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Individuals with ADHD lost in hyperspace.

Because of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, educators have an obligation to ensure that all students have the opportunity to access hypermedia instruction. Digital media is an important tool in meeting this obligation, because it offers flexibility in manipulating and adapting instruction to the needs of a variety of learners (Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2005).

Hypermedia instruction allows instructors to provide learners with a variety of choices in selecting instructional objectives and approaches for acquiring information. Because hypermedia is able to link to digital media that can be modified and adapted, educators across various educational levels believe that hypermedia can meet the needs of diverse learners (Rose et al., 2005). However, linking to the different forms of modified digital media adds an additional layer to instructional material. Hyperlinking provides choices to learners, requiring them to use metacognitive skills as part of their decision-making process in selecting the links that will maximize their learning experience in those environments (Anderson-Inman, Knox-Quinn, & Horney, 1996; Davidson-Shivers, Shorter, Jordan, & Rasmussen, 1999; McGrath, 1992; Wijekumar, 2005). Increased choice selection creates the potential for learners to become disoriented or confused when navigating through lessons (Dias & Sousa, 1997). Because of the connection between metacognition and navigational decisions, built-in accommodations should include metacognitive supports in navigation for individuals with different learning challenges. Individuals with ADHD experience metacognitive skill deficits (Barkley, 1998; Borkowski, Peck, Reid, & Kurtz, 1983), which can hamper their ability to use hypermedia.

ADHD Characteristics That Impact Learning

Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a debilitating condition affecting the afflicted individual's life at home, work, and school (Weiss, 1997). The symptoms for the inattention type of ADHD, as describedby DSM-IV-TR, include: 1) inability to pay attention to details; 2) difficulty sustaining attention to tasks; 3) inability to listen; 4) failure to follow through on instructions; 5) failure to finish schoolwork, chores, or workplace duties; 6) difficulty in organizing tasks; 7) avoidance of tasks requiring sustained mental effort; 8) being easily distracted by extraneous stimuli; and 9) forgetfulness while performing daily activities. The hyperactivity-impulsivity type of ADHD is characterized as: 1) fidgeting with hands and feet, 2) leaving a seat when sitting is expected, 3) running about or climbing excessively, 4) blurting out responses before the question is completed, 5) difficulty awaiting one's turn, and 6) interrupting or intruding on others (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). The third type of ADHD is a combination of inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity. Individuals with this type exhibit characteristics from both categories.

Individuals with ADHD experience many challenges in academic settings. By age 11, 80% of children with ADHD are at least two years behind their peers in reading, spelling, mathematics, and writing. When these children are educated in the regular classroom, they will most likely fail at least one grade by adolescence. Over one-third of the children will fail high school (Zentell, 1993). Individuals with ADHD who are impulsive have a tendency to select answers quickly without contemplating the consequences of the actions. Hence, they perform poorly on problem-solving tasks, composition writing, reading comprehension, serial recall tasks, and paper-pencil tests (Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993).

Metacognitive Development

Failure to develop basic academic skills appears to be directly correlated to the inability of individuals with ADHD to use metacognitive skills. Development of metacognitive skills occurs simultaneously with academic skills. As children mature, they begin to regulate when to use learning strategies, and they can monitor the effectiveness of those strategies (Dwyer, Tomei, & Mohr, 2000). In children with ADHD, this natural developmental process for metacognition seems to be interrupted, due to their symptoms of ADHD (Borkowski et al., 1983; Cohen et al., 2000; Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993; Ludwikowski, 1998; Manganello, 1995; Voelker, Carter, Spaque, Gdowski, & Lachar, 1989; Webster, Hall, Brown, & Bolen, 1996).

Distractibility, a trait of ADHD, seems to interfere with metacognitive development. Distractibility is exhibited by individuals with ADHD because they are attending to all of the stimuli in the environment, simultaneously making it difficult to sort through the stimuli to determine what should be attended to. As a result, individuals with ADHD often exhibit deficits in the following components of memory: short-term, long-term, auditory, visual, and working (Cohen et al., 2000; Ludwikowski, 1998; Webster et al., 1996). When dealing with memory deficits, students with ADHD are unable to hold the directions for simple metacognitive strategies in their memory long enough to practice them (Borkowski et al., 1983), which, consequently, leads to their use of immature metacognitive skills. This inability to move information from short-term to long-term memory prevents children with ADHD from processing novel material (Webster et al., 1996), adversely affecting the students' ability to be academically successful. To make Internet navigational decisions, the learner needs to be able to hold the linking options in short-term memory long enough to make a decision about which link to select.

