Monday, July 2, 2007

The Talmud - An Ancient form of non-linear learning

The Talmud is a written compilation of Judaic law and ethics written between the second and fifth century Common Era. A typical page from the Talmud is divided into a main text area with various commentaries and cross references surrounding the page border. Studying Talmudic text requires the ability to jump from the text to the commentary, to other references, and sometimes explore more deeply into that references further reference, until, eventually, continuing with the text. Thus, the Talmud can be considered an "early" form of hypertext, without the use of computers, of course.

Talmudic learning is definitely non-linear. Can non-linear learning work on-line using computers? Do you think you can learn non-linearly?

Here's an interesting way to find out:
Go to This page shows you an image of a page from the Talmud. The top of the page gives directions on how to use the image. Try it out, and see how it works.
Then, return to this same page and click on the link below the image - the one that tells you to click to see a hyperlinked selection of the texts in translation. It will display a lot of frames!

See if you can learn something by following the frames. These frames are there for a reason! It is an attempt to simulate Talmudic learning. Each frame represents a commentary or a reference to related texts to support the main text on the Talmudic page.

I learned this way throughout elementary and high school, and I still study Talmud this way! I'm not sure how comfortable I would be learning Talmud on-line with all these frames. But, I can learn non-linearly, and I actual prefer this style.

What's your opinion? Do you think you can learn non-linearly? If so, what requirements would you want or need in terms of screen lay-out and content?