National Journal of Clinical Anatomy

: 2021  |  Volume : 10  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 181--183

Advancing anatomy teaching by incorporating the neurophysiological concepts of learning

Vijaya Kumar Konuri, Abu Ubaida Siddiqui 
 Additional Professor, Department of Anatomy, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Raipur, Chhattisgarh, India

Correspondence Address:
Abu Ubaida Siddiqui
Department of Anatomy, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, GE Road, Tatibandh, Raipur - 492 099, Chhattisgarh


Gross anatomy is staring at a challenge either to transform or to disappear, if not as a science may be as a faculty, in the present era of ever-evolving medical education systems. It is a well-understood fact that retention of anatomical information is not an easy job. It is also worthwhile to mention here that technology is a great contributor in the elaborate process of teaching and learning, but a logical methodology for delivering knowledge must gain precedence over any means of technology. A scientific approach in the acquisition of knowledge shall always enhance the sensory input in the brains of the learners. The knowledge disseminated should be delivered for a larger purpose to make it useful for the humankind. The scientific methodology of knowledge acquisition implies that documented sensory input shall not be automatically converted into a repertory of facts and figures. To make the process interesting and active, the need of the hour is to develop ordered arrays of data deliverance. All modalities of scientific teaching should move ahead through interconnected phases of knowledge. The delivery of sheer facts as a description is many a times entering the brain as a mere theoretical fact with not deductive results. The accumulated facts need to be correlated with the various facts that are being thrown open by the relevant other branches to discern the underlying patterns. Each organ is to a great extent the product of the function it performs, in the present as well as in the past. We have tried to summarize the above concept, thus trying to establish the fact that “the structure is a function in space and function is a structure in time.” The neuroanatomic-physiologic approaches should play the leading role in the development of the concepts of learning of anatomy.

How to cite this article:
Konuri VK, Siddiqui AU. Advancing anatomy teaching by incorporating the neurophysiological concepts of learning.Natl J Clin Anat 2021;10:181-183

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Konuri VK, Siddiqui AU. Advancing anatomy teaching by incorporating the neurophysiological concepts of learning. Natl J Clin Anat [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Oct 6 ];10:181-183
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Gross anatomy is facing a challenge either to transform or to disappear, if not as a science may be as a faculty, in the current changing scenario of medical education. The fate of gross anatomy is epitomized in the words, “Gray's Anatomy had made itself a dinosaur.” This had become more so as selection and promotion of faculty is more and more dependent on “scientific productivity” rather on teaching and clinical competence.[1] However, clinicians prefer to differ, as, for them, anatomical knowledge is indispensable. The medical school that made me an anatomist did not have any doctors as students for their anatomy doctoral program for 15 years (1985–2000). The same fate is shared by many other institutes in India. In this background, some departments opted to shift anatomy subject from the basic sciences division to the clinical sciences one. Many medical schools have redesigned their curriculum from pure didactic teaching to problem-based learning.[2]

 Experience of Several Leading Centers

The concept of anatomy as a vertically integrated discipline is being encouraged in many places and had been successfully integrated with many courses across the globe. Allen and Roberts reported that correlating basic sciences with clinical sciences and in particular anatomy with radiology had shown to produce a positive learning experience.[3]

As medical schools cannot afford to produce substandard fellows into medical careers that span a few decades of a lifetime, the provision of safe and optimal health care needs to be considered a priority. Many authors believe that an abundance of new innovative technologies and resources are now available to enhance the learning experience of a tough subject like anatomy.[4],[5],[6],[7],[8]

In addition to the career goals and implied financial goals, there lies the problem of considering anatomy a dry or even a dead subject by many, including anatomists. Several suggestions are being discussed worldwide, but we would like to bring forward the neurophysiological basis of learning that could transcend anatomy to a higher level.

 The Scenario – More for a “Descriptive Science”

It is a well-known fact that retention of anatomical information is anything but easy. It is generally accepted that it is but a necessary evil and that nothing could be done for that except resort to new technologies. However, this problem could be better solved by the scientific methodology of knowledge acquisition. Of course, technology does and will play a role, at times, in a significant way. But still, developing a scientific methodology for the dissemination of knowledge should gain precedence over all technological solutions.

Any branch of science passes through distinctive and yet interconnected phases of knowledge descriptive and deductive. That first phase of an embodiment of knowledge has necessarily to pass through the descriptive phase, in which isolated bits of knowledge must be painfully accumulated. The second phase of that branch of science must pass through a rigorous process of generalization, and systematization of these facts. The accumulated facts need to be correlated with those which are being thrown open by the other relevant branches to discern the underlying patterns. The authors are of the view that any branch of science must pass from the lower level of descriptive to the higher level of an explanatory and interpreting science.

The first phase of anatomy had by and large been achieved in the middle of the 19th century by the publication of treatises like Gray's Anatomy. But unfortunately, the transcendence of anatomy into the second phase is lagging. The notion that anatomy is a purely descriptive science, compounded by other problems and confronted by a virulent change in times, has put a much bigger challenge on anatomists of current times.

