Learning from hypertext
: Navigation, comprehension, and working memory in university students

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Reading text from an electronic screen has become prevalent for both recreation and education, with hypertext establishing itself as a large part of the digital reading corpus. Despite hypertext research taking place for around three decades, questions remain about the reading processes involved in this format, whether individual reader differences are beneficial or detrimental to learning, and how to facilitate navigation and comprehension. Three introductory chapters review the current research literature on reading comprehension across study media, and explore the cognitive processes for reading and navigating texts in the digital era. In four experiments, this thesis investigates hypertext learning in university students, focusing on navigation, comprehension, and working memory. The experiments find that deep, inferential, reading comprehension is weaker in hypertext than in print text, with low prior knowledge and lower working memory ability hypertext readers being especially disadvantaged. Equivalence between print and scrolling text performance indicates specific challenges in hypertext (e.g., disorientation, disruption of comprehension processes) are responsible for differences between study media, rather than more general screen inferiority effects. This thesis concludes that, while hypertext presents unique challenges to learning, novel hypermedia features may help overcome them. Evidence for this is in the final experiment, where provision of a dynamic graphical overview facilitates navigation and comprehension in hypertext. Print text is unlikely to make a resurgence in classrooms, so research should continue to explore differences between study media and ways to improve comprehension of hypertext.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorJudith Wylie (Supervisor) & Aidan Feeney (Supervisor)


  • Study media
  • hypertext
  • navigation
  • reading comprehension
  • reading strategies
  • working memory
  • graphical overview

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