Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy: Review
In the academic world of health sciences, there are 'anatomy atlases' (traditional and useful, but boring), there are 'videos' (popcorn anyone...?) and then there is 'Acland's Video Atlas of Human Anatomy'. What’s that? You ask. It’s a unique resource which exploits a huge gap in the current anatomy learning market. It’s a plug-and-play visual companion that can help you to understand the subject without dozing off.
|Fresh and unembalmed cadavers, efficient editing, clear explanations, regional teaching approach, multiple choice questions (MCQs)
|Poor video resolution, useful only for anatomy practical exams, regional teaching approach (can be also a curse), MCQs are not varied and of limited long-term use
Presented by Robert Acland, a world renowned surgeon, this fourteen hour long video series presents you with the entire anatomy of the human body in real time using unembalmed, freshly dissected cadavers. That’s right - they feel and look like real, anatomical specimens rather than fossil fuels from the dinosaur era. Can this feature alone justify purchasing ‘Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy’? It depends entirely on you and how much weight it carries when you balance it alongside the pros and cons of this resource. There are quite a few on each side, but hopefully, this article will help you to reach a beneficial conclusion for your anatomy learning.
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Acland’s Anatomy Videos
In contrast to many standard anatomy resources, today’s Acland’s anatomy videos are actually the originals which were released between 1995 and 2003 on VHS tapes. In other words, they didn’t experience any modifications or edition changes throughout the years, retaining their faithful and raw format. Subsequent advances in technology led to the release of the video series in DVD format. When these too became rather obsolete, Acland’s anatomy videos were later merged into an online library, where they can be found today.
The brain behind this anatomy series is Robert Acland, a plastic surgeon and pioneer instructor of both microsurgery and anatomy. He tackled the cadaveric limitations of anatomy learning by taking advantage of freshly dissected and unembalmed cadaveric specimens for research and teaching. Why is this important? Rather than being stiff and dry as a rag doll, the joints of each specimen move in all their range of motion, the muscles contract and relax, and organs feel like authentic parenchyma rather than a cloth ball. Essentially, you learn the subject similar to how the anatomy heavyweights like Vesalius and da Vinci explored it - by cutting and examining fresh cadavers. Therefore, Acland’s videos are as close as possible to the real deal.
For creating the final version of his videos, he filmed approximately 330 separate videos that were eventually cut and pasted together. Here’s how they are organized:
Volume 1 - Upper extremity
- Arm and forearm
- Volume 2 - Lower extremity
Volume 3 - Trunk
Volume 4 - Head and Neck (part 1)
- Support and movement of the head
- Skull and facial skeleton
- Nasal cavity and associated structures
- Oral cavity and associated structures
- Larynx and associated structures
Volume 5 - Head and Neck (part 2)
- Facial muscles and the scalp
- Brain and surroundings
- Nerves of the head and neck
- Blood vessels of the head and neck
- Eye and its surroundings
Volume 6 - Internal Organs
- Thoracic organs
- Abdominal organs
- Reproductive system
As you can see, each volume presents the information according to regions. In turn, each region deals firstly with the bones, followed by joints and ligaments, then muscles, and finally nerves and blood vessels. At the end of every stage there is also a quick review of the structures presented beforehand. As you can see, Dr. Acland’s teaching capabilities are really shining through a logical organisation of the knowledge in layers, starting with the bare bones (pun intended) as a scaffold and finishing with the vessels.
Versions and price
Nowadays, you can mostly find this learning resource online in the official ‘Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy’ library. Access to this collection is subscription based which can be for a full year ($99.95 USD) or six months ($79.95 USD) for the entire collection. Alternatively, you can subscribe only to individual volumes, depending on your needs. As flexibility goes, this is pretty perfect for the cash-strapped student.
In today’s fierce competition of anatomy learning resources, Acland’s anatomy videos don’t come empty-handed, but with a trick up their sleeve. In addition to the videos, the subscription also gives you access to a database of MCQs style exams specifically aimed to help you nail your anatomy practical exams. Therefore, next time your professor points at a particular structure, the cadaveric ‘mess’ in front of your eyes will actually make sense!
