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  • A hypertext is a non-linear text that connects various elements (nodes, pages) through links.
  • “Hypertext is text with links, or pointers, showing relationships between parts of the information. Hypermedia extends this concept - information with links - to collections including text, audio, video, photographs, or any multisensory combination” (Alessi & Trollop, 2001:138).
  • From the Wikipedia: “In computing, hypertext is a user interface paradigm for displaying documents which, according to an early definition (Nelson 1970), "branch or perform on request." The most frequently discussed form of hypertext document contains automated cross-references to other documents called hyperlinks. Selecting a hyperlink causes the computer to load and display the linked document.”
  • Hypertext is not just HTML.
  • Hypertext systems allow users to author, edit and follow links between different bodies of text. Hypermedia systems, are similar to hypertext systems, except that the user can use other forms of media as well.

Hypertext and hypermedia architecture

Semantic and rhetorical link types

Burbules (1998) made a categorization based on rhetorics:

  • Metaphor: “a comparison, an equation, between apparently dissimilar objects, inviting the listener or reader to see points of similarity between them while also inviting a change in the originally related concepts by "carrying over" previously unrelated characteristics from one to the other.”
  • Metonymy: “an association not by similarity, but by contiguity, relations in practice”.
  • Synecdoche: “figurations where part of something is used as a shorthand for the thing as a whole or, more rarely, vice versa. [..]. In the context of Web links, this trope is particularly influential in identifying, or suggesting, relations of categorical inclusion”
  • Hyperbole: exaggeration for the sake of tropic emphasis (or its opposite, understatement for the same effect), i.e. “there is a tacit implication with each collection, each archive, each search engine, of a degree of comprehensiveness beyond its actual scope”
  • Antistatis: the "same" word - in a different or contrasting context.
  • Identity: identity denies difference and emphasizes equivalence
  • Sequence and cause-and-effect: indicate real relations, not simply allusive ones.
  • Catechresis: "far-fetched" uses of familiar words in a new context. “In the context of the Web, catechresis becomes a trope for the basic working of the link, generally: any two things can be linked, even a raven and a writing desk, and with that link, instantaneously, a process of semic movement begins”

Harrison's (2002) paper explores the semantic and rhetorical principles underlying link development of web sites and proposes a systematic, comprehensive classification of link types that could be of use to researchers and Web production teams:

  • Authorizing: Describes an organization's legal, formal policies, contact information, etc. that authenticate the site and its content.
  • Commenting: Provides opinion about the site and/or its content.
  • Enhancing: Provides more factual information about site content by offering greater detail or painting the "bigger picture."
  • Exemplifying: Provides a specific example of content within a broader category.
  • Mode-Changing: Moves users from the reading mode to one that requires a different kind of activity.
  • Referencing/Citing: Provides information that "informs" or supplements the site's content.
  • Self-Selecting: Allows users to narrow a search by making choices based on their age, sex, geographical location, life situation, personal interests, and so on ([1], retrieved 18:47, 6 November 2006 (MET))

A technical classification of links

In the history of hypertext we can distinguish "minimal" technology such as HTML and systems that provide a richer set of link types. E.g. the XLink standard which did/does not have much success with industry defines a whole lot of linking attributes.

Simple links
  • One element on the screen/document (e.g. a word or a button) points to another screen or other element within the loaded screen/document. After clicking the link, current content is replaced by target content. These are links that one can find in HTML (web contents).
Complex links

There are many, e.g.:

  • Fat (multi-tailed) links: a fat link can open several windows simultaneously with one click of the mouse.
  • Multiple-choice links: the user can choose among several options from a menu.
  • Labelled links: A user can see what a link is good for (e.g. "example", "theory", "further reading", "reference", etc.)
  • Aggregations: (include various smaller documents into a single text)
  • Inclusions: A link that expands contents in place to include other contents.
  • Transclusion: A text that is composed as an aggregation of other text. E.g. in a Mediawiki like this on can build pages out of other pages by using this syntax
  • Bilinks: See AboutUs:BiLinks

