Monday, June 8, 2009

Team-Based Learning

Team-based learning is “an instructional strategy that is “based on procedures for developing high performance learning teams that can dramatically enhance the quality of student learning.” (1) Put another way, it is the use of small groups in college teaching. Most of us are familiar with small-group learning at some level, either by being a member of a small group in our education, or by fashioning them for use in a class that we teach. Why are we seeing a growth in such forms of teaching?

In part, I think it is due to the fact that younger learners are more conversant with technology, are less tolerant of lecture settings, and are tired of passive learning settings. Small groups not only enhance learning, but they also foster interpersonal skill development. And finally, small groups can be an exciting new method for teachers to use to help engage their learners. According to Fink, small-group learning is transformational, driving four separate kinds of transformation:

- Transforming small groups into teams
- Transforming technique into strategy
- Transforming the quality of learning
- Transforming the joy of teaching

Further, Fink also notes that there are three different ways to use small groups: casual use, cooperative learning, and team-based learning. Casual use represents the first use by an instructor, where perhaps after delivering a short lecture the instructor then asks students to pair up with the person sitting next tot hem to discuss a question or solve a problem. After allowing a short period of time to pass, the instructor then calls on some of those students to provide a response. Cooperative learning is a bit more complex. It requires advance planning, regular use of small groups, role assignment, and so on. However, it does not require any significant change in the current structure or format of the course in which it occurs. The small group activities simply are fit into that structure. The pinnacle, then, is team-based learning. Here, the structure of the course in changed in order to most effectively take advantage of what are now called learning teams. These teams require commitment from students and a desire to solve problems beyond the abilities of any single member. (1, p. 7)

Fink notes that for learning teams to be used, a course need only have a body of information that students need to understand, and that the students learning how to apply the content by solving problems or resolving issues. A classic example of this approach could be embodied in the small group process of problem-based learning in healthcare education. Lastly, Fink defines team-based learning as “a particular instructional strategy that is designed to (a) support the development of high performance learning teams and (b) provide opportunities for these teams to engage in significant learning tasks.” (1, p. 9)

It is likely we all use at least a small measure of team-based learning in our teaching; the question is how to systematize doing so at a higher level. The text by Michaelson, Knight and Fink provides a detailed examination in how to do so.


1. Michaelson LK, Knight AB, Fink LD, editors. Team-based learning: a transformatice use of small groups in college teaching. Sterling, VA; Stylus Publishing 2004:vi

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