The tradition of hands-on anatomy study is concentrated in dissection, a practice that deconstructs and dismantles human and animal bodies, with education coming from what is observed in the process. Jon Zahourek feels that this approach -- taking something apart to understand how its component systems work -- is not the best way for our minds to learn.
In the learning system he invented, the process is reversed:
- The systems of the body are built from the inside out, on scale-model skeletons.
- The process is constructive rather than destructive.
- Anatomical structures are explored by hand with clay in a realistic three-dimensional perspective.
- Learning is enhanced because of the interactive, kinesthetic experience.
Zahourek's scaled-down skeletons allow participants to see and touch the physical evidence, the “how” and “where” of muscle attachment and function. Muscle activity is compared and tested with the real-life forms of the individuals building them in clay. Just as in dance, there is an unforgettable personal experience involved in this kinesthetic activity, a synthesis of body and mind enhancing the subject being learned.
Research over the last 10 years has found that this learning system represents a "best practices" application of anatomy education:
- Students test better compared to other approaches.
- Retention is superior compared to other approaches.
- A traditionally difficult subject is made much more accessible.
- Learning becomes fun.
Anatomy in Clay Centers presents classes to individuals interested in anatomy and zoology, no matter their age, preparation, level of education, or motivation. A cardinal focus for us is programs for children and young adults -- in particular those who are disadvantaged -- a key population group with the most to gain from the increased self-confidence and personal competency that accompanies self-discovery.
Jon Zahourek’s creation, operating as the Anatomy in Clay® Learning System, has spread to more than 10,000 classrooms and is widely used in the major bodywork training industries for anatomy education. Applications in classrooms include:
- Grades 9-12 (and a recent move into grades 1-8) -- the Anatomy in Clay System plays a significant role in STEM-based applications (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)
- Junior colleges and technical schools
- Four-year colleges
- Graduate level institutions that include physiology, nursing, and medicine
- Independent workshops, seminars, and training events
Applications for this advanced anatomy education system also include art schools, dance schools, sports training and therapy, occupational therapy, yoga, Pilates, Rolfing, pain management programs, and a variety of movement therapies. The animal models are used in veterinary education institutions, animal rehabilitation programs, and equestrian training programs.
As of 2013, ten peer-reviewed studies have been published in academic journals reporting on the efficacy of this method. The results show this system provides superior test results compared to other forms of anatomy education, and also results in a durable retention of anatomy knowledge. Research comes from respected educational institutions, including:
- Graduate School of Physical Medicine/Columbia University
- Biology Department/Pennsylvania State University
- Kinesiology and Nutrition Department/University of Illinois
- LaGuardia Community College/City University of New York
- Medical Program/Keiser University
- University of Cincinnati