Hypertext standards


Alessi & Trollop (2001:155) suggest to pay attention to a few factors when creating hyperlinks of various forms, which we shortly outline here:

Object types of links
  • Word links are easy to spot but decrease readability and influence on browsing behavior ()
  • Links in pictures and videos may be less easy to spot depending on how they are made
Purpose of links
  • Clearly, links should be used for a reason. Firstly, there should a general concept about the media type to be constructed (e.g. see the overview of genres below) and then there should a be a use case analysis (what it will be used for) in terms of one or several instructional design models.
Density of links
  • For reference works, it's in principle a good a idea to include many links (e.g. like in this text)
  • However, in education one may limit links in texts that should be read in its entirety, or only show them after explicit request or some other control function (e.g. learner level). There is actually a lot of research on adaptive hypertext
Visibility of links
  • Links should be clearly visible, however there is a tradeoff with readability.
  • In general, one should not users require to move the mouse over an object that then will highlight in order to find available links. A compromise, might be a visibility of links turn on/off button. E.g. in a modern web browser this is very easy to implement.
Screen Location
  • In particular menu links should be placed in standard locations (e.g. on top or to the left)
  • The authors put several things into this category, e.g.
  • Confirmation of link selection (not activation): E.g. display a mouse-over effect. Then the links can for example offer a preview, or let the user display contents in different locations. (In web browsers, the latter functionality is the right-click menu, and the further can be implement with Javascript.

Finally, one also may ask confirmation from the user to open or navigate to different sites.

  • Recently selected links can be specially mark (e.g. by default, word links in web browsers change color from blue to violet)
  • One also can implement user trails, i.e. display somewhere a list or the path of visited links. Typically, this is implemented in shopping applications like amazon (also in this wiki, if you use a login).
Semantic Cueing
  • A semantic cue identifies the relation to the link target or at least its kind (e.g. use a color code or little icons that characterize the links)
  • Other options are to use a menu or to display links relationships in a separate window with a concept graph.
  • This is partly same issue as above, partly the problem that in education it's a difficult decision whether you can rely on external links. E.g. if you teach about hypertext in education, would you trust us to keep this page alive ?
  • Typically in web design, one tries to make a distinction between internal and external links (e.g. this is being done in this wiki). However the question whether we trust other people to keep their links online is a very difficult one.
  • In earlier systems users were able to modify or at least to annotate a hypertext. Also they could add links.
  • In more recent hypermedia (including most web pages) this is not usually the case.
  • There is a difference between hypermedia that can be changed (e.g. like this wiki), those that can be annotated and those where the changes are only seen by the user who made those changes (the latter version is the most difficult to implement). Annotation systems are successfully used in education, e.g. the Diplo Foundation uses annotation of online text as primary teaching medium.

Navigation types from a GUI perspective

In a hypertext or hypermedia system, there can be many kinds of navigational devices (most of which are links). E.g.:

  • Simple word or button links
  • Menu bars
  • Context menus
  • Graphics (concept maps, maps, time lines)
  • Table of contents, Indexes, Glossaries
  • Search

Hypertext and hypermedia in education

This chapter provides an overview of educational uses.

A deeper analysis of learning activities with hypermedia and kinds of supported learning types is missing though.

Overview of educational genres

“Hypertext/hypermedia is a field of study which comes with a number of issues, which we will explore, for example:what it means to learn in a nonlinear fashion and the related implications for designing online learning and learning from the current structure of the Web: learner control, navigational problems, cognitive overload, issues of type of structure and how much structure, and so on. Hypertext has two main features: nonlinearity and changeability. That is, the user may follow someone else's links, or s/he may design her own.These two different purposes have important learning consequences.” (Diane McGrath, retrieved 18:47, 6 November 2006 (MET)).

