Team based learning (TBL) is an instructional method that puts students into roles of greater autonomy and responsibility for their learning. Some critical components of TBL are 1) groups that are permanent, so they have time to develop into teams, 2) a process to ensure individual student readiness for group work, and 3) assignments that require students to work collectively on rigorous application of course content.
Lots of people use groups. What's so special about a "team"?
Groups are collections of individuals. Teams are groups who have developed a shared purpose and sense of collective responsibility. Groups evolve into teams when an instructor creates the proper conditions for effective collaboration. Well-designed tasks plus strategic course design create the conditions and environment that teach group members to listen to one another, value each other's contributions, learn from mistakes, rein in ineffective behavior, and eventually trust in the team's ability to outperform any given individual.
What’s TBL’s track record?
TBL is now being used internationally in every academic discipline. The extensive emerging research helps explain why it is attractive not only in technical and applied fields such as medicine, engineering and business, but also in natural science, social science, and humanities. It is also now being used in Trades education. Research data confirm consistently that TBL allows instructors to challenge their students at a higher level. Several studies provide evidence that students in a well-run section of TBL will typically outperform students taught through more traditional approaches.
How is TBL different from PBL (Problem-Based Learning)?
TBL is more tightly structured than PBL. The TBL instructor sets the agenda for covering, processing and applying a specific body of information, much the way she would in a conventional lecture-based course. By contrast, in PBL the instructor’s role is restricted to identifying the problem, while students seek out the information they need in order to frame and solve it—with limited direct involvement from the instructor.
Both methods can be highly effective, depending on goals and circumstances. In TBL, however, the control of content is very attractive to many university instructors, as TBL courses can easily co-exist in an academic program with many traditional teaching practices, and does not require altering the program outcomes or overall curriculum.
What are the principles behind TBL?
TBL emerged out of research in organizational and cognitive psychology. Among the principles that drive the method are the following:
- Effective group work most often depends on the type of work. Group work is most effective when used with assignments where students are asked to converge their diverse thinking in making a single, collective decision, much like a deliberative body.
- Students learn best and are more motivated when feedback is frequent and immediate. The use of groups increases opportunities for frequent, immediate feedback and reflection among peers.
- Groups need time together to learn to function as a team, hence the use of permanently assigned groups.
- Effectively functioning groups need very little instructor oversight or management. TBL is therefore a more efficient use of an instructor’s time, and can be scaled to classes of any size.
What does the TBL process in a course look like?
A course will normally be divided into 4 to 7 instructional units within a 12-15-week time frame. Key elements of a typical sequence over 2 to 4 class meetings would be as follows:
- A substantial reading assignment (outside of class)
- Graded individual “readiness assessment” test on the reading (in class)
- Graded team “readiness assessment” test (in class)
- Short (mini-) Lecture, if needed, to clarify confusion made visible by the tests
- Team responses to cases; problems; applications, etc., all using the material in the initial reading