 Neurophysiological Basis of Knowledge Acquisition

The scientific methodology of knowledge acquisition is based on a few assumptions, the first of which comprises the fact that knowledge should be information built for a purpose. Information is not registered in the sensory cortex unless it has relevance to the organism from a biological or sociological perspective. It is well appreciated that human beings are exposed to innumerable sensory experiences in day-to-day life, but very few of them are documented, least of them stored in the cortical circuitry. The neuroanatomical basis of this discrimination of sensory input lies in the presence of centrifugal neurons such as cortico-retinal and cortico-thalamic neurons.

The scientific methodology of knowledge acquisition implies that documented sensory input will not be automatically transformed into a repertory of facts and figures. This transformation demands the development of ordered arrays of information. These ordered arrays need to be converted into a systematic network of synaptic connections. The development of synaptic connections themselves demands the systematic sifting and sieving of the incoming sensory inputs.[9]

The scientific methodology of knowledge acquisition implies that the enormous bits of data need to be interlaced into a fabric of knowledge. Unconnected and isolated bits of data, more so of a descriptive nature, do not constitute knowledge as they cannot be registered into the circuits of memory. The neuronal impulse traffic follows some neurophysiological rules that cannot be overruled. Knowledge acquisition implies that the hidden interconnections between the seemingly unconnected bits of data be unraveled, that a dialectical relationship is established between them to enhance the mass of data into a body of information.[10]

The incoming sensory input must embrace the sensory maps of the secondary sensory areas of the human brain. These maps of the cerebral cortex are dynamically organized, and each new body of information needs to fit and embrace the already-existing sensory maps, failing which the newly acquired circuitry faces difficulties to pass into memory.[11]

The scientific methodology of knowledge acquisition implies that the process of learning has a beginning but no end. The current method of testing implies an end to the process of acquisition of knowledge, and most of the testing is limited to the recollection of isolated bits of facts. Bloom's taxonomy testifies a serious effort to raise the process of testing to the level of science, but it needs further refinement by the principles of neurophysiology.[12]

The scientific methodology of knowledge acquisition implies that it could and will only be an active process and the passive pumping of data is bound to be scraped off from memory at the first available opportunity in time. The new technological resources may prove of immense value in stimulating the self-learning aspect of knowledge enhancement, but they too need to be reinforced with the neurophysiological principles.

The theory of knowledge implies that these principles are universal, but anatomy being understood as a purely descriptive science had the largest toll. The formation and stratification of knowledge had deep roots in the neuroanatomical pathways and are conditioned by the neurophysiological processes. The neuroanatomic–physiologic approaches should play the leading role in the development of the concepts of learning of anatomy.

 Anatomy Teaching to a Higher Level

The form of any living organism represents the arrangement of moving matter in space, that is the organization of its morphological substrate. The function is the process of change in time that is the mode of existence of this morphological substrate. We summarize the above concept thus: the structure is a function in space and function is a structure in time. Each organ is to a great extent the product of the function it performs, in the present as well as in the past. Every structure should be comprehended as a representation of evolutionary memory.

Space and time constitute the mode of existence of matter in this universe, and biology gives the researcher excellent material to study the space–time transformations in nature to the molecular level. Anatomy being the most advanced form of this science gives an excellent platform for the performance of the brilliant minds in physics. This constitutes the quantum physical approach to the study of biology; form constituting the particulate and function its waveform.

The critical amount of quantity defines the necessary spatial and temporal parameters for the emergence of new qualities. Thus, the anatomical substrates of higher organisms are characterized by a series of stratified stabilities that are nothing but the preserved states of previous development and experiences. The inadequacy of these experiences is an eternal source and stimulus for the never-ending growth of adaptive behavior. The whole idea can be epitomized in the statement that the proof of learning can only be tested by the change in behavior.

 For the All-round Development of Anatomical Sciences

The descriptive, evolutionary, and functional aspects of anatomy are nothing but different interrelated and interdependent features of a single science. Depending on the specific needs of the person, human anatomy is studied from the perspective of systemic anatomy, regional anatomy, imaging anatomy, sport, clinical, and other modes of applied anatomy, pathological anatomy, and surgical anatomy. These different types of anatomy differ only in their immediate approach to the study of the organism, with the aim being the mastery of the living anatomy.

Anatomical detail should be explained and not just described. Anatomy should be explained based on the numerous facts that accrue from the related sciences of embryology and physiology. The concept of biological evolution brings dry facts to life and inspires research into hitherto approached directions. Form, function, and development should be understood as a single embodiment of knowledge of the same morphological substrate.

 The Road Ahead

Taking the above cues into consideration, we started deliberations among the faculty to pin point areas that are easily forgotten and find out measures to address the problem. Evo–devo (Evolution–Development) methodology is being used extensively by some of the faculty, though some are yet to come to grips with it. It is advisable to teach those structures and areas that have more applicability and relevance in medical practice (like skull base etc). Integrating form, function and development has shown much promise in stimulating the students' interest and helping to retain the structural details. Bloom's taxonomy is considered a useful tool in planning the tests but it is also being improvised by making three levels, instead of the traditional six levels. The authors conceptualize that these three levels of knowledge can incorporate the isolated bits of knowledge, the fabric of knowledge and the applicable science that forms the highest level of knowledge acquisition.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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