructional design coupled with guidance and help such as adaptive hypermedia, concept map, optional local sequential; or a new generation of hypermedia information systems such as Hyper-G/HyperWave [CUNN93, LAMBERT95].

 These strong arguments are probably consolidated by the fact that hypermedia is gaining increasingly wider global acceptance as an educational tool. Its advantages are obvious, and the difficulties currently existing with its use are likely to give rise to more interesting research topics rather than creating unsolvable problems.

 Interactive Learning 

In contrast to textbook, most hypermedia systems are interactive, providing a useful environment for active learning. The level of interactivity can vary in different system designs and application domain.  

The lowest level is perhaps the one that exists in a purely hypertext system, like that in a Windows application help file or a text only HTML document. Its interactive capability is quite primitive that [LAURILLARD93] has in fact gone so far as to deny it : 

"Hypertext, accessing a text database, is not interactive, because there is no intrinsic feedback on the user’s action: the information in the system does not change as a consequence of the user’s actions on it; it only changes if they change the system itself, by changing the information or the links directly... as an education medium, enabling students to develop their academic understanding, it has little to offer."

 This is a strong argument, but is probably not true with adaptive hypertext/hypermedia systems or intelligent tutoring systems, which are receiving considerable research effort [BRUSI95, EKLUND95]. An example of these research projects is the work described by [EKLUND95] at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science (SICS) and Stockholm University. This system uses adaptive hypermedia to perform searching and filtering based on user stereotypes. Another example is the development of an adaptive browser which can recognise the navigational problems of novice users and help alleviate them by altering the size of the browsing space on the basis of the user’s knowledge [EKLUND95]. The content of these systems might not change as a consequence of the user’s actions, but their behaviour does, which in fact is the factor of more concern in designing and developing interactive systems. 

Furthermore, most hypertext systems nowadays are also multimedia systems, which incorporate much more advanced forms of interactivity, such as those in virtual reality, animation, or simulation applications. Many researches have shown educational benefits from the interactive abilities of these systems [CHRISTEN91, HODGES93, HERRING95, ALEXANDER95], which are otherwise impossible with text-based systems. Feedback from users of the "Cross-platform Multimedia Courseware Project" is also completely in favour of hypertext [NGUYEN96]

 The level of interactivities on networked multimedia systems implemented on the Web are still generally limited by the bandwidth and to applications of the FORMs method and CGI scripts. Although the network traffic might be still a problem within the next few years, other limitations are being rapidly overcome with the coming of a new generation of network programs developed in Java, Director, Authorware, etc. Besides, Web applications also usually incorporate a range of highly interactive Internet services such as electronic mails, newsgroups, MUD, MOO, and other related online courseware or applications, providing an integrated learning experience and interaction with others, both peers and teachers [PERRON94, IBRAHIM95, BILLOTA95].

 Situated Learning

 While computer-based materials are a further step removed from real life work situation and thus is criticised as not providing an authentic situation [HUMMEL93] it has been increasingly agreed by many researchers and teachers that they "do provide a powerful and acceptable vehicle for the critical characteristics of the traditional apprenticeship to be located in the classroom environment" [HERRING95]. This ability is realised especially through virtual reality and hypermedia applications, where the real world can be simulated or brought into the classroom.

A large number of teachers have used multimedia to implement situated learning, and found very good results. A video clip can be used in the classroom to show geophysics students how layers of rock were formed [JAMES95], an interactive multimedia system to give second-year French students a feeling of being in France and interacting with local residents ("Dans le Quartier St. Gervais" project, [HODGES93]), an animation system to help students visualise the atmosphere in motion [BELL95], a virtual reality system to teach pilots-in-training the basics of coastal navigation with "surrogate" travel technique [HODGES93], and so on. Although there are still a few design problems with some systems, most of them are enthusiastically received by students, including those with little experience with the use of CAL, and normally result in higher students’ pass rate [CHRISTEN91, CROWTHER91, HODGES93, JAMES95, BEARMAN95, ALEXANDER95, PILGRIM95, HARASIM95, FRANKLIN95].  

Hypermedia courseware is also inherently able to provide for many other key components of the situated learning model such as collaboration, access to expert performance, articulation, reflection, and multiple perspectives [HERRING95]. By allowing for interactions to others via either group study or the internet, it is ideal to create a collaborative learning environment among peers, provide access to experts, and promote articulation [COLLINGS95, MARJA95, HERRING95, HAMMOND95, PERRON95, BILOTTA95]. The complexity inherited from the non-linear structure of course materials in hypermedia systems gives rise to students’ reflection, since they might not have a logical order to deduce an answer to their problem without truly understand it. Hyperlinks also makes it easy to incorporate multiple perpectives in one system so there is no single point of view imposed on students when they learn a particular subject.

 [HERRING95]’s opinion can probably give a conclusion about the use of multimedia with regards to situated learning : multimedia is capable of "bringing the situated learning within the reach of the student in the classroom", and the challenge put to researchers and instructional designers now was only "to identify the critical aspects of situated learning to enable it to translate into teaching methods which could be applied in the classroom."

 Collaborative Learning

 The fact that IT has given great support to create a collaborative learning environment is not questionable. While there are still some problems to be observed, collaborative learning has been increasingly proven an effective method that promotes academic achievement and develops thinking, group and other personal skills [COLLINGS95, MARJA95, HERRING95]. In the classroom or campus wide environment, CBT finds its use through applications of Group Support System (GSS) technology or Groupware. On the Web, collaborative learning is facilitated by employing various Internet services such as email, listserve, newsgroup, WWW, Gopher, ftp, and so on.

 All projects under revision of this thesis reported successful or encouraging results from the employment of IT in collaborative learning. The benefits most commonly found are: 

Some potential problems are also found in various areas: 

Most of these problems however, are resolvable, and should not pose a restriction on applying the technology in education.

 Multimedia As A Means Of Communication 

"A picture says more than a thousand words". No one can deny the surplus in the amount and clarity of information conveyed in a flow chart or an anatomy picture over a lengthy verbal description. It can also help break the communication barrier existing between different language systems, and make learning enjoyable. Computer has added to the communication power of pictures even more by allowing for animation and continuous display of information (video and audio).  

Animation helps explain complicated concepts in a breakdown fashion by leaving details to be added later using overlaying illustrations. This way of teaching enables the teacher to direct students' focus to the right place, and introduce complex knowledge in a gradual and coherent way. It might also help building the breakdown problem-solving technique for students. One of its most useful and interesting applications is found in its capability to explain dynamic behaviour and interaction among objects, and time-dependent and spatial concepts otherwise impossible with text and static images. 

Sound is usually the least appreciated in a multimedia product, but is actually the glue of everything. Good use of sound can make very good suggestions to users about what is happening when the event is still obscured or even before it takes place, and help memorising it. The disadvantage however, is that sound normally takes large storage space, and can usually be used only minimally. 


While there are still many problems to be solved, computer-based training, hypermedia courseware in general and WWW courseware in particular are gaining increasing acceptance as educational tools. The greatest benefit is their support for constructivist learning. They are also found supportive to cognitive models and powerful as a communication tool. Problems with the Web such as the bandwidth constraint, navigation, security and authentication, though still quite serious now, are mostly technical issues, and will likely be resolved in the future. In fact by contrasting the great potential contained in the technology with the many usability problems, we as educators are really confronted with the design, especially instructional design issue rather than the hypermedia phenomenon. The challenge put to researchers and educators now is to find ways to exploit and make best use of technology. In terms of usability, this means designing the course structure and course materials to best suit the new technology, and the new teaching and learning methods.


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