Center for the Advancement of Innovative Teaching

Team-Based Learning

Team-Based Learning - TBL (Michaelsen, Knight & Fink, 2002) often is confused with other forms of group work, but has contributed even in large classes to attendance, engagement, willingness to prepare, and improvement in critical thinking. It shifts the focus of classroom time from passive learning by lecture (conveying course concepts) to learning through application of course concepts by student teams. In the TBL process, students acquire their initial exposure to the content through readings and are held accountable for their preparation. Class time is used to practice applying content in a series of team application exercises.

Additional Resources:

  • Faculty developer, Michael Sweet (University of Texas-Austin) authored this topic in WikiPODia (by members of the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education) that offers details about how TBL differs in planning and execution from lecture or from traditional group work, why group papers and presentations are not a good choice of course products, and how “groups” become interdependent teams.
  • Team-based Learning Collaborative offers a website full of resources on TBL.
  • The University of British Columbia Faculty of Applied Science created this neatly packaged brochure on TBL.
  • Michael Sweet offers some counsel for those considering TBL:

Where is TBL most useful?   From my own experience, TBL works for the parts of any discipline in which you want to teach your students how to use course content to make distinctions, decisions, and judgments.  Therefore, I think it can work toward helping students acquire cognitive skills, but not necessarily motor skills.  So, performance courses like music, dance, and art could use TBL to help students learn the language and concepts of the discipline, but the *doing* of that kind of thing is a much more individual act.

Am I ready to try this?   More of a litmus test than the content, is actually the teacher. TBL really, REALLY engages students with the content and the teacher needs to be willing to meet them in dialogue around it.  Not all teachers at the college level are ready to do this, as it requires a deep command of the content, a great deal of comfort being flexible in discussion with the class as a whole, and a willingness to step aside and let students learn without feeling compelled to be in the spotlight yourself while it is happening.

A scenario I pose to teachers considering TBL is this: "Imagine that--in front of the whole class--a student asks you a legitimate, content-focused question and in the moment you not only don't know the answer, off the top of your head you are not even sure how you'd begin to go about answering it.  Does this scenario scare you or excite you?  If it excites you, then you might be ready for TBL."