Does three-dimensional anatomy improve student understanding?

Clin Anat. 2020 Jan;33(1):25-33. doi: 10.1002/ca.23405. Epub 2019 May 31.


We aim to provide an overview of the various digital three-dimensional visualizations used for learning anatomy and to assess whether these improve medical students' understanding of anatomy compared to traditional learning methods. Furthermore, we evaluate the attitudes of the users of three-dimensional visualizations. We included articles that compared advanced newer three-dimensional anatomy visualization methods (i.e., virtual reality, augmented reality, and computer-based three-dimensional visualizations) to traditional methods that have been used for a long time (i.e., cadaver and textbooks) with regard to users' understanding of anatomy. Of the 1,148 articles identified, 21 articles reported data on the effectiveness of using three-dimensional visualization methods compared to two-dimensional methods. Twelve articles found that three-dimensional visualization is a significantly more effective learning method compared to traditional methods, whereas nine articles did not find that three-dimensional visualization was a significantly more effective method. In general, based on these articles, medical students prefer to use three-dimensional visualizations to learn anatomy. In most of the articles, using three-dimensional visualization was shown to be a more effective method to gain anatomical knowledge compared to traditional methods. Besides that, students are motivated and interested in using these new visualization methods for learning anatomical structures. Clin. Anat. 32:25-33, 2019. © 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: anatomy; review; students; three dimensional; traditional methods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anatomy / education*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional*
  • Models, Anatomic*
  • Simulation Training / methods*