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Enhancing Life Cycle Diagrams: Small Modifications, Significant Impact

Life cycle illustrations are commonly found in science textbooks and may benefit from updates based on a recent study. The research reveals that making simple design modifications to these diagrams can significantly enhance undergraduate students’ comprehension of fundamental biology principles.

Jennifer Landin, the lead author of the study and an associate teaching professor of biological sciences at North Carolina State University, expressed astonishment at the study’s outcomes. She noted that making minor adjustments had a profound effect on college students’ ability to grasp concepts related to ecology and evolution accurately.

In the study involving 684 undergraduates, each participant received one of three different diagrams and was tasked with answering six questions concerning an organism’s evolution and survival.

One diagram followed the conventional circular format, depicting the life cycle with the organism producing a single offspring. Another diagram portrayed the life cycle as a circle but featured the organism having multiple offspring. The third diagram illustrated multiple offspring for the organism in a linear layout, progressing from left to right.

The research findings indicated that students presented with a diagram showing multiple offspring outperformed those with a single offspring diagram by 28% to 30% on questions about offspring survival. Additionally, students who received the linear diagram scored 19% to 30% higher than their peers on evolution-related inquiries.

Overall, students exposed to the linear diagram featuring multiple offspring achieved the highest average score, with 54.5% of questions answered correctly. Conversely, those who received the traditional single-offspring circular diagram had the lowest average score, managing to answer only 26.1% of questions accurately.

Landin highlighted the significant impact of design on understanding, citing examples such as the misconception that all offspring survive to adulthood. Participants who received diagrams with multiple offspring were less likely to harbor this misconception compared to those with the traditional single-offspring diagram.

Another crucial concept addressed by the study was the misconception of offspring having identical traits to their parents. Participants exposed to cyclical diagrams were more prone to this misconception compared to those who received linear diagrams.

The study underscores the potential for textbook publishers to enhance student comprehension by reevaluating the design of life cycle diagrams. It also suggests the value of exploring design improvements in other life science diagrams to enhance their efficacy as educational tools.

The study titled “Redesign of a Life Cycle Figure Improves Student Conceptions of Ecology and Evolution” was published in the journal Education Sciences.


Jennifer M. Landin et al, Redesign of a Life Cycle Figure Improves Student Conceptions of Ecology and Evolution, Education Sciences (2024).


“In life cycle diagrams, small changes make a big difference” (2024, April 17). Retrieved 17 April 2024 from