Team Based Learning

What is Team-Based Learning?

Allison Papini, Research and Instruction Librarian

Team-Based Learning (TBL) is an instructional strategy that combines case-based learning, flipped classroom, and group work. TBL can be used in any subject area, particularly in instances where case-based learning is used. This method removes the common pitfalls of group work, where it can be difficult to assess individual achievement and the faculty member is often asked to act as referee. Instead, systems are in place so that group members hold themselves and one another accountable, and personality conflicts can often be resolved without external intervention. More than this, students achieve higher levels of understanding through application activities.
TBL is traditionally broken into 4 essential elements:

  1. Teams must be properly formed and managed
  2. Students must be motivated to come to class prepared
  3. Students must use course concepts to solve problems, and
  4. Students must be truly accountable.

What does this look like?

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You’ll notice that the students are all involved in working together. In a well-facilitated TBL classroom, students are accountable for their pre-class preparation was well as their contributions while in class. The faculty members are not delivering extensive lectures: They are acting as facilitators and allowing the students to work together to learn. TBL is not intended to be used in one-shot classes. Rather, it should provide the framework for at least a course module.

The first phase of the TBL process, pre-class individual study, can be anything from assigned readings to instructor-recorded mini-lectures introducing the concepts to be explored in the following class. The first thing the students encounter in their face-to-face class session is the I-RAT, or individual readiness assurance test. This is a set of well-written multiple choice questions on the content the students were expected to learn prior to coming to class. Immediately following this is the T-RAT, or team readiness assurance test. Sometimes referred to as the GRAT, tThis test is identical to the IRAT, and the students are need to work with their team members to determine the correct answers. The students receive immediate feedback via IF-AT cards. This low-fidelity feedback method is surprisingly rewarding for students.

Next is the T-RAT discussion, where teams reveal their first choice for answers and have the opportunity to explain their reasoning. Imperfect test questions are revealed, and diverse ways of thinking can be discussed. This is not the time for students to lobby for their “right” answer- changes to the grades can be made after the team files a written appeal with their instructor.

The bulk of the class time will be taken up with application activities. The quickest way to get started with this is to use sample cases and ask the students to do anything from answer multiple choice questions to devise innovative solutions to real-world problems.

Finally at the end of the class session or module, the instructor may choose to give a mini-lecture emphasizing key points, or covering material that may have been missed if the class went in an unexpected direction.

There are recommendations out there for duration or number of classes in a TBL-taught course. Generally speaking, TBL works best when a class is scheduled for a chunk of time (3 hours instead of 1 hour) in order to allow time for the students to really delve into the application activities.

Faculty members who adopt Team-Based Learning in their classes will find a richer, more robust exchange of ideas with highly- motivated, engaged students.


Campus Resources
IF-AT Cards- Available through Office of Faculty Development

TBL Kits- Available in the library course reserves for faculty use

Related Reading
Balan, P., & Metcalfe, M. (2012). Identifying teaching methods that engage entrepreneurship students. Education & Training, 54(5), 368-384.

Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2008(116).

Parmelee, D. X., & Michaelsen, L. K. (2010). Twelve tips for doing effective Team-Based Learning (TBL). Medical Teacher, 32(2), 118-122.
Sibley, J., & Ostafichuck, P. (2014). Getting started with team-based learning. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

Sibley, J. & Spirindonoff, S. Introduction to Team-Based Learning. 

See the TBL websites at and

Podcast with Jim Sibley:

Timmerman, John E.; Morris, R. Franklin, Jr. Creation of Exercises for Team-Based Learning in Business. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, v27 n2 p280-291 2015.

The Least You Need to Know About TBL by Michael Sweet