EFFECTS OF LANGUAGE AND PRIOR KNOWLEDGE LEVELS ON HYPERTEXT READING COMPREHENSION
This study observed how two hypertext features – absence of a linear or author-specified order and availability of multiple reading aids – influence reading comprehension processes of ESL readers. Studies with native or highly proficient users of English, have suggested that readers reading hypertexts comprehend better than readers reading print texts. This was attributed to (i) presence of hyperlinks that provide access to additional information that can potentially help overcome comprehension obstacles and (ii) the absence of an author-imposed reading order that helps readers exercise cognitive flexibility. An aspect that remains largely un-researched is how well readers with low language competence comprehend hypertexts. This research sought to initiate research in the area by exploring the question: Do all ESL readers comprehend a hypertext better than a print text?
Keeping in mind the fact that a majority of readers reading online texts in English can be hindered by three types of comprehension deficits – low levels of language proficiency, non-availability of prior knowledge, or both – this study investigated how two characteristic features of hypertext, viz., linking to additional information and non-linearity in presentation of information, affect reading comprehension of ESL readers.
Two types of texts that occur in the electronic medium – linear or pre-structured texts and non-linear or self-navigating texts, were used in this study. Based on a comparison of subjects’ comprehension outcomes and free recalls, text factors and reader factors that can influence hypertext reading comprehension of ESL readers are identified.Contradictory to what many researchers believe, results indicate that self-navigating hypertexts might not promote deep comprehension in all ESL readers.