Team-Based Learning

Group Work That Works

Team-Based Learning (TBL) is an increasingly popular form of collaborative learning that solves most of the problems we have all come to expect from traditional group work.

TBL consists of four practical elements:

  1. strategically-formed, permanent teams;
  2. readiness assurance activities at the beginning of each unit to motivate, engage, and clarify;
  3. application activities in which teams must make discipline-based decisions;
  4. student peer evaluations to motivate accountability and high-performance team-work.

This excellent 12-minute video from the University of Texas at Austin not only describes how TBL works, but shows what it looks and sounds like in several classrooms.


Strategically-formed, permanent teams maximize the benefits of diversity and team development: student characteristics that make the course easier or more difficult are spread as evenly as possible across teams that last the entire term, giving them the chance to develop into high-performance learning teams.

Readiness assurance activities consist of a four-step process that takes place at the beginning of each course unit:

  • Preparation by students outside of class – selected readings, videos, podcasts, and so on.
  • Individual readiness assurance test (iRAT) – short, basic, multiple-choice test over preparation materials.
  • Team readiness assurance test (tRAT) – once they turn in their individual tests, students then take the exact same test again, and must come to consensus on their team answers. Teams must get immediate feedback on their performance. This immediate feedback can occur in many ways depending on the format of your course:
    • In an on-ground course, this can be achieved using “scratch off” forms called IF-Ats (as pictured below).
      Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique scratch card
    • In a hybrid or completely online course, you might use the quizzing and feedback functionality in Canvas or some other platform to provide the immediate feedback.
      immediate feedback as provided during a TRAT using Canvas
      CATLR consultants are available to help you brainstorm what method might work best for your goals and circumstances.
  • Appeals – When teams feel they can still make a case for their answers which were marked as incorrect, they can pull out their course materials and generate written appeals, which must consist of (a) a clear statement of argument, and (b) evidence cited from the preparation materials.

A team-based learning suggested sequence. In summary there is pre-class preparation, readiness assurance in class, and application of course concepts in class.

“Group Projects” Can Have a Structural Flaw

Assignments like papers and presentations require a group to produce a complex product.  The most rational approach to this task is to segment and distribute the work among group members.  This divergent task too-often results in an inequitable and low-quality experience.  A better task structure for a learning group is a convergent task, similar to that of a courtroom jury:  given a tremendous amount of complex information, they must produce a choice, and perhaps a very short rationale. Click here to learn more about designing effective convergent team tasks.

A few simple examples:

  • Given a set of financial data, should the company buy, lease, or rent their trucks?
  • Given an article, which paragraph would Marx find most disagreeable?
  • Give a collection of pictures, which are normal vs. abnormally-developed infants?
  • Which moment in a given film is the best example of family system dynamics?
  • What’s the best rank-order of pieces of evidence—from strongest to weakest?

Student Peer Evaluation

Both mid-course and end-of-course team-mate feedback is processed through the instructor and returned to the students with names removed.  In many cases, this takes the form of students listing for each of their team-mates one thing they appreciate about that team-mate and one thing they request.  Must contribute to student grade.  A free, online system called TEAMMATES now makes this very fast.

Some Research Behind Team-Based Learning

A meta-analysis of 38 quantitative studies found that TBL produced learning outcomes nearly half a standard deviation higher than comparison teaching approaches (Liu & Beaujean, 2017). Further, Comeford (2016) incorporated TBL into a first-semester general chemistry course and reduced attrition from 31% to 19%.

These additional findings were assembled by Sisk (2011):

  1. High student satisfaction is reported in introductory medical courses (Abdelkhalek, Hussein, Gibbs & Handy, 2010), second year medical courses (Parmelee, DeStephen & Borges, 2009), economics courses (Espey, 2010) and psychotherapy courses (Touchet and Coon, 2005).  Sisk notes that the highest academic achievers seemed to be less positive about TBL.
  2. High student engagement is reported in medical courses (Kelly, et al, 2005), clinical nursing courses (Feingold, et al. 2008), and case management courses (Clark, et al. 2008).  Sisk notes that this higher level of engagement is to be expected because students in TBL courses are required to work together as student engagement is part of the process of delivering instruction.
  3. Higher examination scores are reported in microbiology courses (McInnerney and Fink, 2003), organizational/industrial psychology courses (Haberyan 2007), medical elective courses (Wiener, Plass and Marz, 2009), and medical pathology courses (Koles, et al., 2010).  Sisk notes that many exam-score studies are pre-TBL/post-TBL comparisons without simultaneous control groups.

Download the CATLR Team-Based Learning brochure.



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.

Clark, M., Nguyen, H., Bray, C., & Levine, R. (2008). Team-based learning in an undergraduate nursing course. Journal of Nursing Education, 47, 111-117.

Comeford, L. (2016). Team-based learning reduces attrition in a first-semester general chemistry course. Journal of College Science Teaching, 46(2), 42-46.

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

Koles, P., Stolfi , A., Borges, N.J., Nelson, S., & Parmelee, D.X. (2010). The impact of team-based learning on medical students’ academic performance. Academic Medicine, 85, 1739-1745.

Liu, S.-N. C., & Beaujean, A. A. (2017). The effectiveness of team-based learning on academic outcomes: A meta-analysisScholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 3(1), 1-14

McInerney, M.J., & Fink, L.D. (2003). Team-based learning enhances long-term retention and critical thinking in an undergraduate microbial physiology course. Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education, 4, M3-12. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v4.68

Parmelee, D.X., DeStephen, D., & Borges, N.J. (2009). Medical students’ attitudes about team-based learning in a pre-clinical curriculum. Medical Education Online, 14(1), 1-7. doi:10.3885/meo.2009.Res00280.

Sisk,R.J. (2011). Team-based learning: Systematic research review. Journal of Nursing Education, 50(12), 665-669.

Wiener, H., Plass, H., & Marz, R. (2009). Team-based learning in intensive course format for first-year medical students. Croatian Medical Journal, 50(1), 69-76.