Swallowing Physiology Course

Anatomy and Physiology of Deglutition

Are you caring for someone who has difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)? Understand more about the complex physiological mechanisms involved. Award-winning UC academics share their latest insights in this field.

Developed by Dr Phoebe Macrae and Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee.


This course introduces the anatomy and physiology of normal swallowing (deglutition).
You’ll learn the anatomy of the head and neck and focus on the muscles and structures used for swallowing. We also cover essential prenatal development milestones, neuroanatomy, and the motor and sensory aspects of swallowing physiology. 
This course is ideal for
  • Speech and language pathologists
  • Nurses and nurse aids 
  • Physiotherapists
  • Occupational therapists
  • Otolaryngologists
  • Specialists or clinicians who advise on swallowing disorders

What you'll learn

  • The anatomical, physiological, and developmental mechanisms that support normal deglutition
  • The major structures of the upper aerodigestive tract and their purpose for swallowing-related functions
  • The role of nervous system structures for sensorimotor control of swallowing processes

Course outline

Our courses are flexible, enabling you to plan your study around your other commitments. 

Module 1: Structures of swallowing
The important structures, spaces, and cartilages involved in swallowing.
Module 2: Muscles of swallowing
Muscles of the mouth, throat, and airway involved in swallowing. 
Module 3: Neuroanatomy
Central and peripheral neural anatomy and cortical input for swallowing.
Module 4: Prenatal development
How essential neuroanatomical structures for swallowing develop during pregnancy. 
Module 5: Swallowing biomechanics
Biomechanical steps from food preparation in the mouth to the oesophagus. 
  • Module 1 = 10% (submit assessment 1)
  • Module 2 = 25% (submit assessment 2)
  • Module 3 = 10% (submit assessment 3)
  • Module 4 = 10% (submit assessment 4)
  • Module 5 = 45% (submit assessment 5)

Upon successful completion of the course you will be issued a digital badge to recognise your learning achievements. This can take up to 2 months to be delivered after the marking and feedback period.  


If you're under 20 years old, you’ll need University Entrance or an equivalent to enrol. If you’re aged 20 or older, you can usually gain entry through 20+ admission so long as: 

  • You are a citizen or hold a NZ Residence Class Visa of New Zealand or Australia, or are a citizen of the Cook Islands, Tokelau, or Niue; and 
  • Are 20 years of age or older by the official course start date.

You'll also need to be confident listening, reading and writing in English.

There are no further prerequisites for this course, but a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology will help you understand the more technical terminology. This course is for anyone interested in learning more about the anatomy and physiology of swallowing. People diagnosed with issues related to dysphagia and those with a professional interest will benefit from this course.

Technology Requirements

We recommend a laptop or desktop computer and a reliable internet connection. For most courses you'll need to download and populate assignments. These are usually available in Microsoft Word.

Course fees

Course fees must be paid before learning can begin, either via online credit-card payment, or by contacting info@uconline.ac.nz to request an invoice. Please note: fixed invoice payment dates apply, so we recommend getting in touch with us as soon as possible to request an invoice, as this option is subject to availability.

Group discounts

Get your colleagues together to take advantage of our group discounts: 

  • 10% for 3 - 6 learners
  • 15% for 7+ learners

Contact our Partnerships Manager to learn more and enquire now.

Minimum enrolment threshold

Please note: Tuihono UC | UC Online has a minimum enrolment threshold that must be met to enable opportunities for interaction, discussion, and feedback. If the minimum number of enrolments required for a course is not met, enrolled students will be given the option to defer their enrolment to the next course date, or receive a refund. 

Our people

Dr Phoebe Macrae, portait of her looking over the back of sofa, smiling

Dr Phoebe Macrae

Senior Lecturer | Deputy Director of the University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research

Dr Macrae is also a senior lecturer in the School or Psychology, Speech, and Hearing. She completed her undergraduate degree in Speech and Language Sciences, and her PhD in dysphagia rehabilitation at the University of Canterbury. She also completed a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University and is a Rutherford Discovery Fellow.

Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee, with X-ray viewing screen behind her

Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee

Distinguished Professor | Director of the University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research

Professor Huckabee is also the Founder of the University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery and Research and a professor in the Department of Psychology, Speech and Hearing.
She’s co-authored three books, 15 book chapters, and has published 114 peer-reviewed scientific papers. She’s been awarded The Innovation Medal by the University of Canterbury. She was a finalist for the NZ Women of Influence Award in Science and Innovation and for the New Zealander of the Year (for innovation). She’s also the founder of Swallowing Technologies Ltd, a commercial enterprise to translate laboratory-developed technology into clinical care.

Please note: our academic team develop and present video content within their courses, but are not always the course facilitator. The course facilitator will engage with learners in the course forums, answer queries and mark assignments.