Features, pros and cons
Fresh and unembalmed cadavers
You’re probably tired about hearing this aspect again, but it is a huge deal when it comes to anatomy learning resources that use cadavers and dissections as learning tools. This includes the anatomy practical classes in health science courses. In almost all cases, the bodies are drowned in formaldehyde in order to preserve them for a long period of time. Unfortunately, this process is tremendously inadequate because the end result is a learning tool that smells and feels like rubber during dissections, is completely brown or black, and requires the strength of Superman to even bend an arm or a leg. Not to mention that students are not dissection experts, more often than not ruining or unintentionally cutting relevant anatomical structures.
Therefore, seeing fresh and unembalmed specimens feels like a breath of fresh air (literally speaking, too). You can actually see muscle movements together with the bones they act on, you can distinguish arteries, veins, and nerves because there are a lot more colours present on the specimens than simply brown, and the organs look like they are indeed parenchymatous rather than a stuffed rag doll. All of those aspects work in unison to add another dimension to your learning, making all those anatomical structures, layers, and concepts that much more real.
Efficient editing and clear explanations
Although Acland’s anatomy videos will definitely not put Quentin Tarantino out of business nor win the Academy Awards, the cinematics, shots, and edits are very professional. They know what to show and when to do it. Anatomical structures are twisted and turned inside out and back-to-front as if you’d be holding them yourself. Parts of interest are either highlighted with dotted contours/pointing stick or coloured, helping you to focus your attention on them. This is a godsend when learning about the origins and insertions of muscles, or when trying to get your head around the bones of the skull (again, pun intended). In addition, anatomical layers are stripped and added as needed, revealing even more hidden anatomical gems underneath.
All of these cinematic edits are topped with Dr. Acland’s calm tone and crystal clear explanations, which is the cherry on top of it all. He provides you with accurate descriptions of every bone, muscle, nerve, vessel, organ, compartment, and so on, leaving no stone (or shall we say, no layer) unturned.
However, we don’t live in a fairy tale, and this video series is far from perfect. When it comes to resolution, its age definitely becomes evident. The videos appear quite pixelated and can be problematic at times, especially nowadays when resolutions have reached 1000, 4K and even ultra-HD. The explanations provided during the video series are also far from complete compared to a textbook or other anatomy learning resources. If you manage to learn all the information presented in them, you’ll only be able to identify structures. It’s true, you will be an expert at that, but nothing more. Essentially, ‘Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy’ is a resource purely for your anatomy practical exams. To ace exams that cover the entire subject, you definitely need to divert your attention elsewhere. Are you willing to invest in a resource that covers only part of a subject and has an expiry date? What if we tell you that the same information can also be found in standard textbooks and atlases, such as ‘Rohens Color Atlas of Anatomy’ or modern online learning platforms? It’s up to you to decide...
As a health science student you’ve more than likely heard the saying that ‘repetition is the mother of all learning’. This is especially true for anatomy. Since information is coming at you like water out of a fire hose, studying an anatomical structure once and then setting it aside thinking that you have mastered it will only set you up for disaster.
Dr. Acland is perfectly aware of this, hence he has included short review moments after each small section to identify the important anatomical structures once again, but also to give you a chance to test yourself. For example, you can ‘pause’ the video after a structure is highlighted and try and identify it yourself before the narrator. After a while of repetition, you can do a quick-fire session where you let the video play and only mute the sound, identifying the structures in real-time as they are shown on the screen. Rest assured, once you can identify it as fast as ‘Speedy Gonzales’ runs, then you’re definitely golden!
Teaching anatomy in a logical and easy way is difficult. Fortunately, Acland’s anatomy videos follow the internationally recognised and ‘accepted’ format of learning - bones, followed by joints and ligaments, muscles, and finishing with the blood vessels and nerves. This is definitely the most logical arrangement of information, so brownie points for that.
Also, they follow a ‘regional’ teaching approach, covering everything about a specific body part in one go before moving on to the next one. This is not as clear-cut and this approach will not suit everybody. Some academic institutions have a ‘systemic’ rather than a ‘regional’ approach to teaching anatomy and for those students, this video series can actually become more cumbersome than helpful, especially when searching for the desired content. In contrast to a textbook’s ‘Index’ for instance where everything is outlined clearly, the video tags and section titles are quite frankly, not that helpful. A lot of irrelevant sections can be suggested which can make you pull your hair out after a while - especially if your anatomy department uses a ‘systemic’ approach to teaching.
