Definition: Team-Based Learning is an evidence based collaborative learning teaching strategy designed around units of instruction, known as “modules,” that are taught in a three-step cycle: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing, and application-focused exercise. A class typically includes one module.

Preparation before class

Students must complete preparatory materials before a class or the start of the module. Materials may be text, visual or other, and set at a level that is appropriate to the students and the course.

In-class Readiness Assurance Testing

Readiness Assurance Test (RAT):  Students complete an individual readiness assurance test (IRAT), consisting of 5 to 20 multiple choice questions.  After submitting their individual answers, and they take the same test, the team RAT (TRAT), with their team.  As a team they use scratch cards (IF-AT cards), hoping to find a star that indicates a correct answer.  All members of each team share the same TRAT score, and both IRAT and TRAT scores count toward the students’ grades.

Appeals: Teams have the opportunity to do a written appeal of a MCQ they felt was poorly written, the answer was mistakenly coded, or their answer choice is better.

Instructor Feedback:  The instructor may review material from the RAT that students still feel are problematic.

This test approach that counts for assessment is important, as it gives students a real incentive to learn materials beforehand, attend classes, and contribute to team discussions.  The readiness assurance process holds students accountable for coming to class prepared and working together as a team.

In-class application focused exercise

The remainder of the session or module is taken up with exercises that help students learn how to apply and extend the knowledge that they have pre-learned and tested. Teams are given an appropriate problem or challenge, and must arrive at a consensus to choose a “best” solution out of options provided. Teams then display their answer choice, and the educator facilitates a classroom discussion between teams to explore the topic and the possible answers to the problem.

Four principles underlying Team-Based Learning

Team-Based Learning implementation is based on four underlying principles (Michaelsen & Richards 2005):

  1. Groups should be properly formed (e.g. Intellectual talent should be equally distributed among the groups). These teams are fixed for the whole course.
  2. Students are accountable for their pre-learning and for working in teams.
  3. Team assignments must promote both learning and team development.
  4. Students must receive frequent and immediate feedback.

Since TBL was developed in the 1970s, a substantial body of research has addressed the theoretical underpinnings of this method, such as papers and TBLC-funded projects, and findings are included in the many TBL books for beginners and for practiced users.

A large number of educators are currently exploring and testing aspects of TBL; detailed information is on the TBLC Member website.

For a brief tour of the entire TBL process, please watch this 12 minute video.