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The most important key concepts in Physiology


The Core Concepts of Physiology Project


Core concepts (often referred to as “big ideas”) are descriptions of phenomena and mechanisms that are applicable in many different contexts in physiology. They provide coherence or structure to the domain. They provide tools for acquiring an understanding of physiology, and they thus can serve as tools for solving problems in the domain. They have utility for any consideration of the domain long after the details have been forgotten.


The core concepts of physiology were first identified by members of the Conceptual Assessment in Physiology (CAP) team and then validated by approximately 70 physiology instructors from a diverse group of colleges and universities.


Core concepts are big, and as such, they are made up of many smaller ideas. The systematic unpacking of the smaller ideas yields a conceptual framework. Simply put, a conceptual framework is an explicit hierarchical structure of the ideas that make up a core concept. The CAP group has generated validated conceptual frameworks for three core concepts and is currently working to validate two more.


A concept inventory is an assessment tool aimed at determining the extent to which a student understands the core concept, more of less independently of any specific physiological topic to which it might apply.


We believe that a focus on the core concepts of physiology can provide useful tools for learning, teaching, and assessing physiology at any academic level.


You can learn more about the core concepts project by visiting the website



Joel Michael (

Harold Modell (

Jenny McFarland (

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