Team-based Learning (TBL)


Team-based learning (TBL) is a collaborative, small group instructional method that helps to integrate active learning into any style classroom and as part of deliberately planned instruction and curriculum design (MichaelsonSweet & Parmalee, 2009)As its name suggests, team-based learning consists of small student teams (5-7 members) working through a defined set of instructional activities before and during classThe structure of TBL enables a high level of student engagement in learning and also applies direct instruction to achieve designated learning objectives 

The foundation of team-based learning is in social interdependence theory, which suggests that an individual’s goals are affected by the actions of others (Johnson, 1970 and others). Social interdependence can take two forms, positive and negative (Johnson, 1970; Johnson & Johnson, 1989, 1995; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2007). Social interaction that is positive results in a focus on the members’ mutual interest in success. This positive interaction is characterized by good communication, social supports, trust, shared goals, and demonstration of effective conflict management results (Johnson & Johnson, 1995; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 2007). Negative interaction stems from self-interest and is characterized by competition and focus on one’s own goals and needs. Because small groups (teams) in TBL are strategically formed and permanent (to the extent possible), the aim is to foster positive social development of the team over timeEffective teams include members who move from a focus on self to a focus on others and the shared performance of the team. 

TBL includes three core components that characterize classroom implementation. These components are strategically formed permanent teams representing a diversity of members, ideas, and backgrounds; the readiness assurance process to check students understanding of core knowledge in that unit, and application exercises.  

TBL Stages  

The core stages of team-based learning include advanced preparation for class, in-class completion of an individual readiness assurance testing (iRAT)group readiness assurance test, appeals of answers, instructor input or clarifying lecture, application activities, and peer evaluation. These stages of TBL are repeated, ideally, five or more times across a semester or course (Sweet, 2011).     

Instructional Guidance Level Needed (Continuum of Guidance Low to High) 


Low guidance                                                           High guidance 

The facilitator enacts a moderate role in providing guidance in the facilitation of TBL in-class activities across each phase of instruction. The facilitator prepares and assigns pre-class and in-class materials, debriefs after group readiness testing, and prompts discussion during the appeals process.  Once gaps in student knowledge are revealed through these phases, the instructor offers input through just-in-time lectures. The instructor is responsible for the development of challenging in-class application exercises.   

Application exercises require planning and forethought by the instructor in order to create and facilitate exercises that meet the four “S” criteria: exercises represent a significant problem, (Significant problem), have a specific answer (Specific answer)ensure that all groups work on the same problem (Same problem), and to facilitate a simultaneous report of the answer (Simultaneous report).  

The video by Dr. Sweet included in this section helps to elaborate on these activities in more detail.    

Student Activity Level Required (Continuum of Engagement and Activity Low to High) 

Low engagement                                                       High engagement 

In a typical TBL classroom, students are responsible for intellectual engagement for their group mates (e.g. preparing advance materials or reading), contributing to group work (offering answers and rationales for an answer during the gRat process)writing appeals if group answers depart from the answers of the class, and engaging in course activities during the application exercises. 

How to do it?  

Instructors should clearly articulate the course learning goals in order to determine if TBL is the right instructional choice. For example, medical schools have integrated TBL into an overall curriculum strategy, where many groups of students in many classrooms experience TBL simultaneously in the basic science phase of the curriculum (see Thompson, et al., 2007)More than 50% of medical schools use TBL for some form of instruction (AAMC, 2018); however, any discipline or style classroom can including law, history, medicine, engineering, or art.   

For a view of the TBL classroom experience, please view this video by Dr. Michael Sweet: 

Typically, TBL groups should include 6-8 students and a faculty facilitator. TBL sessions should repeat 5-7 times during a semester, with more than one opportunity for peer evaluation and formative feedback. Class size for use of the TBL approach may include 25 or several hundred students. Schools implementing TBL on this large of a scale should be clear on the resources required for support, preparation, and execution of TBL in this way. 

Assessment in TBL 

Assessment in TBL comes from a variety of sources such as individual readiness testing, group readiness scores, peer evaluation, course examinations, and in-class application exercises.  The weights afforded to each type of assessment will vary based on the aims of the instructor, discipline, or curriculum. Often TBL instructors allow students to determine the weighting for peer evaluation.  More information on the peer evaluation process and tools can be found here; (Cestone, Levine, & Lane, 2008)  

Instructional Classroom Time 

90 minutes to 2 hours per session 

Online Options 

There are three formats instructors can use to implement TBL in an online setting: 1) fully synchronous format, 2) a fully asynchronous format, or 3) a hybrid model that includes both synchronous and asynchronous elements.  


In the synchronous model, the class meets virtually at the same timeBelow is an example of how a 2-hour synchronous TBL session could be structured (O’Dwyer, n.d.).    

