Medical Student Perceptions of the Learning Environment: Learning Communities Are Associated With a More Positive Learning Environment in a Multi-Institutional Medical School Study

Acad Med. 2016 Sep;91(9):1263-9. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001214.


Purpose: Many medical schools have implemented learning communities (LCs) to improve the learning environment (LE) for students. The authors conducted this study to determine whether a relationship exists between medical student perceptions of the LE and presence of LCs during the preclerkship years.

Method: Students from 24 schools participating in the American Medical Association Learning Environment Study completed the 17-item Medical Student Learning Environment Survey (MSLES) at the end of their first and second years of medical school between 2011 and 2013. Mean total MSLES scores and individual item scores at the end of the first and second years in schools with and without LCs were compared with t tests, and effect sizes were calculated. Mixed-effects longitudinal models were used to control for student demographics and random school and student effects on the relationship between LC status and MSLES score.

Results: A total of 4,980 students (81% of 6,148 matriculants) from 18 schools with LCs and 6 without LCs participated. Mean [SD] MSLES scores were significantly higher in LC schools compared with non-LC schools at the end of year one (3.72 [0.44] versus 3.57 [0.43], P < .001) and year two (3.69 [0.49] versus 3.42 [0.54], P < .001). The effect size increased from 0.35 (small) at the end of year one to 0.53 (medium) at the end of year two.

Conclusions: This large multi-institutional cohort study found that LCs at medical schools were associated with more positive perceptions of the LE by preclerkship students.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Cohort Studies
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Perception*
  • Social Environment*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States