How Anatomical Models Improve Comprehension For Spatial Learners

Connecting With Visual (Spatial) Learners 

“65 percent of the population consists of visual learners; therefore when teachers lecture, they are reaching less than half of the class¹.”

Spatial learning or right brained learning is the phenomenon of thinking through visual processing².

Visual Aids In Human Anatomy

“We’ve known for some time that students in anatomy who use visual aids such as models or computer programs perform better on anatomy course examinations (McNulty et al., 2010; Sugand et al., 2010, and we can expect to see an increase in student reliance upon visual learning aids as curricula trend toward less classroom and laboratory didactic time…It is projected that over the next decade teaching medical school anatomy will likely rely more on independent learning aids (Sugand et al.,).” 

Anatomical Models vs. Virtual Models 

Several studies conducted over the last two decades have provided insight into the effectiveness of digital media. Digital media, such as dynamic presentations and virtual reality, have had mixed effects on learners, and not all positive (Garg et al., 1999, 2001, 2002; Brenton et al., 2007; Levinson, 2007).

In a recent study, two undergraduate students Zaid Khot and Kaitlyn Quinlan from Drs. Geoff Norman and Bruce Wainman laboratories at McMaster University compared learner outcomes among  those using computer-based virtual reality materials and those using a static atlas-type compendium of photographic images and a solid state 3D plastic model (Khot et al., 2013). One group used only 3D computer-based virtual rendering of a pelvis reconstructed from CT scans, the second group used a plastic model of the pelvis, and the third group used 2D photographs of the plastic model.

Traditional Plastic Anatomical Models

Another interesting study conducted by Daniel Preece at The Royal Veterinary College at the University of London determined that students who used a plastic model of an equine foot learned significantly more than those who used traditional textbooks or more advanced 3D computer modeling programs (Preece et al., 2013).  In both studies,Khot and Preece, there was no advantage to students who used computer-generated visual tools over two-dimensional media that included traditional textbooks and atlases (Khot et al., 2013; Preece et al., 2013).

A Simple Truth

“The future of anatomical education, to be a truly multi-modal discipline, must remain hands-on³.

Designed For The Kinesthetic & Spatial Learner

Surprisingly, the group of students that used the plastic model outperformed both groups. Static anatomical models provide the student with an important hands-on learning experience that cannot currently be replicated with technology. 




Khot Z, Quinlan K, Norman GR, Wainman B The relative effectiveness of computer-based and traditional resources for education in anatomy. Anat Sci Educ 6, 211-215 (2013).

McNulty JA, Sonntag B, Sinacore JM Evaluation of computer-aided instruction in a gross anatomy course: A six-year study. Anat Sci Educ 2, 2-8 (2010)

Sugand K, Abrahmas P, Khurana A The anatomy of anatomy: A review for its modernization. Anat Sci Edu 3, 83-93 (2010).

Wojciech Pawlina and Richard L. Drake Anatomical models: Don’t banish them from the anatomy laboratory yet. Anat Sci Edu 4, 209-210 (2013).


Join The Conversation

Comment Rules: Write meaningful comments and stay on topic. Please no spam.