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What are the advantages of team-based learning?

As every instructor knows, merely covering a topic is no guarantee for learning. Students might spend hours listening to lectures, reviewing content, and taking tests, but the learning process is not as simple. 

Team-based learning (TBL) is a pedagogical practice that allows teachers to go beyond rote memorization of knowledge. In its essence, TBL focuses on giving students the possibility to apply their knowledge to solve single or multiple problems. By doing this, TBL aims to facilitate both the conceptual and practical knowledge of the students.

“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”

The Team-based Learning Collaborative

But what are the main components of TBL? What are the advantages for students and teachers, and what are the pitfalls to avoid at all costs?

The main elements of team-based learning

TBL is a way to give students an opportunity to solve something they often complain about: not having the possibility to put theory into practice.

TBL, in fact, is organized in a way that most of the time spent in class (online or physical) is used for team assignments, while some are spent ensuring that students master the course content [1].

In general, a TBL course divides students into permanent groups. Before any class, students have to study an assigned material. Specifically, they will be assessed as individuals and then as a group with immediate feedback to their answers, at the beginning of each new learning unit. This assessment approach is known as the “readiness assurance process” (RAP) and can take the form of quizzes, in-class assignments, or other kinds of tests, as long as the feedback is immediate. 

The remaining time for the learning unit is spent on group activities that will test students' knowledge of the course content, as well as their ability to apply such knowledge into problem-solving.

All in all, a course using TBL will need to consider four main elements:

1 - Groups

Groups must be properly formed and managed. This means that the instructor must ensure mostly three factors:

Resources: each group must have adequate resources by being as diverse as possible. Indeed, cultural and gender diversity can provide diverse input on how to solve problems, improving both performance and learning [2][3]. Different perspectives and new ways to solve problems would generate not only original solutions but also a “learning inside the learning”, where students would understand how to deal with different views and how to integrate them into a problem-solving process.

Avoiding Coalitions: If two or more students are good friends, in a romantic relationship, or are connected in some other way, they might hinder the equilibrium of the group and the discussion, making the others feeling at a disadvantage. Instructors should take into account these factors when creating groups to avoid tension and the forming of subgroups.

Time: Students should stay in the same group for the entire course. Only when students work together for a long time, their groups would become cohesive enough to evolve into self-managed and truly effective learning teams [1].

2 - Accountability

Students must be accountable for the quality of their individual and group work. In total, there are three types of accountability that an instructor should take into account when creating a TBL course.

Individual pre-class preparation: Said bluntly, when students do not prepare beforehand, the whole team is far less likely to succeed at a task. As there is no amount of training that can overcome a bad diet, there is no amount of discussion and work that can overcome poor preparation. Insufficient pre-class preparation might trigger a sense of resentment from members of the group, as they tend to be rightly annoyed by their peers' attempts at freeriding. Effective solutions to this problem involve clarifying the class requirements, assessing students' preparation (in-class quizzes, informal assessment, or group activity), or including questions within the study materials.    

Accountability towards the team: members must contribute to the team as equally as possible. Preparation for teamwork, class attendance, and meeting attendance monitoring, or positive contributions evaluation are effective ways in which students can contribute to teamwork.

Accountability for high-quality team performance: Accountability must be assessed. How to do this? One way is to use assignments that would require teams to create a product that can be compared with those generated by experts, another is to use specific pedagogical software to keep students accountable for team activities.

3 - Feedback

Receiving immediate feedback is what makes TBL an effective practice, especially because it does not only increase learning and retention [4] but also has a terrific impact on group development [5]. FeedbackFruits can help instructors generate immediate, meaningful feedback. That is, the AI-powered Automated Feedback automatically generates comments on students' writing assignments, without teachers' presence. Our interactive tools like Interactive Document, Presentation, Video, and Peer Review create a platform for continuous, interactive feedback among peers or group members. 

4 - Assignment design

Group assignments must promote both learning and team development. To ensure this, assignments should ensure group interactions, emphasize decision making, and stimulate discussions. These assignments, thus, should not be too long and technical (producing complex documents and outputs often limit both learning and team development [1]). Good assignment design for TBL should be:

Nudging students to have a lengthy and meaningful discussion about the product, with no sense of urgency related to the amount of work to do

Leading students to focus on content-related issues, not on how to divide the work

Making it possible to divide the work equally, without having students to rely on and the expertise of a specific member or part of the team that would have to take over the majority of the project.

