Applying Cognitive Psychology to the Teaching of Anatomy and Physiology

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Learning can be defined as the cognitive change that results from experience (Hay, 2007). The construction of new knowledge begins with our observations of events or objects through the concepts that we already possess. Concept mapping is a technique that is based on the learning psychology of David Ausubel where learning takes place by the assimilation of new concepts and propositions into existing propositional frameworks held by the learner (Ausubel, 1968). We tested whether concept mapping could be used to help students construct new knowledge in anatomy and physiology. In this paper, we present an activity designed to facilitate learning of the organization of the human skeletal system and anatomical directional terms used to help describe it. Learning styles and the effect of body painting was also investigated. Two studies are described and each were analysed separately both quantitatively (pre- and post-test scores) and qualitatively (surveys). Body painting did not affect the number of directional terms included in the concept maps. The most common term used was “superior” and the least was “superficial”. Students applied the greatest number of directional terms to the lower limb, upper limb and vertebral column. Knowledgeable students gained no benefit from the body painting activity and from completing the concept map test a second time, whereas, the students who were naïve to the content benefited significantly from repeated testing and from body painting. Students need scaffolding, practise and feedback to construct concept maps. Adapting the concept map tests increased student engagement and the objectivity of scoring. Learning style did not have an effect on learning outcomes of the students in this study. Concept mapping as a teaching or assessment technique was found to be useful in the learning experiences of our students and offers an objective evidence-based method of leaning quality in anatomy and physiology.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventConference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science 2017: Cognition on the Coast - Charles Sturt University, Port Macquarie, Australia
Duration: 07 Dec 201708 Dec 2017 (Conference website)


ConferenceConference of the Australasian Society for Cognitive Science 2017
CityPort Macquarie
Internet address


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