The combined effects of physical and virtual models in learning cellular biology


  • Jinlu Wu
  • Hong Van Nguyen
  • Ruilin Chen
  • Pui Yee Fiona Fan
  • Kar Jun Loh



life sciences, virtual model, physical models


Physical models have long been used in science education for visualization of complex cellular structure and dynamics during face-to-face lecture (F2F). Recent advancement of technology has enabled us to create virtual models and to share knowledge remotely. This study aims to find out whether physical and virtual models work synergistically to enhance student engagement in learning an undergraduate Life Sciences module. Three independent experiments were conducted to assess learning effectiveness on three biology concepts through four learning approaches: video with virtual model only, video with integration of virtual and physical model demonstration, F2F lecture using virtual model only, F2F lecture using virtual and physical models. Participants were randomly assigned to different groups each with one learning approach. Data collected through pre- and post-tests revealed that significant improvement in learning scientific concepts occurred in one of three controlled experiments when the video contains both virtual and physical models, while no obvious difference found in the other two experiments. This data suggests that well-prepared digital media alone may convey scientific information well and additional physical models do not aid in information acquisition. However, feedback survey on student learning experience showed that all participants preferred to learn from physical models. In all three experiments, students consistently voted that the physical models attracted their attention and enhanced their interests. They made better mind maps and raised more questions. These hint that a combination of digital media with physical models might improve engagement and promote higher order thinking. 






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