Online reading is developing at an increasingly rapid rate, but the debate concerning whether learning is more effective when using hypertexts than when using traditional linear texts is still persistent. In addition, several researchers stated that online reading comprehension always starts with a question, but little empirical evidence has been gathered to investigate this claim. This study used eye-tracking technology and retrospective think aloud technique to examine online reading behaviors of fifth-graders (N = 50). The participants were asked to read four texts on the website. The present study employed a three-way mixed design: 2 (reading ability: high vs. low) × 2 (reading goals: with vs. without) × 2 (text types: hypertext vs. linear text). The dependent variables were eye-movement indices and the frequencies of using online reading strategy. The results show that fifth-graders, irrespective of their reading ability, found it difficult to navigate the non-linear structure of hypertexts when searching for and integrating information. When they read with goals, they adjusted their reading speed and the focus of their attention. Their offline reading ability also influenced their online reading performance. These results suggest that online reading skills and strategies have to be taught in order to enhance the online reading abilities of elementary-school students.
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