Executive functions are the self-regulatory processes of metacognition (Barkley, 1998; Manganello, 1995; Puris & Tannock, 1997; Voelker et al., 1989). An individual with an executive function deficit is able to describe learning strategies but is not able to apply those strategies to a learning task (Flavel, 1979). Multiple processes within the executive function support metacognition, and these include: establishing vocational goals, acknowledging obstacles to success, shifting focus, following rules, judging performance, organizing in sequence, structuring activities, and ignoring distractions. Individuals with executive function disorder experience failure in planning ahead, anticipating the needs or requirements of a task, correcting task approach or behavior in the face of obvious failure, and identifying and implementing alternate strategies (Manganello, 1995).

Hypermedia Learning Environments

Hypermedia programs can be designed to highlight relevant information, reinforce correct responses, increase response times, decrease distractions, offer privacy, improve attention span, and provide motivation (Bornas, Severa, & Liabres, 1997; Edwards, Blackhurst, & Koorland, 1995; Jonassen & Grabowski, 1993; Koscinski & Gast, 1993; Terwillinger, 1986; Yehle & Wambold, 1998). Embedding links within the instructions can serve as cognitive scaffolding, guiding learners in the identification of relevant information (Skylar, Higgins, & Boone, 2007).

With the addition of multimedia and hypertext, instructional programs are becoming more complex, thus increasing the navigation decisions required by learners. The complexity of the instructional materials can be attributed to developers using constructivist strategies that allow learners to make decisions about their own paths through the instructional program. Learners must engage in reflective thinking and metacognitive strategies during inquiry and develop coherent explanations for information presented to them in constructive learning environments. Based upon the reflective process, students make decisions about revisiting old material or selecting new material to learn. Therefore, student-centered approaches in constructivist environments require the students to use high levels of metacognitive strategies to ensure they obtain the information required of them (Land, 2000). Computer-based programs (which have resulted in positive academic outcomes for students with ADHD) were developed using highly structured lessons with instantaneous feedback and reinforcement. These features are not often part of a constructivist multimedia learning environment.

Since instruction is no longer linear, learners can experience disorientation and confusion, due to conflicts between content integration and navigational decisions (Dias & Sousa, 1997). Learners' navigation decisions seem to be closely related to learning strategies used for monitoring comprehension and complex elaborating strategies (Davidson-Shivers et al., 1999). Therefore, metacognition is helpful in searching for information that requires clicking through multiple links, which can be confusing and frustrating to students with cognitive disabilities (Gardner & Wissick, 2000).

Several design factors seem to contribute to learners becoming lost in instructional hyperspace. Navigational buttons or text links that are not consistent from page-to-page/slide-to-slide create confusion for learners (Mariger, 2006). When navigation becomes confusing, students focus cognitive resources on interpreting the navigational cues rather than on the content. Hypermedia elements, such as blinking text, flashing onscreen objects, scrolling marquees, pop-ups, and/or continual animations, can distract (Crow, 2008; Peters-Waiters, 1998) the learner from selecting the correct link or following an appropriate planned pathway. Web pages with long passages of unbroken text and no white space can be frustrating to read and comprehend (Peters-Waiters, 1998). Without white space, the information displayed on the page is cluttered, thus increasing the cognitive load on learners as they process the images (Mariger, 2006).

