Team-based learning

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Team-based learning is the use of learning teams to enhance student engagement and the quality of student or trainee learning.[1] Team-based learning was first popularized by Larry Michaelsen, the central figure in the development of the TBL method while at University of Oklahoma, as an educational strategy that he developed for use in academic settings.[2][3] Team-based learning is also used for teaching people in the workplace.

In academic institutions[edit]

The main features of the team-based learning approach are the following:

(1) Permanent (term-long) and instructor-assigned groups of 5-7 students with diverse skill sets and backgrounds, evenly distributed among teams.

(2) Individual accountability for out-of-class work such as reading and preliminary homework being done prior to the first class meeting of each course segment - a division of the course generally based on a theme and lasting from one to three weeks. This accountability is ensured by what is called the Readiness Assurance Process (RAP) in which students (a) take a short (5-15 multiple choice question) individual readiness assurance test (iRAT), (b) immediately afterward take the same test again with members of their team working on a single answer sheet (tRAT), (c) students, who have already received their individual and team RAT scores make written appeals on any questions that the team missed on the tRAT, should they find statements in their assigned reading that supports their view, and, (d) the instructor takes questions from the class on any of the questions or themes brought up by them.

(3) Incentive for working effectively together as a team by giving significant credit (course points) for team activities (such as the tRAT), the subsequent in-class activities (application exercises) that are the hallmark of team-based learning, longer term team projects, and team-member given points for "team maintenance", essentially points given to recognize contributions made to team efforts and withheld when a team member is acting as a freeloader or in some other way not pulling his or her weight or working with team mates in productive ways.

(4) In class application exercises that promote both learning and team development. Feedback on these assignments should be both frequent and immediate. According to Michaelsen[4] , "most of the reported "problems" with learning groups (free-riders, member conflict, etc.) are the direct result of inappropriate group assignments". Michaelsen adds that "assignments that require groups to make decisions and enable them to report their decisions in a simple form, will usually generate high levels of group interaction."[5] are (a) significant (correlated to important course objectives, meaningful to the future work that the course might prepare a student for), (b) the same for all teams in the course, (c) about making a decision – providing a simple answer – based on complex analysis of data or application of course principles, (d) simultaneously reported to the whole class and evaluated then and there by the instructor.

Motivations and Benefits for using Team Based Learning in Education[edit]

Team Based Learning has been suggested to help students who seem uninterested in subject material, do not do their homework, and have difficulty understanding material. Team based learning can transform traditional content with application and problem solving skills, while developing interpersonal skills.[3] Team based learning in education can also be important for developing skills and abilities that are useful for businesses, organizations, careers, and industries where many projects and tasks are performed by teams. Learning how to learn, work, interact, and collaborate in a team is essential for success in this kind of an environment.[6] Many of the medical schools have adopted some version of Team Based Learning for several of the benefits listed above, and also for greater long-term knowledge retention. According to a study done by the Washington University School of Medicine, individuals who learned through an active team based learning curriculum had greater long-term knowledge retention compared to a traditional passive lecture curriculum.[7] Evidently, faculty of professional schools are thus directing their focus towards developing application and integration of knowledge beyond the content-based curricula, rather than simple course objectives such as simply memorizing a concept. [8]

Controlled studies of initial implementations of team learning have shown increases in student engagement and mixed results for other outcomes.[9][10]

In the workplace[edit]

A later developed usage of the term describes a process for teaching and developing people in the workplace. It is a set of developmental principles and routines embedded into the day-to-day processes of a work team such that team members continuously learn and develop. The developmental activities are not new, e.g., coaching, stretch assignments, review of lessons learned. However, such developmental activities are typically conducted in an irregular and inconsistent way. The benefit of Team-Based Learning is that everyone on the team participates in the developmental activities on a consistent basis, because the activities provide other benefits that motivate the team to use them. That is, the team not only develops its people but also functions better.

The idea is that not everyone has the same skill sets and that there are multiple parts to a project. Members in the team can do specific parts of the project while also reiterating to the team members, who don't have specific skill sets required to get the project completed, how to gain those skill sets. So, it is learning while working together. In a sense, team based learning is almost another form of peer-based learning while getting work done. Those team members who did not have certain skills set needed to complete the project will make-up in another area of the project. In the case of team based learning, everyone is good for something.


