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The context of learning anatomy: does it make a difference?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Stephen McHanwell


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This study set out to ascertain whether the context in which anatomy is learnt made a difference to students' perceptions of learning. An Approach to Learning Inventory (ASSIST) and a 31-item Anatomy Learning Experience Questionnaire (ALE) were administered to 224 students (77 dental, 132 medical and 19 speech and language) as a multi-site study. Results revealed that 45% adopted a strategic, 39% a deep and 14% a surface approach. Trends between professions are similar for a deep or strategic approach (both similar to 40%). However, a surface approach differed between professions (7% dentistry, 16% medicine, 26% speech and language science). Dental students responded more to being able to use their knowledge than did other groups (P=0.0001). Medical students found the dissecting environment an intimidating one and subsequently reported finding online resources helpful (P=0.015 and P=0.003, respectively). Speech and language science students reported that they experienced greater difficulties with learning anatomy; they reported finding the amount to learn daunting (P=0.007), struggled to remember what they did last semester (P=0.032) and were not confident in their knowledge base (P=0.0001). All students responded strongly to the statement I feel that working with cadaveric material is an important part of becoming a doctor/dentist/health care professional'. A strong response to this statement was associated with students adopting a deep approach (P=0.0001). This study has elucidated that local curriculum factors are important in creating an enabling learning environment. There are also a number of generic issues that can be identified as being inherent in the learning of anatomy as a discipline and are experienced across courses, different student groups and institutions.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Smith CF, Martinez-Alvarez C, McHanwell S

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Journal of Anatomy

Year: 2014

Volume: 224

Issue: 3

Pages: 270-278

Print publication date: 12/08/2013

ISSN (print): 0021-8782

ISSN (electronic): 1469-7580

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell


DOI: 10.1111/joa.12089


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