Hodges and Asnett (1993) cited by [2], retrieved 6 November 2006) identified six groups of educational applications that were made with ATHENA developed at MIT and one of the earlier hypermedia systems.

  1. Virtual Museums
  2. Simulations, in particular interactive fiction for language learning
  3. Analysis Tools, in particular analysis of films (see e.g. cognitive flexibility hypertext)
  4. Editors, e.g. color editors, lesson tools
  5. Information management, e.g. meeting tools, calendars, etc.
  6. Electronic Books

Alessi and Trollop (2001:142) describe in their textbook 8 hypermedia formats to which we would like to add the hypermodel.

  1. General reference (encyclopedias, dictionaries, atlases, etc.)
    • These are typically sold as commercial products on CD-ROM (E.g. Encarta) but may also be available over the Internet (e.g. Britannica). A well known free one is Wikipedia
    • Such systems are useful for reference, e.g. as a resource in project-oriented learning
  2. Specific subject matter reference
    • Same principle as above but focused on a given domain, e.g. the human body, astronomy, a genre of music. An example would be Shakespeare's world. There are lots of simple web sites that are made by teachers on given subjects (see some Learning objects repositories). While technically simple, such resources can be very efficient in education.
  3. Analysis of a domain
    • Such systems go beyond presentation and analyze complexities, arguments, provide multiple viewpoints etc. In other words, they are specifically made for a kind of educational design.
    • A typical example would be a cognitive flexibility hypertext like the KANE system
  4. Case study
    • These are similar to the above, but focus on some very specific objects, e.g. a historical event, a person, a piece of art. The user will have access to a variety of information (e.g. firstly the entire work, then essays, photographs, video-clips, etc.). Also available are analysis tools and sophisticated navigation and search tools. In other words, such a hypertext should provide learners with the opportunity to study an object inside out and from many angles.
    • A typical example are multimedia virtual bodies. Some can be found on the Internet, e.g. BBC Human Body and Mind. An other example are sites on literature in the tradition of Intermedia, e.g. George Landow's Victorian Web.
  5. Construction sets
  6. Edutainment
    • The programs are both recreational and entertaining. E.g. children can virtually travel to places and gain points when they pick up some objects. There are hundreds of such programs on the market and most are sold as CD/DVDs.
    • An example would be Where is Carmen Sandiego. Note: There are other edutainment categories, e.g. that fall more into some drills and practice category.
  7. Museum
    • Museums are virtual exhibits that mimic a real one or not. In both cases exhibits are arranged in some topological format. Technology can be simple web pages, hypermedia systems on CD, Desktop virtual reality e.g. made with computer game technology or X3D.
  8. Archive
    • Digitalization of contents or systematic cataloguing of existing contents. This includes addition of menus, indexing and so forth
    • E.g. all national geographic magazines
  9. Hypermodel
    • Hypermodels are hybrids between simulations, hypermedia and microworlds, i.e. the user can interact with models (modify parameters, sometimes build them) and access to information describing a subject domain (both textbook information and raw facts)
    • E.g. systems like BGuILE, BioLogica or WISE

Technically speaking, almost any software today is a hypermedium. However, the question is to know when to call an application a hypermedia in the proper narrow sense and when it rather should be called a microworld, an educational game, CBL software, CBT software etc. Daniel K. Schneider thinks that one should in a conceptual context use the word hypermedia to describe systems that essentially contain:

  • lots of information that is linked in various ways
  • flexible user-driven navigation
  • some tools (but not too many)

We think, that it is important to be able to distinguish various forms of interactive multimedia or educational technologies in general. Because each format is not "innocent" and does have its constraints regarding educational use.

Instructionalist designs

In main-stream instructional design, hypertext is usually a component to build learning activities that include strong sequencing constraints (at least at module level) and MCQ's. Some very general design guidelines for more open hypertexts usually include:

  • clear structure
  • navigational transparency
  • consistency

See e-learning, mastery learning, etc.

