Medical students' learning of anatomy: memorisation, understanding and visualisation.
Relationships between students' perceptions of successful approaches to learning anatomy, their own approaches to learning and learning outcomes were explored in a population of first year medical students studying anatomy at a research intensive, Australian university. Students perceived successful learning of anatomy to involve hard work, involving memorization, understanding or visualisation. An online survey with a version of the SPQ that measures approaches to learning (Biggs, Kember, & Leung, 2001), student examination scripts and results were source data for this study. Students showed high Surface Approach (SA) scores (Mean 30+3.4) and Deep Approach (DA) scores (Mean 31+4.2) consistent with the use of both memorisation and understanding as key strategies of learning anatomy. The quality of written assessment was rated using the SOLO taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982). There were significant correlations between SOLO ratings and DA scores (r = 0.24, p < 0.01), between SA scores and final grades (r = -0.30, p < 0.01), and between SOLO ratings and final grades (r = 0.61, p < 0.01) in the subject. We conclude that successful learning of anatomy appears to require visualisation, and both memorisation and understanding. Deep learning in anatomy may involve the development of a personal framework of understanding in which memorisation is used as a strategy for accurate recall of detailed information.
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