The nature of cognitive tool use in a hypermedia learning environment
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Hypermedia learning environments have now come to secure a central role in student learning after a long history of providing supplemental instruction. Enabling a learner to efficiently navigate is no longer a primary concern as hypermedia becomes more pedagogically rich. Rather, with cognitive tools embedded in hypermedia learning environments the objective is the continuous cognitive processing of instructional content in order to gather information, test hypotheses, and progressively develop a solution. The purpose of this study was to investigate the nature of cognitive tool use. Hypermedia content was represented to students through a set of complementary cognitive tools. Cognitive tool use was examined to identify profiles of students based on how they cognitively process hypermedia content. Student profiles were then evaluated in iii terms of patterns of cognitive scaffolding in the form of tool use co-occurrence, patterns of information search behavior in the form of browsing constructs, academic performance, and experience of the hypermedia lesson. Thus, this study was designed to answer five research questions: 1) Can meaningful profiles of students' cognitive tool use be identified? 2) Do differences exist between these profiles in terms of their frequency of tool use co-occurrence? 3) Do differences exist between these profiles in terms of their frequency of browsing constructs? 4) Do differences exist between these profiles in terms of their performance on content tests? and 5) Do differences exist between these profiles in terms of their hypermedia learning experience? Five profiles of cognitive tool use were identified: non-allegiant, verbal, visual, kinesthetic, and infrequent. Cognitive tools facilitated problem definition and organization for visual and verbal tool users, and facilitated problem integration and evaluation for verbal tool users. Furthermore, cognitive tools helped verbal tool users inspect appropriate categories of lesson content early in the problem solving process. Finally, there were no differences between the five profiles of tool use identified in terms of their performance on content tests, nor their hypermedia learning experience. The findings from this study may be valuable to a variety of educational professionals - teachers, instructional designers, and educational researchers - providing meaningful direction to future hypermedia instruction and research.