Our approach to learning: team-based learning

In BSc (Hons) Medical Physiology

This innovative course in Medical Physiology will be delivered using Team-Based Learning (TBL). TBL is a transformative use of small groups in higher education that follows a precise sequence of learning activities through a process of out-of-class preparation, in-class testing and application of knowledge followed by review and consolidation activities. This teaching strategy promotes a student centred, accountable and sustainable learning environment. TBL moves classroom time away from passive content delivery by the instructor, towards application of knowledge by student learning teams using a strategy in which students actively engage in the learning process. TBL is used successfully across the UK and worldwide and is proven to develop deep understanding of issues and promotes sustainable learning. Graduates will leave Plymouth with strong subject-specific knowledge and also with the confidence, ability and desire to apply problem solving skills in a workplace environment.

How does TBL work?

  • TBL shifts the focus of classroom time away from passive delivery of material by instructors to the application of course content by student learning teams. At the beginning of the semester, students are allocated to teams of 5-7 students. Each team is balanced with individuals with different characteristics, skills and backgrounds and which work together for the entire semester. There are three phases of the TBL process; an out-of-class preparation phase, an in-class ‘readiness-assurance process’ and an in-class ‘application phase’.
  • In the preparation phase, students prepare for class by studying material that would previously have been delivered as a lecture using learning resources, study guides, book chapters, web resources etc. signposted by instructors.
  • The second phase of TBL involves two ‘readiness assurance tests’. Students come into class and are tested on assigned material using brief multiple choice questionnaires. There is incentive to prepare for these tests since the first test is summative and taken individually (individual readiness assure test; iRAT) which is followed immediately by an identical summative test taken by the team (team readiness assure test; tRAT). During the tRAT, students discuss the questions as a team, agree an answer and are provided with immediate feedback as to whether they are correct or not. This phase ensures students come to class prepared about the topic in advance. It motivates them to come to class and rewards them for their preparation. Furthermore, during this phase, instructors are present and able to provide informed instruction and feedback to the class on troublesome concepts or ideas.
  • The third phase is the application phase. This is probably the most important phase of the process. In class, each team works on a series of identical exercises in which their knowledge and concepts acquired out-of-class and tested in-class, are applied to solving authentic and challenging problems. In-team discussions generate answers to the problems. All teams work on the same problems and show their answers simultaneously. Instructor-facilitated debate requires that the teams justify their answers. This phase is open-book to allow interactive, resource-rich debate which leads to a deeper understanding of course content.


Why does TBL work?

  • Teams focus on making group decisions rather than individual assignments.
  • Teams problem-solving skills improve with focus changing from ‘who is right’ to ‘what is right’.
  • Activities progress from conveying course content to applying course concepts.
  • Teams outperform best member.
  • Attention focuses on harder course concepts.
  • TBL works in both small and large class settings.

How students benefit from TBL

  • Students find learning more interesting, more fun and is sustainable.
  • TBL enables an active, individualised learning environment and removes the passivity and anonymity of the large lecture theatre.
  • TBL is built on students giving students feedback.
  • TBL gives accountability for students own learning and the effectiveness of their teams.
  • TBL promotes graduate and professionalism skills which are key employment attributes.