Instructional design of virtual learning resources for anatomy education

Nicolette S. Birbara, Nalini Pather

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Virtual learning resources (VLRs) developed using immersive technologies like virtual reality are becoming popular in medical education, particularly in anatomy. However, if VLRs are going to be more widely adopted, it is important that they are designed appropriately. The overarching aim of this study was to propose guidelines for the instructional design of VLRs for anatomy education. More specifically, the study grounded these guidelines within cognitive learning theories through an investigation of the cognitive load imposed by VLRs. This included a comparison of stereoscopic and desktop VLR deliveries and an evaluation of the impact of prior knowledge and university experience. Participants were voluntarily recruited to experience stereoscopic and desktop deliveries of a skull anatomy VLR (UNSW Sydney Ethics #HC16592). A MyndBand® electroencephalography (EEG) headset was used to collect brainwave data and theta power was used as an objective cognitive load measure. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration task load index (NASA-TLX) was used to collect perceptions as a subjective measure. Both objective and subjective cognitive load measures were higher overall for the stereoscopic delivery and for participants with prior knowledge, and significantly higher for junior students (P = 0.038). Based on this study’s results, those of several of our previous studies and the literature, various factors are important to consider in VLR design. These include delivery modality, their application to collaborative learning, physical fidelity, prior knowledge and prior university experience. Overall, the guidelines proposed based on these factors suggest that VLR design should be learner-centred and aim to reduce extraneous cognitive load.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBiomedical Visualisation
EditorsPaul M. Rea
Place of PublicationCham, Switzerland
Number of pages36
ISBN (Electronic)9783030611255
ISBN (Print)9783030611248
Publication statusPublished - 05 May 2021

Publication series

NameAdvances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
PublisherSpringer Nature Switzerland AG
ISSN (Print)0065-2598
ISSN (Electronic)2214-8019


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