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Team-based learning

Team-based learning (TBL) is a very structured form of group work. The Team-Based Learning Collaborative provide a useful definition:

Team-Based Learning is an evidence based collaborative learning and 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.1

It is an approach that is scalable to large class sizes and avoids some of the familiar issues of other group-based approaches, such as freeloading, while retaining the valuable collaborative aspects that enhance employability. Additional benefits include the opportunity for students to obtain prompt, rich and detailed feedback from both their peers and the instructor.

With TBL the background concepts are studied before the class. Students then spend most of the classroom time applying their knowledge to solving problems. This means that staff are present as the students use and apply their knowledge and are able to address misconceptions and respond to queries as they arise.

As with all group -based approaches, a number of general issues need to be considered. These include the size of groups, methods of group assessment and managing group dynamics, which are considered in Engage in Assessment. Group-based approaches are particularly appropriate for developing personal effectiveness and self-awareness, as well as intercultural competencies when the groups are culturally diverse.

The structure of team-based learning

TBL has a well-defined structure that has developed over a number of years, with each stage having a specific purpose.


  • Students need to prepare before the classroom sessions. This can be based on a range of study materials, including textbook chapters, activities and exercises, podcasts, video clips, web resources, etc.

Readiness Assurance Testing

  • At the start of a classroom session, students complete an individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT). This typically consists of 10-20 multiple choice questions based on the pre-class study material. This holds students accountable for their independent study, and marks can be used as part of the assessment.
  • Once students have completed their iRAT, they then complete the same test again in teams: the team Readiness Assurance Test (tRAT). This can be completed with special scratch cards (available from CQSD), that give students immediate feedback on whether their answer is correct. If an answer is incorrect, teams continue discussing the options until they get the correct answer. Marks are awarded according to how many responses they make before obtaining the correct answer. By the end of this stage, all student will know the correct answer to every question, and will have discussed them within the team. The team scores are always better than the individual scores, making the benefits of team work particularly apparent.
  • At the end of the tRat, teams can submit appeals about questions or answers that they find ambiguous or with which they disagree. They need to research the 'right' answer and make a case on a form that is returned to the instructor for consideration.
  • Based on the outcome of the individual tests (which can be reviewed while the students complete the tRAT), the instructor then provides a mini-lecture based on the concepts found to be the most problematic.

In class applications:

The remaining class time is used for the teams to discuss and solve appropriate problems. These are structured around the 4S's of team-based learning:

  • Significant problems: In order for TBL to be engaging and successful, the problems need to be significant (not simplistic), relevant (linked to the concepts covered), and authentic (based on real-life). A course can be constructed by first deciding on the problems that students should be able to solve, then identifying the necessary concepts required, and finally drawing together appropriate study material.
  • Same problem: By giving all the teams the same problem, it guarantees that all teams have the same experience in terms of difficulty. It also means teams remain engaged during the reporting process, as they can challenge and examine other groups' thinking, providing opportunities for discussions. It also means that feedback is easier to provide.
  • Specific choice: For each task, the teams must choose their response from a range of options. This removes the huge range of possible answers associated with open-ended questions and provides opportunities for students to compare and learn from the decisions of different groups.
  • Simultaneous reporting: All teams report their decision simultaneously, for example by holding up a card indicating a particular choice. Groups need to defend their own thinking and articulate the reasons for their decision. Feedback from peers is then more focused on 'how did you arrive at your decision?' rather than 'which is the right answer?'


1Team-Based Learning Collaborative (2016). Definition - Team-Based Learning Collaborative

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