Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Anatomy and Cell Biology


Dr. Kem Rogers


Technological innovation is changing the landscape of higher education, and the competing interests and responsibilities of today’s learners have propelled the movement of post-secondary courses into the online environment. In the anatomical sciences, commercialized e-learning tools have become a critical component for teaching the intricacies of the human body when physical classroom space and cadaveric resources are limited. This dissertation comparatively assessed the impact of two commercial anatomical e-learning tools (1) a simple 2-dimensional e-learning tool (A.D.A.M. Interactive Anatomy) and (2) a complex tool that allows for a 3-dimensional perspective (Netter’s 3D Interactive Anatomy). The comparison was then extended to include a traditional visual-kinesthetic method of studying anatomy (i.e. a physical skeleton). Applying cognitive load theory and working memory limitations as guiding principles, a dual-task assessment with cross over design was used to evaluate cognitive load. Students were assessed using baseline knowledge tests, observation task reaction times (a measure of cognitive load), mental rotation test scores (a measure of spatial ability) and anatomy post-tests (a measure of knowledge recall).

Results from experiments carried out in this thesis suggest that the value of commercial anatomical e-learning tools cannot be assessed adequately on the basis of an educator’s, or a software developer’s, intuition alone. Despite the delivery benefits offered by e-learning tools and the positive feedback they often receive, this research demonstrates that neither commercial e-learning tool conferred any instructional advantage over textbook images. In fact, later results showed that the visual-kinesthetic experience of physically manipulating a skeleton yielded major positive impacts on knowledge recall that A.D.A.M. Interactive Anatomy, as a visual only tool, failed to deliver. The results of this dissertation also suggest that the design of e-learning tools can differentially influence students based on their spatial ability. Moreover our results suggest that learners with low spatial ability may also struggle to relate anatomical knowledge if they are examined on contralateral images.

By objectively assessing commercial anatomical e-learning tools against traditional, visual-kinesthetic modalities, educators can be confident that the learning tool they select will give their students the best chance to acquire an understanding of human anatomy.

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