The Effects of Cognitive Style and Hypertext Architecture on Perceived Orientation in a Hypertext Instructional Environment

Martin Graff,  University of Glamorgan,  UK.

Background:  Perceived orientation within the context of hypertext refers to an individual's awareness of location within such an environment. Disorientation therefore occurs when the individual gets lost within the hypertext (Dillon et al, 1990; Edwards and Hardman, 1989). The ability to recognise location or to gain one's bearings has been shown to influence the relative success in using hypertext in various situations, learning for example, (Tripp and Roby, 1990; Beasley and Waugh, 1995).

Furthermore, the structure of the architecture has also been shown to affect an individual's ability to engage effectively with the hypertext (McDonald and Stevenson, 1996, 1998).

An additional factor which may be relevant when assessing the degree of disorientation experienced in using hypertext, is cognitive style. Within the orthogonal wholist/analytic, verbaliser/imager dimensions (Riding, 1991) this may be broadly operationalised as an individuals propensity for conceiving of entities as complete wholes or in discrete parts, and the processing of information in words or in images. It is suggested that style will be a major factor here as certain stylistic types will experience more or less perceived disorientation due to their relative need to parse the overall structure of the hypertext.

Method:  The general design of this study was two three (hypertext architecture; linear, hierarchical, relational) by three (cognitive style; wholist, intermediate, analytic and verbaliser, bimodal, imager) on subjective accounts of disorientation.

Participants were 92 students (34 males, 58 females, mean age 22.97, SD 5.67) following university undergraduate courses. Each participant was assigned to one of the three different hypertext conditions. Cognitive style was assessed with the CSA (Cognitive Styles Analysis, Riding, 1991) Participants browsed a hypertext structure for ten minutes with the knowledge that they would have to complete some recall task after the period of browsing. Questions were then administered regarding the degree of perceived disorientation experienced performing the learning tasks.

Conclusions:  The findings are discussed in terms of the consideration of stylistic differences and the effects of these on the implications for using hypertext as an educational tool in business and management education.


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