E-xcellence in Teaching Essay: Team-Based Learning: A Tool for Your Pedagogical Toolbox

04 Oct 2017 7:19 PM | Anonymous

Team-Based Learning: A Tool for Your Pedagogical Toolbox

 Krisztina V. Jakobsen
James Madison University

Teachers whose different styles match with the pedagogical methods they use make for a more authentic and effective teaching and learning experience. There are a variety of strategies in the literature for teachers who would like to move away from a purely lecture format. One of those, Team-Based Learning (TBL), is a method I have been using for several years. TBL is a method to encourage students to be actively involved in their learning. Similar to the ideals associated with a flipped classroom (Jakobsen & Knetemann, in press), students learn primary course content outside of the classroom and work in permanent teams with the material during class (Michaelsen, Bauman, Knight, & Fink, 2004). Below, I outline the core components of TBL and share a few studies that my students and I have done examining the impact on student learning.

 The TBL Process

Readiness Assurance Process

The first steps in the TBL process involves ensuring that students understand course material; this process—the Readiness Assurance Process—includes preparation outside of class,  quizzes in class, and a short lecture. Students prepare for class by reading the textbook, watching videos, and/or answering guided questions. When students come to class, they take a multiple-choice quiz individually, which assesses student’s understanding of the course material at various levels of Bloom’s taxonomy. The individual quiz holds students accountable for completing their out of class preparation. Next, students work in their teams to complete the same multiple-choice quiz again. Students receive immediate feedback on their team quiz using scratch-off IF-AT forms. After the team quiz, students have a chance to appeal any questions they miss, which requires them to revisit course materials and provides an opportunity to make a compelling case for alternate answers based on the course materials. Finally, teams submit any questions they still have about the material and the instructor gives a short “muddiest points” lecture. The Readiness Assurance Process takes 50-75 minutes to complete.

Application Exercises

After the completion of the Readiness Assurance Process, students should have the necessary knowledge to complete application exercises, which usually take 2-4 class periods. Depending on the complexity of the questions, students may complete 2-5 application exercise questions during a class period. The application exercises have a deliberate structure that allows for teams to focus on the relevant course material and facilitates team and class discussions. The keys to developing successful application exercises involve having all teams work on the same questions, requiring teams to make a simple choice, and having teams report their answer choices simultaneously. To demonstrate the importance of the structure of the application exercises, think about the type and quality of discussions students may have with open-ended questions (Question 1 below) compared to more directed questions (Question 2 below).

Question 1: This class is structured using Team-Based Learning (TBL), in which you learn the primary course content outside of class and then work in permanent teams during class to get a deeper understanding of the material. Identify at least one way in which each of the theories below helps you understand why the TBL structure is an effective teaching method.

A.    Operant conditioning
B.     Piaget’s theory
C.     Vygotsky’s theory
D.    Information processing theories

Question 2: This class is structured using Team-Based Learning (TBL), in which you learn the primary course content outside of class and then work in permanent teams during class to get a deeper understanding of the material. Decide which of the following theories is most prominent in the TBL structure.  Be prepared to support your answer.

A.    Operant conditioning
B.     Piaget’s theory
C.     Vygotsky’s theory
D.    Information processing theories
While Question 1 asks students to apply what they know about the theories to the structure of TBL, it may not generate much discussion. Question 2 meets the requirements of each of the deliberate components of the application exercises. All teams are presented with the same problem. Teams have to make a choice among options A-D. For this particular question, all of the answer choices are correct, so what will generate discussion among teams is the rationale behind their decisions. Finally, because the answer choices are very clear, it is easy for teams to simultaneously report their decisions by holding up cards, for example.

Does it Work?

Students generally have positive experiences with TBL. They also seem to enjoy the structure (e.g., Adelkhalek, Hussein, Gibbs, & Hamdy, 2010) and report perceiving TBL as an effective teaching method (e.g., Haberyan, 2007). The results are mixed in terms the impact of TBL on academic outcomes compared to more traditional teaching methods (e.g., Carmichael, 2009; Jakobsen, McIlreavy, & Marrs, 2014), and little work has been done regarding how TBL impacts retention (e.g., Emke, Butler, & Larsen, 2016). Over the years, I have worked with student research assistants to collect data in lab-based and classroom-based studies to examine the effectiveness of TBL in promoting recognition memory and retention compared to other pedagogical methods. Here, I present the results of two of those studies.