Implications for Educators

Two approaches can be used to assist individuals with ADHD in accessing the hypermedia environments: accommodations that educators can implement and cognitive support within the hypermedia instruction. Interventions that educators have used successfully with individuals with cognitive disabilities also can assist those individuals with ADHD. Some individuals need assistance in making navigational decisions using metacognition until they become proficient in making pathway decisions based upon accomplishing learning objectives (Gardner & Wissick, 2000). Another approach is to use highly structured instructional techniques to teach learners how to make good navigational decisions before using the hypermedia lesson. For example, a hypermedia presentation could be developed that presents the strategies, models the steps the students are going to use, assists the students in memorizing those steps, and gives them the opportunity to practice the skills (Lancaster, Lancaster, Schumaker, & Deshler, 2006). Webquests are inquiry, web-based lessons that provide learners with guidance in locating information on the Internet. The format of the webquests imposes structure upon Internet searches by providing specific websites to visit that are closely aligned with instructional objectives.

The design of the instructional material can reduce the cognitive load that students experience. Learners with ADHD attend better when the reading passages are short (Solomonidou, Garagouni-Areou, & Zafiropoulou, 2004). Newspaper-style writing puts the most important information first with expanded explanations that follow. So if learners do become distracted before they finish reading the passage, they will have already read the most relevant information. Passages also can be made shorter by using good chunking strategies, such as breaking down longer passages into shorter segments. Chunking also an be enhanced by using bulleted lists and meaningful headings that define the content and guide the earners in identifying the important material (Hudson, Weakley, & Firminger, 2005; Mariger, 2006). The overall layout of the informational material should be consistent and veil organized. Metacognitive scaffolding support can be provided by limiting the use of fonts and colors so hat when bolding, italics, and color are used, these elements highlight key ideas and concepts on the page (Hudson et al., 2005; Mariger, 2006; Meiert, 2009). Finally, cognitive load can be educed by keeping the navigation consistent across the entire instructional product (Meiert, 2009).

Navigating Hyperspace In the Future

In the future, the Internet is going to deliver more content online faster than ever. The availability of digital books online is rapidly expanding. The Kindle allows a person to carry round a lightweight reader that downloads digital books in seconds. The device allows that same book to be transferred to iPhones. A rather different spin-off of the Internet book is a "vook," which integrates online video with a social computing tool, Twitter, that can also be delivered on digital reading devices (Stone, 2009). This ability to link to more complex types of media will be combined with connecting at exceedingly fast speeds. High-end multimedia and video will be available instantaneously at the click of the button.

Learners also will need to understand how to navigate among variety of Internet tools, such as mobile devices, cell phones, reading devices, gaming devices, the Internet, and television. Learners also will be navigating three-dimensional spaces with interactive touch screens and holographic images. However, the metacognitive load will increase, as the learners will need to know a variety of navigational strategies in many different environments.

Hyperspace will also have a social dimension. Much of the Internet will be organized around people rather than content (Educase, 2008). Not only will learners have to navigate through the information, but they will also need to have social competence to actively participate in instructional environments. Already, learners are engaging in the creation of online content through Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. Gradually, learners will become more involved in the development of content as they consume instructional material online. Therefore, learners will need both metacognitive and social skills to be successful.

Several tools are currently available to assist learners with navigational decisions. Educators can create pathways for the learner, thus reducing the cognitive load required in making navigational decisions. Courseware management systems offer adaptive release options. The instructor can set the order instructional materials are accessed by releasing the content only when the learner has completed specific tasks. This provides a linear, sequential pathway through the various learning materials, keeping the learner focused. Planning tools are being developed for web conferencing. The instructor can select from a variety of multimedia elements to create a pathway through the learning tasks. Preplanning assists the instructor in delivering the content in a sequential way. Eventually, these planning tools will allow educators to develop instructional pathways for individual learners.


Students with ADHD struggle to develop metacognitive strategies because of the challenges in selecting which stimuli to attend to and in moving information from short-term memory to long-term memory. Poor metacognitive development can be attributed to academic failure. Metacognition also assists in making navigation decisions. Students need to be able to develop, implement, and evaluate a plan for navigation through instructional content without becoming lost in hyperspace. The complexity of navigating through hyperspace will become more challenging as the Internet becomes faster and offers an increasing variety of access tools and types of media. Assisting students in making navigational choices or creating predetermined linear pathways through possible instructional materials will reduce the cognitive load, allowing students to focus their attention on the content.


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Victoria Brown is Assistant Professor Department of Teaching and Learning, College of Education Florida Atlantic University/ Davie, Florida.
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Title Annotation:attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Author:Brown, Victoria
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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