There is not much to say about this feature since the benefits are quite self-explanatory. Every volume, video, and section has a written transcript attached to the side that you can access at your leisure. Essentially, it consists of every word the narrator is saying during the video, allowing you to follow him more easily, if needed, or to have some sort of notes that you can study from later on. Of course, the transcripts cannot be used by themselves, because the writing style is informal and imprecise - there is no visual input to substitute for words such as ‘here’, for example. Nonetheless, it is a beneficial feature, even if it is only to help you understand the words/terms/accent, and so on.
Multiple choice questions
No anatomy learning resource comes without some sort of additional content or MCQs nowadays, right? ‘Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy’ is no different, offering you a collection of MCQs with the video subscription. They track your performance, provide you with links to the relevant anatomy videos that they relate to, and are timed, providing you with a faithful representation of a real practical exam. Your upcoming exam won’t know what hit it!
However, they are not as perfect as you might think. Although they are extremely helpful to master the first level of knowledge (recognition/identification), their usefulness stops there. The majority of questions follow a typical structure identification format, without more in-depth questions. Also, they are not repetitive since the questions are not varied enough, both in terms of question types and style of asking. Once you answer a question, you cannot return to it since you will remember the answer, or at least a fraction of it. As a result, you will not use active recall to its greatest potential. In addition, they don’t use spaced repetition, which can be a nail in the coffin when it comes to MCQs and question banks. As a result, more resources are needed to compensate for this after a while, which means more spending and being back to square one where you are still looking for a well-rounded anatomy learning resource.
Acland’s Video Atlas vs. Kenhub
An alternative that you could try would be Kenhub, an online learning platform that aims to simplify your learning as much as possible, and also make it enjoyable in the process. It has helped approximately 1 million students so far, so it can certainly help you too! The platform offers a video library, amongst other features, but comparing it with ‘Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy’ would be like comparing apples to oranges. However, Kenhub can offer you a lot more than just videos, providing you with a complete learning package and eliminating the need for additional resources that are absolutely required if you decide to use Acland’s anatomy videos. Here are the differences:
As you can see, Kenhub gives you a lot more options than identifying anatomical structures on dissected dead bodies. If you want to find out more about your favourite (or not so favourite) topics, you can select one of our detailed articles (found at the bottom of each study unit) and start reading about them. They also contain clinical boxes at the end to help you apply the knowledge.
When you get tired of reading, you can continue watching professionally designed videos narrated by Kenhub’s anatomy geeks or check up structures in our atlas. The subjects are not limited to cadavers only, but also include histology, radiological anatomy, and gross anatomical illustrations. By the way, we keep everything very simple, highlighting and explaining one structure at a time because we believe that seeing everything in one go can potentially confuse you (learning anatomy in 3D is not as amazing as you might think!).
After you finish your study session, you want to know how effective it was, right? Or perhaps you want to revise topics that you’ve covered a while ago. Kenhub has got your back for this too! By completing our quizzes, which are based on spaced repetition, you are forced to use active recall, the gold standard of today’s learning.
Last but not least, we understand that anatomy can feel overwhelming so we’re ready to help with that too by offering you this guide to studying anatomy, which will help you decide which techniques you're going to use to simplify your anatomy learning. By the way, all of the above features and the entire platform are seemingly integrated and adapted to work on all your portable electronic devices, so it’s a no-brainer.
What are you waiting for? Go ahead and try Kenhub out for yourself! However, ‘Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy’ and ‘Kenhub’ are only two out of many anatomy learning resources that you can use. The important aspect is to try a couple of them for a while and see which one suits you best. Ignore what your friend is using and even what your professor recommends. At the end of the day, you are the one using that resource every single day, for hours on end, so it’s important that you like it and not someone else. We hope this article has helped you a bit with your decision. All the best, and good luck studying!
'Acland’s Video Atlas of Human Anatomy' has several features, but it's up to you to decide which ones are the strengths and weaknesses:
- The use of fresh and unembalmed cadavers
- Efficient editing using highlights and clear explanations, but poor video resolution
- Short but sweet reviews between sections
- 'Regional' teaching approach
- Written transcript available for each video
- Multiple choice questions available to test your knowledge