Exploring visualisation for embryology education: a twenty-first-century perspective

Eiman M. Abdel Meguid, Jane C. Holland, Iain D. Keenan, Priti Mishall

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

4 Citations (Scopus)


Embryology and congenital malformations play a key role in multiple medical specialties including obstetrics and paediatrics. The process of learning clinical embryology involves two basic principles; firstly, understanding time-sensitive morphological changes that happen in the developing embryo and, secondly, appreciating the clinical implications of congenital conditions when development varies from the norm. Visualising the sequence of dynamic events in embryonic development is likely to be challenging for students, as these processes occur not only in three dimensions but also in the fourth dimensions of time. Consequently, features identified at any one timepoint can subsequently undergo morphological transitions into distinct structures or may degenerate and disappear. When studying embryology, learners face significant challenges in understanding complex, multiple and simultaneous events which are likely to increase student cognitive load. Moreover, the embryology content is very nonlinear. This nonlinear content presentation makes embryology teaching challenging for educators. Embryology is typically taught in large groups, via didactic lecture presentations that incorporate two-dimensional diagrams or foetal ultrasound images. This approach is limited by incomplete or insufficient visualisation and lack of interactivity.

It is recommended that the focus of embryology teaching should instill an understanding of embryological processes and emphasise conceptualising the potential congenital conditions that can occur, linking pre-clinical and clinical disciplines together. A variety of teaching methods within case-based and problem-based curricula are commonly used to teach embryology. Additional and supplementary resources including animations and videos are also typically utilised to demonstrate complex embryological processes such as septation, rotation and folding.

We propose that there is a need for embryology teaching in the twenty-first century to evolve. This is particularly required in terms of appropriate visualisation resources and teaching methodologies which can ensure embryology learning is relevant to real-world scenarios. Here we explore embryology teaching resources and methodologies and review existing evidence-based studies on their implementation and impact on student learning. In doing so, we aim to inform and support the practice of embryology educators and the learning of their students.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBiomedical visualisation
EditorsPaul M. Rea
ISBN (Electronic)9783030877798
ISBN (Print)9783030877781
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2022

Publication series

NameAdvances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
ISSN (Electronic)2214-8019


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