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Med Educ. 2007 May;41(5):495-501.

Virtual reality and brain anatomy: a randomised trial of e-learning instructional designs.

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McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.



Computer-aided instruction is used increasingly in medical education and anatomy instruction with limited research evidence to guide its design and deployment.


To determine the effects of (a) learner control over the e-learning environment and (b) key views of the brain versus multiple views in the learning of brain surface anatomy.


Randomised trial with 2 phases of study. Participants Volunteer sample of 1st-year psychology students (phase 1, n = 120; phase 2, n = 120). Interventions Phase 1: computer-based instruction in brain surface anatomy with 4 conditions: (1) learner control/multiple views (LMV); (2) learner control/key views (LKV); (3) programme control/multiple views (PMV); (4) programme control/key views (PKV). Phase 2: 2 conditions: low learner control/key views (PKV) versus no learner control/key views (SKV). All participants performed a pre-test, post-test and test of visuospatial ability.


A 30-item post-test of brain surface anatomy structure identification.


The PKV group attained the best post-test score (57.7%) and the PMV group received the worst (42.2%), with the 2 high learner control groups performing in between. For students with low spatial ability, estimated scores are 20% lower for those who saw multiple views during learning. In phase 2, students with the most static condition and no learner control (SKV) performed similarly to those students in the PKV group.


Multiple views may impede learning, particularly for those with relatively poor spatial ability. High degrees of learner control may reduce effectiveness of learning.

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