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If you are not familiar with TBL or Team-Based-Learning then you may be wondering, “what the heck is it and what makes it different from other traditional teaching methodologies that students are sometimes required to participate in?” Well, let me start by saying it is like night & day. Michael Sweet, co-author of the book “Team Based Learning in the Social Sciences and Humanities: Group Work that Works to Generate Critical Thinking and Engagement,” describes TBL as the following:

“A special form of collaborative learning using a specific sequence of individual work, group work and immediate feedback to create a motivational framework in which students increasingly hold each other accountable for coming to class prepared and contributing discussion”.

Students who are typically required to participate in special group projects or unstructured in-class group-study, gain many benefits from the learning experience. However, unlike TBL, required unstructured “in-class group-study” (generally speaking) does not produce the same level of consistently high individual participant engagement, preparedness and overall understanding.

Many times it is difficult for instructors to gage the level of work individuals put into understanding the course material assigned through loosely-structured group-projects or in-class-group-study. It is even more difficult for the individual group participants, who sometimes feel that everyone in their assigned group may not be doing their fair share of the work and are not fully engaged in the learning process. Although these issues exist with unstructured group-projects, this form of learning methodology is commonly used because it effectively shifts the academic focus from instructor-led-lecture to student-self-discovery.

Team-Based-Learning is setting the standard for alternative learning methodology. This is due to the way TBL is structured; how students are prepared for the process; and the level of individual accountability placed on students.

First off, students are held accountable for their individual learning through a Readiness Assurance Process called (RAP) which requires pre-class reading and that foundational knowledge is obtained for the necessary in-class team work that will be required.


When students meet for class they are immediately tested individually on the key concepts of the course material they will be working with their teams on. This process forces individuals to be prepared for the team work they are responsible for completing. Following the required individual student testing, each team must complete the same test as a group, using what’s called “scratch and win” testing cards or IF-AT (Immediate Feedback Assessment Technique). This group testing and how it is conducted is extremely important and creates the type of team learning dynamics that drive meaningful discussion, interaction, debate and understanding.

TBL has the following key design principles that are at the core of its success:

  1. Large Teams (5 – 7 members) that are diverse and permanent.
  2. Leaner Accountability requiring pre-class work and team contribution.
  3. Complex Decision Making calling for the use of course material and simple reporting methods.
  4. Frequent-Timely-Feedback is provided to students by instructors.

The TBL methodology requires structured “In-Class Activities” that are rooted in the 4 S’s. Teams are assigned Significant Problems; Teams must work on the Same Problems; Each team must make Specific Choices; and teams must Simultaneously Report on their decisions.

Future of TBL and SGI:

I believe that TBL will ultimately become a preferred teaching practice, not only in medical and business school programs, but all higher learning institutions looking for successful educational strategies with proven results. SGI will be a leading provider of TBL educational tools by developing unique and specialized collaborative tools required for programs committed to TBL. SGI’s mission, core principles and learner centric goals supplement the Team Based Learning methodology.

Imagine combining the core concepts of TBL and SGI’s powerful collaborative platform features:

  • Team Based Learners would individually register and post their educational profiles on SGI.
  • Instructors could create diverse teams quickly and easily by using student educational profiles.
  • Students are able to easily collaborate on projects both in and outside of the class room.
  • Real-time, automated “Ready Assurance” testing can be conducted utilizing dynamically designed tools.
    • Students complete automated i-RAT’s via mobile devices for immediate results that are communicated to instructors.
    • Teams complete automated t-RAT’s and IF-AT’s online for instant documented results.
    • Teams “Simultaneously Report” decisions through SGI’s TBL platform available to all participants through online collaborative tools.

I envision a 21st Century TBL curriculum the takes full advantage of technological advances without diminishing the overall learning experience, but instead creating an opportunity for TBL to be used in a virtual “Global-Classroom” setting for a truly far-reaching impact.

Tell us what you think!

For additional information on TBL go to http://tblc.roundtablelive.org/starting

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