Learning on the Web: A Content Literacy Perspective

John E. McEneaney
Oakland University

Note: After reading this article, please visit the transcript of the discussion forum to view readers' comments.


Supporting students' learning from subject area text involves focusing on both the text's content and on the processes students apply as they work to acquire, organize, and integrate that content. Clearly, more complex texts require more sophisticated learning processes on the part of students. Resources on the World Wide Web pose special difficulties with respect to these processes. Fortunately, emerging capabilities of on-line reading environments should help software designers and educators develop learning materials that allow readers to avoid problems with web-based content. The objective of this article is to describe (and, in one version, to illustrate by example) how new web technologies can be applied to assist readers both in integrating content and in maintaining a process focus as they navigate complex expository text. The central concept behind the approach described is that of the learner's “path.”

A Note about the Different Versions

This article is presented in several different versions that can be read in several different ways. After reading the descriptions, make your selection by clicking on the highlighted text.

  1. Path-based annotated hypertext provides a predetermined sequence of pages with annotations that explain and elaborate on the content presented. This format, the one in which the article was originally conceived and written, is truest to the ideas and issues addressed. In addition, since the instructional technology described revolves around the idea of a path, only this version includes a sample lesson (utilizing a variety of web resources on the topics of Mars and planetary exploration).

    Please note: This version of the article is best viewed using the Internet Explorer, Netscape Communicator, Opera, or Konqueror browsers. Navigation and linking problems may occur when the article is viewed with Netscape 7.x, Mozilla, or Safari.

  2. “Traditional” hypertext leaves navigational decisions to readers. This version allows you to create personalized readings by providing lots of choice -- through numerous links -- in the sequence in which pages can be read. Readers who experience problems in the path-based version may want to try this format, since the element most likely to cause problems (scripts) is not included. This version does not, however, present a sample lesson (since this requires the path-based format).

  3. Two linear versions are also provided -- a 42K pdf file requiring Acrobat Reader (available free from Adobe's download site), and a 66K word-processed file in rich text format, requiring a current version of a word-processing software package. Although well suited for printing, these are, at best, approximations of the ideas I present in this article. If you opt for a linear version, please consider reviewing at least one of the hypertext formats, as a number of central concepts do not “translate” well in moving from hypertext to print.

I recommend that you begin with the path-based hypertext format and move to another if you do not find it comfortable or wish to explore variations across the formats presented. (For information on browser requirements and settings for the path-based version, click here.) But whatever format you select, keep in mind that this abstract page is never more than a few clicks away, and you can change your mind at any time.

I hope you find this document as interesting to read as I have found it to write. Please consider sharing your response with other readers, the journal editors, and myself in the forum that accompanies this article. [Editors' note: The forum was disabled in July 2000. Readers are invited to comment on this article directly to the author (an e-mail address appears below) or by posting a message to Online Communities.]

Author Information

John E. McEneaney teaches in the Department of Reading and Language Arts, Oakland University (Rochester, Michigan 48309-4494, USA). His current research focuses on reader navigation in hypertext and its implications for learning and document design. He can be reached by e-mail at mceneane@oakland.edu.

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Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted January 2000
text © 2000 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232
scripts © 2000 John McEneaney