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Team-based learning

Information on team-based learing and how you can use it as part of your teaching.

Norsk versjon - Teambasert læing | Topic page for Teaching and learning support for teachers


Team-based learning is a method that promotes active learning and participation when then there are many students in a class. The method is based in constructive learning theory, where students actively engage with the subject material to learn, and sociocultural learning theory with Vygotsky’s theory about the zone of proximal development. The zone of proximal development is the idea that in collaboration with their peers and people who know more than them students can gradually learn more through trial and error and constantly being pulled towards greater knowledge. These ideas are central in team-based leaning to create synergy (Mickaelsen & Sweet, 2008).

Team-based learning is a group-based learning method. It consists of sessions of groupwork throughout the semester which help to grow independent teams who help each other perform better and develop deep-learning skills (Mickaelsen & Sweet, 2008). Groupwork in team-based learning is essential to give students the practical skills needed to apply theory in practical settings. The educator sets the leaning outcome aims for the course and chooses the problems for the teams to solve, but it the student in their team with peers work towards leaning the knowledge needed to solve the problems and thereby achieving the learning outcomes.

Team-based learning is used by educators at NTNU already, here are some resources you can use as inspiration:

The benefits of team-based learning

Students’ learning outcomes with team-based learning are much greater than the outcomes achieved through traditional lecturing (Chen, M. et al. 2018, Swanson, E. et al. 2019). Students get more than factual knowledge with team-based learning, they get deep-learning as a result of solving complex problems together. The students gain an understanding of the importance of a well-constructed team which gives many advantages in working life. This way of learning can also help contribute to increased motivation and add variety to teaching.

Team-based learning transforms the lecture theatre from a quiet place of listening to a place full of energy and enthusiasm which is rewarding for both students and educators. Team work makes the students feel a sense of responsibility for their teams which means they prepare themselves more effectively and take part in classes actively.

Educators spend more time walking around the classroom talking to students and taking part in discussions during class. This means that the educator builds up relationships with more students despite large class sizes.

How does team-based learning work?

The educator splits the students into smaller groups of around 7 to 9 pieces. The groups should not be random, they need to be curated by the teacher so that each group has members with different backgrounds and strengths. The teams are unchanging throughout the semester.

You don’t have to work with team-based learning in each session, but to get the best effect from the learning form it is important that sessions of team-based learning are a thread throughout the semester. The students challenge each other and by working together will stretch themselves towards new knowledge and new problem solving skills. It’s important that the team has a sense of connection to each other and that the members feel responsible for the group’s overall presentation. Feeling like a part of a team motivates the students to prepare more thoroughly for the sessions and work well with the issues during the sessions.

A key element of team-based learning is that the group needs to work on comprehensive problems and complex tasks. Issues should often be based on real-life situations students may face in the future. The close link to real world situations makes team-based learning a popular choice for teaching in the medicine, health and education studies. The issues and problems the teams solve during the sessions should encourage interaction. Tasks that get students to discuss, interact and make decisions give better learning than tasks that involved producing longer texts (Mickaelsen & Sweet, 2008). This idea links to Bloom’s taxonomy of learning and the view that learning through sythesis, solving problems of many interacting elements, and evaluation are the best ways to promote higher cognitive activities an deeper learning (Bloom, Krathwohl, & Masia,. 1985). These learning methods are all important parts of team-based learning.

How does a sequence of team-based learning work?

You can use team-based learning as an element in a complete course design. A sequence of team-based learning can last anything from a couple of hours to a few weeks. A complete sequence involves preparatory work, individual work during class time, team work both in and outside of class time, and time set off for evaluation at the end of the sequence. It’s a good idea for each team-based learning sequence to last at least a couple of lectures.

Preparatory work

Students read on their own. The educator prepares a short, relevant reading list for the students.

On campus

1. Individually: Students take a small test based on what they have read. They take this individually first. The test should give an indication of how well prepared the students are. In literature about team-based learning this is often called an individual readiness assured test (iRAT).

2. In teams: The students gather in teams and then take the same test again together. Here they will be able to discuss their answers and find solutions. The test can contain simple right / wrong questions, but it is also advisable to include questions with multiple solutions. Students learn a lot from discussing different solutions together. In literature about team-based learning this is often called a team readiness assured test (tRAT).

3. In plenary: Students present their answers and the various solutions are discussed. Giving immediate feedback to the students is important for both learning and knowledge retention.

4. In Plenary: The educator goes through the topic for the session and discusses issues which emerged during the iRAT and tRAT. This part of the learning sequence is the part that looks most like a traditional lecture.

5. In teams: The teams work on a more comprehensive problem together. The group work can go over several sessions or involve the teams working together in their spare time.

Group evaluation

Group evaluation is a central part of team based learning. It is important that students are accountable to the other members of their group and that they want to improve their learning and results. Evaluation gives students time for self-assessment and reflection over their learning outcomes. This is very important for effective learning.

It can be helpful to show students the results both of their individual reading test results and their teams reading test results. This help underlines how effective team based learning is and prevents attitudes that one or two team members carry the entire group from spreading. In a study of over 20 years and over 1600 teams, Michaelson, Knight, and Fink (2004) have found that in 99.9% of cases, the team's result is better than the strongest member on the team. Team based learning creates synergy!

At the end of the semester

Team-based learning involves a lot of self-directed learning that can make students less aware of how much they have learned. Therefore, it is important to reinforce and emphasize the curriculum they have gone through during the semester. Towards the end of the course, it is important to make explicit learning objectives and outcomes achieved.

Digital technology in team-based learning

There are many ways to form a team-based learning sequence and the use of digital tools in this process can be an important resource. The Center for Teaching and Learning disseminates information about both teaching methods and tools for learning. Some tools that can contribute to effective team-based learning are:

  • The Blackboard learning management system. Good use of Blackboard has many advantages when setting up a team based learning design. Here you can post information, split the class into team, and not least communicate progress plans with students and teams.
  • Tools for collaboration. When students need to collaborate, they may need a place to write and communicate together. Both One Note and Word from NTNU's Office 365 package provide opportunities for co-writing.
  • Student response systems. To get instant feedback in large lecture halls from all students individually or in groups, it may be an idea to use a student response system (SRS). SRS such as Mentimenter allows the teacher to ask a variety of questions and get answers and feedback immediately. The answers can then be used as a starting point for discussion or as a help to check learning progression.

References and sources

  • Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., and Fink, L. D. Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching.Sterling, Va.: Stylus, 2004.


Contact Section for Teaching and Learning Support for help with team-based learning through NTNU Help.