Cadavers vs. computers: How do students learn best?

Oct 18, 2014

There has been growing interest in recent years in using computer simulations to teach human anatomy to college medical students.

Credit MSU

But new research at Michigan State University finds the computers are not as effective as teaching tools as real human cadavers.

The MSU study found students who used real human cadavers did better identifying organs and their functions than students who learned from a computer simulation alone.

On identification, the students who learned on a cadaver scored, on average, about 16 percent higher than those who learned on the simulated system. 

*On explanation, the students who learned on a cadaver scored about 11 percent higher. This finding was particularly surprising, Roseth said, given that one of the benefits of the multimedia program is that it can show how parts of the body work – such as blood flow through carotid arteries – while a cadaver cannot.

The difference in the average scores, Roseth noted, was essentially the difference between one grade.

The study appears in the current edition of the journal Anatomical Sciences Education.

A growing number of undergraduate pre-med, nursing, and other health fields have been incorporating computer simulations as part of their instruction.

MSU researcher Cary Roseth suggests his research shows computer simulation can be a good teaching tool, but it will not replace the lessons students can learn from a real human body.