Constructivist designs

Hypertext requires the reader to be an active participant in the evolution of the learning path and therefore are of interest to various constructivist designs.

  • Some microworlds, like BioLogica or WISE all include hypermedia. This technology is also known as Hypermodel and refers to a type of learning technology that blends aspects of models, simulations, and hypermedia

Constructionist designs

Dumb designs

  • Why do we add Hypertext to the Category:Instructional design models ? Because there are people who believe that one can learn by surfing through hypertext. It's the constructivist "spray and pray" equivalent to the "page turning" design idea popular with some LMS users ....
  • Or in other words, hypertext in good educational designs is usually used not as a pedagogical model, but as a technology that supports designed learning activities, sometimes as a stand-alone tools, sometimes (as in modern microworlds) in conjunction with other tools.

Language theoretical models

Tom Boyle (2002) argues that a central concept for educational multimedia design is context, “a construction that makes selective, holistic sense of the environment of interaction. This construct then guides adaptive action in that environment, e.g. what type of learning actions to undertake. The central challenge for educational multimedia designers is to create contexts that promote effective learning.”

He then identifies two major challenges arise in the design of contexts:

  1. the structuring of contexts in relationship to each other;
  2. the creation of the internal structure of the context.

He calls the structuring of context montage, that in education usually implies the the framing of content along with associated interactivity. A good examples are certain kinds of Microworlds, e.g. the DOVE system which implements a kind of virtual field trip in Biology.

Regarding the formal internal structure of context, Boyle (2002) then refers to the concept developed in systemic linguistics and that argues “that language has evolved to provide communication in context, and the deep structure of language reflects this fundamental influence. It argues that there are three abstract macro-functions that underpin the production of all linguistic communication”

According to Boyle (2002), these macro-functions concern:

  • the construction of the content of the message - the coherent linking of agents, actions states and objects to convey a message (called the ideational function);
  • the management of the interpersonal roles and relationships in the communication - whether the message is embedded the form of a statement, question, order etc. (called the interpersonal function);
  • the integration of all the other elements to create of a coherent overall communicative 'text', e.g. a coherent description stretching over several sentences (called the textual function).

Boyle (1997) argues that the creation of multimedia contexts involves the action of three corresponding macro-functions. In the construction of educational multimedia these involve:

  • the content structuring macro-function: the selection and structuring of the learning content in the multimedia context;
  • the interactivity macro-function: designing for user interaction with this content;
  • the compositional macro-function: the creation of a coherent overall composition, both within and across contexts.

These macro functions strongly relate was is called sequencing and that concerns both structuring of contents and structuring of learner interactions.


This is a very incomplete time-line:

  1. 1945: V. Bush, As We May Think
  2. 1965: Ted Nelson invents the word "Hypertext"
  3. 1968: Engelbart demoes "HyperMedia" over the network
  4. 1981: Start of Ted Nelson's Xanadu project which never managed to take off, however there finally was an available implementation in 1999 (?)
  5. 1985 Intermedia was the best known hypertext project to emerge from Brown University, after HES (1967) and FRESS (1969). It was started by Norman Meyrowitz and became popular in literature criticism and education through the work of George Landow.
  6. 1987 HyperCard, a hypermedia authoring system (but with limited text linking).
  7. 1992 First commercial hypertext system by Eastgate (still sold as Storyspace). This system was based on Intermedia.
  8. 1989: Tim Berners-Lee builds the first prototype of the WWW and invents HTML, formally as a SGML application.
  9. 1991: Gopher (Menu-based navigation through files and services on the Internet)
  10. 1992-1993: The WWW starts spreading
  11. 1992 / 1997 Hytime is a complex SGML application. Hytime is an ISO standard that has rarely been used, but it had a big influence on the definition of more recent Web Standards like XLink.
  12. Early 90' (?) Adaptive hypertexts
  13. 1995 Ward Cunningham invented the first Wiki. Wikis are probably the only popular CMSs that are compatible with the Hypertext concept.

