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Although cadavers constitute the gold standard for teaching anatomy to medical and health science students, there are substantial financial, ethical, and supervisory constraints on their use. In addition, although anatomy remains one of the fundamental areas of medical education, universities have decreased the hours allocated to teaching gross anatomy in favor of applied clinical work. The release of virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices allows learning to occur through hands-on immersive experiences. The aim of this research was to assess whether learning structural anatomy utilizing VR or AR is as effective as tablet-based (TB) applications, and whether these modes allowed enhanced student learning, engagement and performance. Participants (n = 59) were randomly allocated to one of the three learning modes: VR, AR, or TB and completed a lesson on skull anatomy, after which they completed an anatomical knowledge assessment. Student perceptions of each learning mode and any adverse effects experienced were recorded. No significant differences were found between mean assessment scores in VR, AR, or TB. During the lessons however, VR participants were more likely to exhibit adverse effects such as headaches (25% in VR P < 0.05), dizziness (40% in VR, P < 0.001), or blurred vision (35% in VR, P < 0.01). Both VR and AR are as valuable for teaching anatomy as tablet devices, but also promote intrinsic benefits such as increased learner immersion and engagement. These outcomes show great promise for the effective use of virtual and augmented reality as means to supplement lesson content in anatomical education. Anat Sci Educ. © 2017 American Association of Anatomists.
This document has been peer reviewed.