Development of a supported self-directed learning approach for anatomy education

Gordon S Findlater, Fanney Kristmundsdottir, Simon H Parson, Thomas H Gillingwater

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


The ability to deliver sufficient core anatomical knowledge and understanding to medical students with limited time and resources remains a major challenge for anatomy educators. Here, we report the results of switching from a primarily didactic method of teaching to supported self-directed learning for students studying anatomy as part of undergraduate medicine at the University of Edinburgh. The supported self-directed approach we have developed makes use of an integrated range of resources, including formal lectures and practical sessions (incorporating gross anatomy specimens, medical imaging technologies, anatomical models, clinical scenarios, and surface anatomy workstations). In practical sessions, students are provided with a custom-made workbook that guides them through each session, with academic staff, postgraduate tutors, and near-peer teaching assistants present to deal with misunderstandings and explain more complicated topics. This approach retains many of the best attributes of didactic teaching but blends them with the advantages associated with self-directed learning approaches. The switch to supported self-directed learning-initially introduced in 2005-resulted in a significant improvement in anatomy examination scores over the subsequent period of five years, manifesting as an increase in the average anatomy practical spot examination mark, less students failing to obtain the pass mark and more students passing with distinction. We conclude that the introduction of supported self-directed learning improved students' engagement, leading to deeper learning and better understanding and knowledge of anatomy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-121
Number of pages8
JournalAnatomical Sciences Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2011 American Association of Anatomists.


  • anatomy
  • comprehension
  • curriculum
  • education, medical, undergraduate
  • educational measurement
  • humans
  • learning
  • program development
  • program evaluation
  • Scotland
  • self efficacy
  • universities


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