This study of learning principle-designed scientific animation sought to determine whether animation is an effective teaching tool and what components of animation fulfill that role. It is known that there is a lack of animations that concretely support research-based learning principles. There are qualitative studies describing how different visual styles of animation may affect learning. These studies have provided the visual preferences and opinions of certain audiences. However, there are much fewer quantitative studies that objectively test whether differences in visual style produce different learning outcomes. The limited amount of scientific papers demonstrating how animation design effects comprehension leads to a concern that most scientific animations are crafted according to creator preferences and rely on instinct rather than evidence-based practices. This study analyzed the effects of one component of scientific animation, realism, to quantitatively assess the effects of visual realism on learning and to quantitatively gather viewer preferences and opinions on this subject. One animation was designed using cognitive principles and artistic standards. It was rendered into three distinct visual styles with progressive increase in level of detail: schematic, semi-realistic, realistic. Participants were randomly assigned a level of detail, assessed on the animation material, and given samples of the styles to comment on. There was a positive improvement in test scores before and after viewing one of the three animation styles. The greatest improvement in test scores was seen among participants with low prior knowledge who were shown the simplest visual style (schematic). The vast majority of participants preferred the most detailed version. About ten percent of participants claimed to see "no difference" among the three visual styles when asked to choose a preferred rendering. From these results it was concluded that an animation can effectively fulfill learning design even with simplified visuals. Simplified 3D animations can be specifically beneficial to beginners. This study benefitted from user preference input even though the preferred visual style (realistic) was not linked to a significantly better improvement in scores. The results emphasize the need to integrate learning principles in scientific animation design.

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This Vesalius Trust research poster was presented at the 2018 Association of Medical Illustrators' Annual Meeting in Newton, Massachusetts



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