What is Team-Based Learning?

Team-Based Learning (TBL) is a highly structured, evidence-based small group instructional strategy designed around a sequence of learning modules, each incorporating a "readiness assurance process" (RAP) followed by a series of classroom-based "application activities" (AEs) requiring teams to make specific choices and report out solutions to relevant, significant problems. A TBL-based course typically includes 5-7 TBL modules, each 1-2 weeks in length, developed around important course concepts and student learning outcomes.

At its core, team-based learning (TBL) is about intentional course design aimed at improving student learning through the systematic use of student teams interacting regularly in structured learning activities. As Jim Sibley, one of the leading TBL advocates, notes, TBL is a "coherent framework for building an entire course experience."

Valuable Resources for Getting Started with TBL:

  • Getting Started with Team-Based Learning (Stylus, 2014), by Jim Sibley and Peter Ostafichuk, provides a pragmatic, instructor-focused introduction to Team-Based Learning (TBL). The book not only provides an overview of TBL, but lays out the "nuts and bolts" of implementing TBL in your courses. Much of the content below is derived from this book.
  • The LearnTBL website, developed and maintained by Jim Sibley, a generous TBL expert and highly-respected faculty developer at the University of British Columbia, provides a wealth of free TBL resources, including in-depth step-by-step instructions on building an entire TBL course. Many of the illustrations and ideas used here come from Jim's work and are used with his permission.
TBL originated in 1979, when Larry Michaelsen, a business faculty member at the University of Oklahoma, was looking for new ways to engage larger-size classes in effective problem-solving while also promoting student preparation prior to class. Since then, TBL has been implemented in a wide variety of disciplines at all levels of higher education.

TBL Modules: The Building Blocks of a TBL-Based Course

Each TBL module follows a carefully developed sequence of "readiness assurance" and "application activities" that work together to provide a powerful sequence of learning activities.

Step 1: Readiness Assurance Process

The Readiness Assurance portion of a TBL module is aimed at getting students ready for upcoming classes and typically involves students reading a textbook chapter or article, although it could also include videos or other resources. After completing the pre-class reading assignment, students

  • complete an individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT), typically a short multiple-choice quiz,
  • followed by an identical team-based Readiness Assurance Test (tRAT), with team members working collaboratively to answer the questions.
    Students can appeal tRAT questions they believe are incorrect or unclear, providing written arguments to justify their appeal - further deepening the learning process. This portion of the TBL module often ends with the instructor providing a mini-lecture on RAT questions that proved challenging or confusing to students during the tRAT.

Step 2: Application Activities (Application Exercises)

Application Activities [or what we'll refer to as Application Exercises (AEs)] provide student teams with opportunities to apply course concepts and ideas together in structured team activities aimed at promoting deeper understanding than students would achieve alone.

Application Exercises require students to apply course content to solve significant problems, developing higher-order critical and analytical thinking skills. Over the course of a module, student teams complete a variety of application exercises, building in complexity.

Bloom's Taxonomy: The Readiness Assurance portion of a TBL module starts students at the understand and apply stages of Bloom's taxonomy, while the Application Activities move students toward the apply, analyze, and evaluate stages of the taxonomy.

The Role of Teams in TBL

As the name suggests, teams are at the heart of TBL and its power to promote students' higher-order thinking skills. For in-depth information on developing high-performing teams, see the Forming Effective TBL Teams module page.