Two questionnaires were used to investigate students' perceptions of their motivation to opt for reception learning (RL) or self-discovery learning (SDL) in histology and their choices of complementary learning strategies (CLS). The results demonstrated that the motivation to attend RL sessions was higher than the motivation to attend SDL to gain new knowledge (P < 0.01) and to apply this acquired knowledge to diagnosis (P < 0.01), therapy (P < 0.01), and research (P < 0.05). Students also showed a stronger preference for RL based on motivations related to leadership (P < 0.01) and competition (P < 0.01), although the rates were very low in both cases (≤ 1.9 ± 1.1). Statistically significant differences were found between male and female students for leadership (higher in males), responsibility (higher in females), and acquiring new knowledge (higher in females only in RL). This study's findings for students' preferred CLS strategies suggested a greater need for additional complementary resources after RL than after SDL (P < 0.01). In conclusion, RL was associated with a greater need for complementary training resources such as textbooks, atlases, the internet, audiovisual media, and tutorials, whereas SDL was associated with a greater need to orient teaching and training toward medical practice. These results suggest the need to reorient both types of learning processes to enhance their effectiveness in teaching histology, especially in the case of SDL, which should place more emphasis on clinically oriented knowledge. Anat Sci Educ. © 2012 American Association of Anatomists.