Learning Cardiac Embryology—Which Resources Do Students Use, and Why?

  • Jane C. HollandEmail author
  • Teresa Pawlikowska
Original Research


With increasing class sizes, small group activities for learning embryology are present in few institutions. How then do students supplement their lectures in order to ask and answer questions, or delve into concepts in detail? Arguably, animations and videos are ideal for visualizing four-dimensional anatomy, but how do students find and filter these? First-year medical students were surveyed with respect to the cardiac embryology component of their course and asked their opinions regarding the clinical relevance of this content and the resources they used to enhance learning. Students indicated that they considered cardiac embryology to be of relevance to clinical practice and that videos are a useful resource in helping them to learn this material. However, when seeking videos or resources, it emerged that students tended to Google information in preference to accessing online resources (or textbooks) specifically recommended by their instructor, despite students’ recognition that “accuracy of information” was paramount when choosing what resource to use. While all students seemed reluctant to contact a staff member with questions, those with less proficiency in English were less likely to approach faculty for assistance. While acknowledging students as adult learners, self-regulated learning skills do not develop automatically and the development of these skills should be viewed as a “shared responsibility” between students and staff. Likewise, students also need to be taught critical appraisal of learning resources, especially in the complex online environment, with design of their bespoke institutional virtual learning environment facilitating easy identification and access of recommended resources.


Anatomy and medical education Embryology Cardiac embryology Educational methodology E-learning Teaching of embryology 



The authors are grateful to the staff of RCSIs Quality Enhancement Office, particularly Ms. Joanna Zawadzka & Professor Richard Arnett, for their expertise and assistance with regard to data collection, anonymization and analysis from the Student Feedback Survey. The authors are also grateful to Dr. Fiona Boland, lecturer in Biostatistics and Research Methods in RCSI, for her advice and assistance in reviewing the survey data.

Authors’ Contributions

Dr. Holland had full access to all of the anonymized data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Study concept and design: Holland, Pawlikowska. Acquisition of data: Holland Analysis and interpretation of data: Holland, Pawlikowska. Drafting of the manuscript: Holland. Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Pawlikowska. Statistical analysis: Holland.


No funding was received for this study.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval and Informed Consent

RCSI’s Human Research Ethics Committee (reference REC1478) approved this research. Students were invited by e-mail to complete questions in an optional survey and explicitly informed that questions within the survey may be used for research purposes, including research publications. Participation in the survey, and all responses received, was entirely anonymous, and students had the right to “opt-out” of the survey at any stage.


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Copyright information

© International Association of Medical Science Educators 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnatomyRoyal College of Surgeons in IrelandDublinIreland
  2. 2.Health Professions Education CentreRoyal College of Surgeons in IrelandDublinIreland

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