One of the key reasons that multimedia, and particularly hypertext systems, are gaining in importance is that they inspire hopes of optimizing learners' processes of knowledge construction. The present study is concerned with the respective influence of individual learner variables (i.e. particularly domain‐specific prior knowledge) on the use of different design attributes. Thirty‐six university students worked through a hierarchically structured two‐part hypertext about the psychology of memory under two experimental browsing conditions (reduced versus free browsing). Results show that deeper‐level comprehension (i.e. structural knowledge) was predicted by the interaction of experimental condition and prior knowledge, but that simply retaining facts was not. Participants with low prior knowledge performed better on the comprehension test if they had worked on the version with reduced access. Moreover, the version with reduced access helped to reduce feelings of disorientation. The measure of disorientation also appeared to be closely linked with the individual's computer experience, self‐concept of computer ability and subject‐related interest. The main implications for educational practice relate to the design of an adaptive multimedia and hypertext learning system and the successful learning with it
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