Team-based Learning: a quick guide to understanding
Assessment, Best Practices, Collaboration, Innovative Instruction, Pedagogy

Team-Based Learning Quick Guide

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What is Team-Based Learning?

“Team-Based Learning is an evidence-based collaborative learning 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. A class typically includes one module.” 1

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Why incorporate Team-based Learning?

TBL covers all types of learning:

  • rote and concept learning tested by the individual assurance testing (iRAT)
  • collaborative learning when discussing and coming to consensus on the team readiness assurance test (gRAT/tRAT)
  • application and creative learning during the team case portion

In addition, it also encourages additional skills necessary to succeed in work/life today, such as:

  • problem-solving
  • teamwork
  • consensus
  • cooperation
  • leadership
  • listening skills
  • collaboration


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When should you incorporate Team-based Learning?

TBL is most successful when used on a consistent basis throughout the semester.  This is because the critical component to TBL is the ongoing, consistent team!  CIEL at Vancouver University states, “Groups are collections of individuals. Teams are groups who have developed a shared purpose and sense of collective responsibility. Groups evolve into teams when an instructor creates the proper conditions for effective collaboration.” 2  In order for these teams to gel and be successful they need to meet and work together on a regular basis otherwise, it’s just in class group work.

TBL can be used in any discipline so don’t shy away from the idea because you don’t immediately see how this will work for you.   A little web research will show you many case studies and problems that you can use to teach your concepts.  When choosing a case or problem remember, the teamwork is most effective “when used with assignments where students are asked to converge their diverse thinking in making a single, collective decision, much like a deliberative body.”2

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Creating the Teams

The teams are the most important part of TBL.  Here are a few rules to follow when making the groups:

  1. never use student-selected teams
  2. create diverse teams (balanced intellectual and personality resources)
  3. make the selection process transparent
  4. 5-7 students per team
  5. decide what criteria are important to the groups in your class, as well as detrimental.  Ex. had previous courses in the program.
  6. prioritize your criteria (good and bad)
  7. call out the first criteria and allow the students to self-determine if they meet the criteria or not

Learn more about creating your teams at Team Formation for TBL.

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The Process

Taught in modules (usually one per class) in three-step cycles: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing, and application focused exercise.  

  • Student Preparation:
    • must be done before the class – watching, reading, completing a worksheet, etc.
    • some give a reading/watching guide of things to look for and vocab to know.
  • In-class Readiness Assessment Test (RAT):

Step 1:  Students complete an individual RAT (5-20 questions) and submit it (this is not on the if-at) a.k.a. iRAT
These questions are based on the reading(s) and shouldn’t be an easy yes/no answer.  They are multiple choice but should require some thought and application.

Step 2: Students get into their teams and take the same RAT together (uses if-at) a.k.a. tRAT or gRAT
All answers must be agreed upon by the entire team so if there is a discrepancy, the students have to try to convince the other students on the team until they come to a consensus.  This is the same test they took earlier as an individual.  

Team reads the question and discusses it.
They then scratch off the answer they agree upon on the If-At scratch-off.
If it is correct they see a star and get full points.
If it is incorrect they have to discuss again and give it another go.
They continue to scratch answers until they receive the correct one.  Their points decrease every time they incorrectly scratch.

Step 3: Teams are given the opportunity to appeal answers they got incorrect.  This is a formal process in writing where they state their Argument then provide Evidence with page numbers from the readings that back their argument.

Step 4: Professor conducts a clarifying lecture of what the students didn’t grasp, based on the RAT scores.

  • Application Exercise:
    • students are given a problem or challenge and they must come to a team consensus to choose the “best” solution.  These problems do not have one right answer.
    • the teams discuss their findings and solution with the class.

The application-based exercises are very case-based and should include the following:

  • Significant: demonstrates a concepts usefulness.
  • Specific choice: based on course concepts.  Ex which procedure is BEST to use and why.
  • Same problem: all teams receive the same problem.
  • Simultaneous report to the class in a discussion.


  • Instructors can give a worksheet to the teams that teach them to think through a problem by walking them through the process, how to dissect a statement and make an argument.

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Student to Student feedback at midterm and final

This feedback is critical to the success of a long-term team so these evaluations are an important part of the process.  The feedback should be positive and constructive.  Here are some ideas for questions:

  • One thing they appreciate about this team member
  • One thing they request of this team member
  • Distribute points among the members
    • Look at Preparation, Contribution, Gatekeeping, Flexibility
  • Also, include what they appreciate/request about the instructor

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Sample Case Repositories

Public Health

Exercise Science



COFC ONLY – Does this seem at all interesting?  If so, contact me and I’ll give you the IF-AT scratch-off cards to use in your class.  They include instructions and a test-maker!  This offer is first come, first serve so don’t wait!  Email using your CofC email to let me know you want them.

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Team-Based Learning Collaborative

Team-Based Learning Video

Yale Center for Teaching and Learning: Team-based Learning

What is Team-Based Learning? from the Center for Innovation and Excellence in Learning