What does Team-based learning (TBL) really mean?

What does Team-based learning (TBL) really mean?

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Team-Based Learning is a popular buzzword going around teaching circles and classrooms these days, often accompanied by exclamations that TBL is more effective and efficient than the traditional classroom set up. But what exactly does it refer to and how is it done?

About forty years ago, Larry Michaelson at the University of Oklahoma invented TBL, a teaching and learning method that enables people to follow a structured process to improve learning outcomes. Nearly half of the medical schools in the US use some form of TBL.

5 Steps of Team-Based Learning

Before class

1. Individual pre-work
This can take the form of readings, presentation slides, audio or video lectures, and students are expected to have completed them before going to class.

During class

2. Individual Readiness Assurance Test (IRAT)
At the start of the face-to-face session, learners are given an individual quiz of about 20 questions to test how well they have learned from the pre-work lectures.

3. Team Readiness Assurance Test (TRAT)
After the IRAT, students are to are form teams. They will retake the same test questions they completed individually, but this time, as a team. Within the team, members will be able to debate with each other to determine the correct answer for each question and submit it collectively. The team gets immediate feedback on whether they answered the question correctly. If they did, they will move on to the next question. If they did not answer the question correctly, they must repeat the process and re-submit their answers until they get the right one.

4. Clarification Session
After the IRAT and TRAT stages, teams are asked to clarify any points of confusion and ask questions. The teacher will then facilitate a discussion to cover these points, typically by having the teams that understood the concepts explain them to the other team members who are unsure about the topic.
Note: There is variation in executing this stage, and teachers are free to adapt / adopt from the typical clarification format.

5. Application Exercises
In the second half of the face-to-face lesson, students must work in teams to solve problems and provide collective answers once again. The aim here is to encourage a healthy debate about the topic, and allow students to ask questions to expand their knowledge and hear different opinions from their peers.

Why Team-Based Learning works

TBL is a great teaching method for a number of reasons, but my top three are:

  1. Sustained learning with multiple methods
    TBL can hold the attention span of students who are put through a process that allows them to practise different skills at different times: Individual reading or listening (pre-work), individual forced recall (IRAT), peer learning with immediate feedback (TRAT), explaining / listening to others explain with guidance from an expert (clarification session) and application to relevant problems.
  2. Active student-led learning
    At Duke University last summer, I walked for a long time before finding the right classroom. Fortunately, you can usually hear a TBL classroom before you see it because students are mostly doing their own learning. There is hardly any lecturing at all as the teacher moves from the “Stage on the Stage” to the “Guide on the Side” paradigm of teaching that allows students to learn in an independently and self-directed manner.
  3. Efficiency and effectiveness
    With the bulk of the lecturing pre-recorded and grading being automated through the TBL learning platform online, teachers can spend less time on laborious paperwork and administrative duties and instead invest more time in preparing engaging topics for the discussion. The role of the teacher here is really to guide student learning, and not spoon feeding or one-way lecturing. This way, students are more likely to learn better too.


  • Paul hudson
    Posted at 09:00h, 16 November Reply

    if you can think.it. Youcan write it. the learners canread it. a strucured(written) document can pose queswtions related to the documents content. the learning teams then discussthe quetion and possible answers. the level of difculty though is enhanced because only one of rhe given answers is correct.. allthe given answersw look good or possibly correct but only one is exactly correct. sawe a larrge goup of social workers struglig with this, re,a negotiateed labor contractr for the wwelfare dept.

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