Loosely-guided, self-directed learning versus strictly-guided, station-based learning in gross anatomy laboratory sessions



Anatomy students studying dissected anatomical specimens were subjected to either a loosely-guided, self-directed learning environment or a strictly-guided, preformatted gross anatomy laboratory session. The current study's guiding questions were: (1) do strictly-guided gross anatomy laboratory sessions lead to higher learning gains than loosely-guided experiences? and (2) are there differences in the recall of anatomical knowledge between students who undergo the two types of laboratory sessions after weeks and months? The design was a randomized controlled trial. The participants were 360 second-year medical students attending a gross anatomy laboratory course on the anatomy of the hand. Half of the students, the experimental group, were subjected without prior warning to station-based laboratory sessions; the other half, the control group, to loosely-guided laboratory sessions, which was the course's prevailing educational method at the time. The recall of anatomical knowledge was measured by written reproduction of 12 anatomical names at four points in time: immediately after the laboratory experience, then one week, five weeks, and eight months later. The strictly-guided group scored higher than the loosely-guided group at all time-points. Repeated ANOVA showed no interaction between the results of the two types of laboratory sessions (P = 0.121) and a significant between-subject effect (P ≤ 0.001). Therefore, levels of anatomical knowledge retrieved were significantly higher for the strictly-guided group than for the loosely-guided group at all times. It was concluded that gross anatomy laboratory sessions with strict instructions resulted in the recall of a larger amount of anatomical knowledge, even after eight months. Anat Sci Educ. © 2012 American Association of Anatomists.