Unpacking and validating the “cell membrane” core concept of physiology by an Australian team

Sarah Etherington, Andrew Moorhouse, Tamara Paravicini, Michelle Towstoless, Alan Hayes, Deanne H. Hryciw, Louise Lexis, Kathy Tangalakis, Task Force, Christian Moro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


A task force of physiology educators from 25 Australian universities generated an Australia-wide consensus on seven core concepts for physiology curricula. One adopted core concept was “cell membrane,” defined as “Cell membranes determine what substances enter or leave the cell and its organelles. They are essential for cell signaling, transport, and other cellular functions.” This concept was unpacked by a team of 3 Australian physiology educators into 4 themes and 33 subthemes arranged in a hierarchical structure up to 5 levels deep. The four themes related to defining the cell membrane, cell membrane structure, transport across cell membranes, and cell membrane potentials. Subsequently, 22 physiology educators with a broad range of teaching experience reviewed and assessed the 37 themes and subthemes for importance for students to understand and the level of difficulty for students on a 5-point Likert scale. The majority (28) of items evaluated were rated as either Essential or Important. Theme 2: cell membrane structure was rated as less important than the other three themes. Theme 4: membrane potential was rated most difficult, while theme 1: defining cell membranes was rated as the easiest. The importance of cell membranes as a key aspect of biomedical education received strong support from Australian educators. The unpacking of the themes and subthemes within the cell membrane core concept provides guidance in the development of curricula and should facilitate better identification of the more challenging aspects within this core concept and help inform the time and resources required to support student learning.NEW & NOTEWORTHY The “cell membrane” core concept was unpacked by a team of Australian physiology educators into a conceptual framework to provide guidance for students and educators. Key themes in the cell membrane core concept were cell membrane definition and structure, transport across cell membranes, and membrane potentials. Australian educators reviewing the framework identified cell membrane as an essential yet relatively simple core concept, suggesting that this is well-placed in foundational physiology courses across a diverse range of degrees.

Original languageEnglish
Article number575-581
Pages (from-to)575-581
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Advances in Physiology Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jul 2023


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