(To do: add more recent developments + exotic hypertexts)


Hypertext examples on the Internet

There are not many good hypertext examples on the Internet. Some exceptions are:

Subject-related websites

Victorian Web

Concept mapped hypertexts
(Simple) hypertext books
Some social software
Some interactive visualizations or 3D models
  • E.g. human bodies

PS: For hypermedia, see Learning objects repositories


  • Internet resource locators (URLs, URNs)
  • HTML / XHTML and associated linking mechanisms (e.g. the "A" tag and the "href" attribute)
  • XML Linking standards like XLink and associated mechanisms to point to documents and parts of documents (XPointer and XPath)
  • Topic Maps, a ISO standard to define maps for information spaces
  • Some languages based on RDF, e.g. ontology languages like OWL or social software standards like FOAF.
  • HyTime
  • Text Encoding Initiative Guidelines

Software and technology


  • George Paul Landow Professor of English and the History of Art, Brown University (according to DSchneider, the pioneer for hypertext in higher education).
  • Hypermedia for Educators, retrieved 18:47, 6 November 2006 (MET). A seminar given by Dian McGrath at college of education, Kansas State University. This page has good links.


  • Alessi, Stephen. M. & Trollop, Stanley. R., (2001) Multimedia for Learning (3rd Edition), Pearson Allyn & Bacon, ISBN 0-205-27691-1.
  • Boyle Tom (2002). Towards a Theoretical Base for Educational Multimedia Design. Journal of Interactive Multimedia in Education, 2002, (2). ISSN:1365-893X HTML [www-jime.open.ac.uk/2002/2]
  • Burbules N.C. (1998). "Rhetorics of the Web: Hyperreading and Critical Literacy," In: I. Snyder (editor). Page to Screen: Taking Literacy into the Electronic Era. London: Routledge. HTML reprint. Michael Roy made a short excerpt of this piece
  • Bush,V. As We May Think HTML, and HTML originally published in Atlantic Monthly, July 1995.
  • Cicconi, Sergio (1999). ""Hypertextuality"". Mediapolis. Ed. Sam Inkinen. Berlino & New York: De Gruyter.: 21-43. HTML
  • Charbonneau, Johanne (1999), Typologie des liens hypertextuels dans les journaux électroniques, Documentation et bibliothèques, 45 (1).
  • Chen, P. & McGrath, D. (2003). Knowledge construction and knowledge representation in high school students'design of hypermedia documentss. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia.
  • Conklin, J. Hypertext: An Introduction and Survey, IEEE Computer, vol. 1(9), pp. 17-40, September 1987.
  • Cunningham, Patricia, S. Teacher Knowledge, Cognitive Flexibility and Hypertext: Case-Based Learning and Teacher Education, (on-line) Proceedings of the Second International Technological Directions in Music Learning Conference, http://music.utsa.edu/tdml/conf-II/II-Cunningham.htmlM. Jacobson, C. Maouri, P. Mishra, C. Kolar, Learning with Hypertext Learning Environments: Theory, Design and Research, in Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 4, 1995, pp. 321-364.
  • Dillon, Andrew and Ralph Gabbard, Hypermedia as an Educational Technology: A Review of the Quantitative Research Literature on Learner Comprehension, Control, and Style, Review of Educational Research, Vol. 68, No. 3. (Autumn, 1998), pp. 322-349. Abstract/HTML/PDF
  • Eyman, Douglas Andrew. "Hypertext And/As Collaboration in the Computer-Facilitated Writing Classroom." Kairos: A Journal for Teachers of Writing in Webbed Environments 2 no. 2 (Fall 1997). HTML
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  • Romiszowski, A. J., & Cheng, E. (1992). “Hypertext’s contribution to computer-mediated communication: in search of an instructional model.” In M. Giardina (Ed.), Interactive multimedia learning environments. Springer, Berlin.
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