NAVS has long advocated for the use of animal-free alternatives, not only for scientific research, but also in education, for activities such as dissection.
In addition to sparing animals’ lives, humane dissection tools offer many benefits. They are less expensive than traditional animal dissection and give students the ability to work at their own pace and repeat the exercises numerous times. This, in turn, can increase students’ ability to retain information.
One of the most important advantages of using dissection alternatives relates to student learning. Dozens of studies that examined student learning with animal dissection versus humane alternatives concluded that alternatives can be used to meet most learning objectives and that students using non-animal alternatives have been found to perform as well as or better than students using animal models.
A new study, published this January in Animals, further lends support to that conclusion.
The paper’s authors conducted a systematic review, looking at publications that assessed the educational efficacy of humane teaching approaches (including the use of computer and virtual reality simulations, models and videos, among others) compared to the use of traditional animal specimens. There was a need to do this review now, as other comprehensive reviews examining learning outcomes of using humane alternatives compared to animal specimens were over a decade old.
Both older and more recent educational studies were included in this review, which determined the efficacy of humane teaching methods, including those used for dissection exercises. Of the fifty relevant studies that were identified and analyzed, 30% showed that alternatives produced superior learning outcomes and 60% showed equivalent outcomes. Only 10% showed inferior outcomes.
That means that in 90% of studies examined, humane, non-animal teaching methods were as or more effective than harmful animal use in achieving desired learning outcomes. The authors concluded, “These results are clear—there is no valid educational reason for continued harmful animal use in education and training.”
While teachers continue to hold strong feelings about their preference for using dissection specimens in the classroom, many teachers feel that information about dissection alternatives is not widely disseminated, according to a nationwide survey conducted by NAVS. Systematic reviews such as this may make educators more comfortable using dissection alternatives in their classrooms and for remote learning, and should, in the process, lead to a reduction in reliance on animal models.
Since alternatives to the use of animal specimens are widely available and have been shown to be effective teaching tools, NAVS will continue to advocate for their use and work with educators to see that these effective teaching tools are utilized in the classroom setting.