Time to Learn - Cognitive Style and Hypertext Architecture

Martin Graff

University of Glamorgan, Pontypridd, UK.



It has been repeatedly demonstrated that cognitive style is a pertinent factor for consideration in learning, and that this in part derives from the way in which the material to be learned is presented (Riding and Rayner, 1998).

Instructional techniques employing delivery via a hypertext environment (such as over the WWW) are gaining in popularity, and it would seem that certain style types are favoured by such delivery, and further that these findings appear to be independent of attitude towards computer assisted learning in general (Graff, 1999; Lin and Davidson-Shivers, 1996; Korthauer and Koubek, 1994).

However while factors such as structure of the hypertext environment have been found to affect navigational performance within a hypertext environment (McDonald and Stevenson, 1998), and this in turn has been shown to affect learning (Shapiro, 1998), the interaction between cognitive style and hypertext architecture has not been fully investigated.

It is therefore wholly conceivable that individuals may benefit from receiving instruction through hypertext architectures which are consistent with their particular styles, and that this may facilitate successful learning.


However, it is still unclear how the interaction of hypertext architecture and cognitive style impact on the success of such an instructional method. Accordingly an understanding of this would make for the development of more effective hypertext instructional systems.

It is suggested here that time in learning may be influenced by two distinct stylistic factors. Firstly, the type of navigational strategy employed by users of different styles, (Hill and Hannifin, 1997; Tauscher and Greenberg, 1997) and secondly differences in perceived disorientation while browsing and differences in the tendency to deviate from the set task between different styles (Gygi, 1990).

In short, time taken to learn, will depend on time taken to conceive of the macro structure of the material being learned. Different hypertext structures will have a differential affect on learning and this will interact with the cognitive style of the individual learner.


Test Instruments

The CSA (Cognitive Styles Analyses) (Riding, 1991)


The subject matter of the hypertext document was domain neutral, and featured historical information relating to a fictitious planet existing in the period 1500 to 1600. The information detailed how the planet was arranged geographically, and the various relationships between the countries on the planet.

Three hypertext architectures were used, which corresponded to linear, hierarchical, and relational/hierarchical, which are outlined in diagram below. More precise descriptions are given in the preceding section.


Essay Type Question

As mentioned above, the information in the hypertext document employed, contained information about a fictitious planet. Subjects were informed before they started to read the document that the planet became engaged in a war at the end of the period they were reading about, and that their task would be to recall and identify the causes of the war, in an essay type format. In order to answer the question comprehensively, subjects would have had to apprehend the whole of the subject matter contained within the hypertext..

Recall Questions

Fifteen questions which demanded that the respondent recall items of information from any one page within the hypertext structure. For example:

Recall of Hypertext Structure

Subjects were asked to recall hypertext structure by drawing a diagram of how this was structured. No distinction was made here between physical structure and conceptual structure.

Other Questions

Finally subjects were required to respond to five other questions relating to how easy the hypertext was to use. Responses were Likert type format.


Information on navigational path was obtained by backtracking on the browser, after the subject had completed the reading the document. The name of each page visited was recorded. No record of time spent reading each page was recorded. There is a difficulty here in that page loading times vary from time to time.


Participants were assigned randomly to one of the three hypertext architecture conditions. They were then allowed ten minutes to read through the pages in any manner they chose which could be accommodated on the hypertext architecture to which they were assigned. After this, they were required to complete the question booklet, comprising the essay type question, the recall questions, recall of structure question, and the ease of use question. They also completed the computer presented Cognitive Styles Analysis, the Cognitive Styles Index, and the test of disembedding shapes. Information on navigational route was also recorded.



Graff. M. G. (1999) 'Cognitive Style and Hypertext Structures' Proceedings of the 4th Eurpean Learning Styles Conference, Central Lancashire.

Gygi, K. (1990) 'Recognizing the symptoms of hypertext ... and what to do about it' in B.Laurel (ed), The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design (Addision-Wesley, Reading), 279-288.

Hill, J. R. & Hannafin, M. J. (1997) 'Cognitive strategies and learning from the world wide web' ETR&D-Educational Technology Research and Development, 45, 4, 37-64.

Korthauer, R. D. & Koubek, R. J. (1994) 'An empirical evaluation of knowledge, cognitive style and structure upon the performance of a hypertext task' International Journal of Human Computer Interaction, 6, 4, 373-390.

Lin, C. H. & Davidson-Shivers, G. V. (1996) 'Effects of linking structure and cognitive style on students' performance and attitude in a computer-based hypertext environment' Journal of Educational Computing Research, 15, 4, 317-329.

McDonald, S. & Stevenson, R. J. (1998) 'Effects of text structure and prior knowledge of the learner on navigation in hypertext' Human Factors, 40, 1, 18-27.

Shapiro, A. M. (1998) 'Promoting active learning: The role of system structure in learning from hypertext' Human Computer Interaction 13, 1, 1-35.

Riding, R. J. & Rayner, S. (1998) 'Cognitive styles and learning strategies' London, David Fulton.

Tauscher, L., & Greenberg, S. (1997) 'How People revisit web pages: Empirical findings and Implications for the design of History Systems' International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 47, 1, 97-137.


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