Example synchronous session 

  • Introduction (10 minutes) 
  • iRAT (20 minutes)
  • tRAT (15 minutes) 
  • Clarifications (15 minutes) 
  • Application Exercises (20 minutes) 
  • Facilitated Discussion (25 minutes) 
  • Closing (15 minutes) 

In the asynchronous model, students access course materials and participate in activities at different times. Generally, more time will be needed to complete a single TBL cycle asynchronously than would be required in a face-to-face format or in a synchronous online format.  The following table offers examples of how a 1-week cycle and a 3-week cycle might be structured (O'Dwyer, n.d.). 


1-week cycle 

3-week cycle 

Week 1Monday 



Week 1Tuesday 



Week 1: Wednesday 



Week 1: Thursday 



Week 1: Friday 



Week 1: Saturday 



Week 1: Sunday 



Week 2: Monday 



Week 2: Tuesday 



Week 2: Wednesday 



Week 2: Thursday 



Week 2: Friday 



Week 2: Saturday 



Week 2: Sunday 



Week 3: Monday 



Week 3: Tuesday 



Week 3: Wednesday 


Application discussion 

Week 3: Thursday 


Application discussion 

Week 3: Friday 


Application discussion 

Week 3: Saturday 


Application discussion 

Week 3: Sunday 


Application discussion 

 entire TBL course could be structured in an asynchronous format. For advice on adherence to best practices in conducting TBL within online courses please see “Off to On: Best Practices for Online Team-Based Learning” by Clark et al., 2018.  One potential sequence: 

  1. Orientation module 
    • Overview 
      • Overview of the course requirements (including technical requirements), the course content, and an introduction to TBL. 
    • Introductions 
      • Instructors and students should introduce themselves to begin establishing social presence. 
    • Team formation assignments 
    • Practice 
      • Teams should be given an opportunity to experience a practice cycle of TBL, consisting of an iRATtRAT, and an application exercise 
  2. Instructional module 
    • Pre-Class Preparation 
    • Readiness assurance 
      • iRAT 
      • tRAT 
      • Team Appeals 
      • Instructor Feedback 
    • Application Exercises 
      • Team Discussion (+ instructor feedback) 
      • Simultaneous report (if feasible) 
      • Class discussion (+ instructor feedback) 
  3. Peer Evaluation module (after every 3 modules) 
Hybrid (synchronous & asynchronous)

While there are any number of ways to combine synchronous and asynchronous elements together into a cohesive experience, one possibility offered by O’Dwyer (n.d.) is to use a synchronous format for the first few TBL cycles and then switch to an asynchronous format once students gain experience. 

Key considerations for online TBL 

  • Preparation is vital and will take more time.  
  • Technology plays a key role and requires coordination, practice, and the ability to troubleshoot and adapt when technical challenges arise. 
  • More explicit communication is needed 
  • Smaller team sizes are recommended 
  • More frequent peer evaluation is recommended 
Other resources  

Association of American Medical Colleges,, 2018, Curriculum inventory data and research.   

Cestone, C. M., Levine, R. E., & Lane, D. R. (2008) Peer assessment and evaluation in team-based learning. In L. K. Michaelsen & L. D. Fink (Eds.) Team-Based Learning: Small Group Learning’s Next Big Step [Special Issue]New Directions in Teaching and Learning, (Vol. 116, pp. 69-78). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Online Library  

Clark, M., Merrick, L., Styron, J., Dolowitz, A., Dorius, C., Madeka, K., Bender, H., Johnson, J., Chapman, J., Gillette, M., Dorneich, M., O’Dwyer, B., Grogan, J., Brown, T., Leonard, Br., Rongerude, J., Winter, L. (2018). Off to on: Best practices for online Team-Based Learning 

Koles PG, Stolfi A, Borges NJ, Nelson S, Paremelee DX. (2010). The impact of team-based learning on medical students’ academic performance. Academic Medicine, 85: 1739-1745. 

Levine RE, O’Boyle M, Haidet P, Lynn DJ, Stone MM, Wolf DV, and Paniagua FA. (2004). Transforming a clinical clerkship with team learning. Teaching and Learning in Medicine, 16: 270-275. 

Michaelson, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2011). Teambased learning in New directions for teaching and learningSmall Group Learning’s Next Big StepNew Directions in Teaching and Learning(128), 41-51. 

Michaelsen, L., Sweet, M. & Parmalee, D. (2009) Team-Based Learning: Small Group Learning’s Next Big StepNew Directions in Teaching and Learning, 7-27  

O’Dwyer, B. (n.d.). Implementing TBL in an Online Environment, Prework Slides.  

Parmalee, D.X. & Michaelson, L.K. (2010) Twelve-tips for doing effective team-based learning, Medical Teacher, 32(2), 118-122. 

Thompson, B.M. et al., (2007). Team-based learning at 10 medical schools: Two years later. Medical Education, 41, 250-257. 

Creative Commons License

Team-based Learning by Christina Cestone and Becky Menendez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Revised 3/31/2020

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