Objective: To investigate the effects of congruence between preferred and perceived learning environments on learning outcomes of nursing students. Setting: A nursing course at a university in central Taiwan. Participants: 124 Taiwanese nursing students enrolled in a 13-week problem-based Fundamental Nursing curriculum. Design and methods: Students' preferred learning environment, perceptions about the learning environment and learning outcomes (knowledge, self-efficacy and attitudes) were assessed. On the basis of test scores measuring their preferred and perceived learning environments, students were assigned to one of two groups: a 'preferred environment aligned with perceived learning environment' group and a 'preferred environment discordant with perceived learning environment' group. Learning outcomes were analysed by group. Outcome measures: Most participants preferred learning in a classroom environment that combined problem-based and lecture-based instruction. However, a mismatch of problem-based instruction with students' perceptions occurred. Learning outcomes were significantly better when students' perceptions of their instructional activities were congruent with their preferred learning environment. Conclusions: As problem-based learning becomes a focus of educational reform in nursing, teachers need to be aware of students' preferences and perceptions of the learning environment. Teachers may also need to improve the match between an individual student's perception and a teacher's intention in the learning environment, and between the student's preferred and actual perceptions of the learning environment.
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