In a lab-based study, time-slots were randomly assigned to each of our conditions, as follows:

  • Team-Based Learning: Participants read an article upon arrival to the session, then completed the Readiness Assurance Process and application exercises.
  • Lecture: Participants received a lecture based on the content of the article and took notes during the lecture.
  • Reading: Participants read the article and took notes as they read.
  • Control: Participants completed an anagram.

One week later, all participants took a 10-item multiple-choice quiz to measure their retention of material from the week before. The results revealed that participants in the TBL and Lecture session did not differ on their scores (p = .141), but participants in the TBL session outperformed participants in the Reading (p = .018) and Control sessions (p < .001). The results of this study suggest that TBL and lecture are both effective ways of teaching, particularly in short-term sessions (e.g., workshops).

In a class-based study, two classes were randomly assigned to be taught using TBL or Lecture. During the semester, students in the TBL class completed the Readiness Assurance Process and application exercises, while students in the Lecture class received lectures with active learning components. Students’ understanding of course material was assessed at three time points: (1) pre-test at the beginning of the semester, (2) final at the end of the semester, and (3) post-test three months after the completion of the course. Students completed 28 multiple-choice questions at each of the three time points. We based our analyses on students who contributed data at all three time points (N = 34). Students in the TBL and Lecture class did not differ on their pre-test scores (p = .052) or their post-test scores (p = .052). Students in the TBL class performed better than students in the Lecture class on the final (p = .021), suggesting that TBL may enhance short-term retention of course material. The results of this class study are consistent with those of Emke et al. (2016), in which TBL led to better short-term, but not long-term, retention of course material.

Implementation and Conclusions

Implementing TBL as outlined above requires some upfront investment for organizing and creating preparatory materials, quizzes, and application exercises. The good news is that components of TBL can be implemented in nearly any class with relative ease. For example, it is easy to incorporate a team quiz to already existing individual quizzes, and once students have the content knowledge (e.g., through lectures), application exercises can be added a little at a time.

While there is likely no one pedagogical technique that will work for every instructor, data from the TBL literature and my research suggest that TBL is at least as good as other strategies. These results should encourage teachers to work in areas in which they are most comfortable and to cultivate skills they feel important, whether they are central to the course objectives or merely desirable.

Author note

Portions of this essay were presented at STP’s Annual Conference on Teaching, Decatur, Georgia, October, 2016. This project was supported by the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Grant and the Alvin V., Jr. and Nancy C. Baird Professorship to KVJ.


The following website offer wonderful resources for learning more about and getting started with TBL: Learntbl.ca and www.teambasedlearning.org/


Abdelkhalek, N., Hussein, A., Gibbs, T., & Hamdy, H. (2010). Using team-based learning to prepare medical students for future problem-based learning. Medical Teacher, 32, 123–129. doi: 10.3109/01421590903548539

Carmichael, J. (2009). Team-based learning enhances performance in introductory biology. Journal of College Science Teaching, 38, 54–61.

Emke, A. R., Butler, A. C., & Larsen, D. P. (2016). Effects of Team-Based Learning on short-term and long-term retention of factual knowledge. Medical Teacher, 38, 306-311. doi: 10.3109/0142159X.2015.1034663

Haberyan, A. (2007). Team-based learning in an industrial/organizational psychology course. North American Journal of Psychology, 9, 143–152.

Jakobsen & Knetemann. (in press). Putting structure to flipped classrooms using Team-Based Learning. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Jakobsen, K. V., McIlreavy, M., & Marrs, S. (2014). Team-based Learning: The importance of attendance. Psychology Learning & Teaching13(1), 25-31. doi: 10.2304/plat.2014.13.1.25

Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., & Fink, L. (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.


Krisztina V. Jakobsen is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at James Madison University. She teaches developmental psychology classes in the General Education Program an in the Department of Psychology. Her research interests include studying effective teaching methods and social cognition in infants.



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