Team-Based Learning was jointly developed by Duke Corporate Education and PricewaterhouseCoopers.[11] In 2005, Judy Rosenblum, then President of Duke Corporate Education, and Tom Evans, Chief Learning Officer of PricewaterhouseCoopers, began to explore the learning environment in teaching hospitals and its possible transferability to corporate environments. They studied several teaching hospitals, principally Johns Hopkins Hospital. Teaching hospitals develop doctors (interns and residents) in the course of providing health care to patients. This is not classroom education. Rather it is teaching the practice of medicine while treating real patients with real diseases. The learning is embedded in the work.

Application to business teams[edit]

Rosenblum, Evans and their associates spent two years understanding how teaching hospitals work and exploring how those processes could be applied to business teams. They identified four principles and five routines to carry over to the business world.


  • Problem-based learning - Use problems encountered in the course of work as the context for learning
  • Point of the Wedge - Push responsibility combined with support to the most junior person possible
  • Teach, Don't Tell - Use inquiry (Socratic Method) to teach rather than just give the answer or solve the issue
  • Owning the Client or Project – Individuals have a heightened sense of accountability and motivation because they have their own client or project with support from more experienced team members


  • Rounds - Meeting where a less-experienced team member presents an issue or challenge and recommends a course of action
  • Team Workshops - A team member leads a developmental event for other members focusing on a specific technical or service topic
  • Shadowing – Less-experienced team member accompanies a more-experienced member to a meeting he or she would not normally attend
  • Observation & Feedback - A specific activity is observed, and using the Socratic Method, coaching is given
  • Lessons Learned Forums - Thorough review and discussion using mistakes and successes as a situation to learn from. This is similar to an After Action Review.

Making it work[edit]

The mission of teaching hospitals is to develop doctors. While businesses earnestly espouse a desire to develop their people, such activities are too often seen as separate from work and something that interferes with getting work done. Businesses are not as motivated as teaching hospitals to develop people on the job. For that reason the transfer of teaching hospital based approaches to a business context might have failed if not for the fact that the new processes create side benefits that motivate the business team members to do them.

Senior team members need to spend extra time mentoring junior team members, however that time is more than made up by the increased productivity of the team derived from successfully driving tasks to lower levels. Such delegation frees up senior people’s time. Junior people enjoy taking ownership of projects (with support) and are more motivated in their jobs. The net result is that the team gets more work done, junior people are developed more quickly, and team morale is higher.


  1. ^ Michaelsen, Larry, and Michael Sweet. "Team-Based Learning." Web log post. NEA - Team Based Learning. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Nov. 2012. <>.
  2. ^ Michaelsen, L.K., Watson, W.E., Cragin, J.P., and Fink, L.D. (1982) Team-based learning: A potential solution to the problems of large classes. Exchange: The Organizational Behavior Teaching Journal 7(4): 18-33.'
  3. ^ a b Larry K. Michaelsen; Arletta Bauman Knight; L. Dee Fink, eds. (2002). Team-based learning: a transformative use of small groups. New York: Praeger. ISBN 0-89789-863-X. 
  4. ^ Michaelsen L, Richards B (2005). "Drawing conclusions from the team-learning literature in health-sciences education: a commentary". Teaching and learning in medicine. 17 (1): 85–88. doi:10.1207/s15328015tlm1701_15. PMID 15691820. 
  5. ^ Larry K. Michaelsen; Arletta Bauman Knight; L. Dee Fink, eds. (2002). "Chapter 2: Getting Started with Team Learning". Team-based learning: a transformative use of small groups. New York: Praeger. ISBN 0-89789-863-X. 
  6. ^ Howard Hills (2001) Team Based Learning Gower Publishing Company ISBN 0-566-08364-7
  7. ^
  8. ^ "Knowledge Is No Longer Enough: Enhancing Professional Education with Team-Based Learning" (PDF). Wiley Interscience. 
  9. ^ Kelly PA, Haidet P, Schneider V, Searle N, Seidel CL, Richards BF (2005). "A comparison of in-class learner engagement across lecture, problem-based learning, and team learning using the STROBE classroom observation tool". Teaching and learning in medicine. 17 (2): 112–118. doi:10.1207/s15328015tlm1702_4. PMID 15833720. 
  10. ^ Haidet P, Morgan RO, O'Malley K, Moran BJ, Richards BF (2004). "A controlled trial of active versus passive learning strategies in a large group setting". Advances in health sciences education : theory and practice. 9 (1): 15–27. doi:10.1023/B:AHSE.0000012213.62043.45. PMID 14739758. 
  11. ^ Hospitals Show How to Accelerate Learning

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