The advantages of team-based learning design

Why is TBL such a good choice when it comes to students learning, retention, and engagement?

There are several studies stating how TBL is specifically able to elicit different benefits for students [6] [7] [8]. While TBL has been specifically created for Business schools, it has been successfully applied to many other sectors, such as Medicine and Law [6] [7].

Increased engagement: TBL has been proven to enhance the level of engagement between students and the course material. It has been proven that small-group assignments significantly enhance individual accountability and collaborative behaviors, leading to students' achievement of desired performance [6]. Research has shown that, when students work in teams and have a problem to solve together, they would “pay attention to important considerations and address alternatives with more than just opinion” [8, p. 279]

Many small-group experiences without needing a large number of instructors: TBL allows us to create, in a large-scale course, a plethora of team-based activities. This is possible without having a large number of instructors since students would be preparing before class and working independently on their projects. The role of the teacher would become that of a facilitator, or a “guide on the side” [6].

Multiple opportunities for self-assessment and revision: TBL provides several occasions for students to provide feedback and discuss outcomes, suggest modifications to the projects, and compare strategies [8]. Such a feedback encouraging environment could foster students'  cognitive levels like analysis, or evaluation; also create a “learning” instead of a “teaching" classroom [1]. A good group dynamic is the one that allows students to engage in all these processes, which can be initiated via a well designed TBL. Furthermore, involving technological support like pedagogical enhanced software could further maximize the positive effect of the TBL method, thus counterbalancing students' hesitance towards team-learning [6]. 

Increased sense of agency: Students learn best when they can feel in control [8]. The characteristics of TBL are well able to foster these feelings, by allowing students to organize themselves independently and create solutions on their own while developing a sense of accountability towards each other. Indeed, accountability is one of the strongest components of TBL [8]. FeedbackFruits’ Group Member Evaluation, for example, has proven to be a valuable tool to elicit this trait in students, especially during team-based learning activities.

Team-based learning: some examples

How does TBL look in practice? If you are curious for example, you can take a look here for videos, articles, and resources.

As we have seen throughout the article, TBL is a powerful pedagogical approach that allows instructors to achieve a great many benefits for students. 

One major pitfall of TBL is associated with students' lack of enthusiasm when having to change to a different learning method [6]. This problem; however, can be overcome by a well-crafted course design [6]. FeedbackFruits tool suite, with its 11 pedagogical tools, can help teachers to create a well-crafted course design that optimizes the potential of TBL methods. Seamlessly integrated into many LMSs, these tools target all the four elements of TBL by allowing for direct, interactive discussion upon the study materials, peer/ group feedback, as well as group task distribution. As a result, students' engagement, learning, and retention can be achieved. For a complete overview of the tools, you can take a look here.

Interested: you can contact us at any moment. We will be more than happy to answer any question and drive pedagogical innovation together.


[1] Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team‐based learning. New directions for teaching and learning, 2008(116), 7-27. Source

[2] Brobeck, F. C., and others. “The Dissemination of Critical, Unshared Information in Decision-Making Groups: The Effects of Pre-Discussion Dissent.” European Journal of Social Psychology, 2002, 32, 35–56. In Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008)

[3] Chan, C., Burtis, J., and Bereiter, C. “Knowledge Building as a Mediator of Conflict in Conceptual Change.” Cognition and Instruction, 1997, 15(1), 1–40. In Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008)

[4] Hattie, J., and Timperley, H. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research, 2007, 77(1), 81–112. Source

[5] Birmingham, C., and McCord, M. “Group Process Research: Implications for Using Learning Groups.” In L. K. Michaelsen, A. B. Knight, and L. D. Fink (eds.), Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. Sterling, Va.: Stylus, 2004. In Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008)

[6] Hunt, D. P., Haidet, P., Coverdale, J. H., & Richards, B. (2003). The effect of using team learning in an evidence-based medicine course for medical students. Teaching and learning in medicine, 15(2), 131-139. Source

[7] Haidet, P., Morgan, R. O., O'malley, K., Moran, B. J., & Richards, B. F. (2004). A controlled trial of active versus passive learning strategies in a large group setting. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 9(1), 15-27. Source

[8] Barron, B. J., Schwartz, D. L., Vye, N. J., Moore, A., Petrosino, A., Zech, L., & Bransford, J. D. (1998). Doing with understanding: Lessons from research on problem-and project-based learning. Journal of the learning sciences, 7(3-4), 271-311. Source

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