What is team-based learning?

Greater workforce efficiency and productivity, higher employee morale, improved employee retention, and increased innovation are just a few of the many benefits of good teamwork in the workplace. This is no secret to business leaders and managers, but what may be new to some is the value of team-based learning in the corporate world. 

Team-based learning (TBL) is a collaborative learning and teaching strategy that was first popularized in the 1970s by Larry Michaelsen, a Professor Emeritus of Management at the University of Oklahoma. Similar to problem-based and case-based learning, TBL presents teams with complex problems rooted in real-world situations.

Team-based learning was initially developed as an educational strategy for academic settings. By engaging students with the kinds of scenarios they will encounter in the working world, TBL is intended to enhance critical thinking and active learning. It has been incorporated into Masters in Business Administration (MBA) curricula for the last decade, and MBA programs using a team-based approach have unlocked enormous potential by allowing diverse students to collaborate and learn about different viewpoints and working styles.

While the team-based learning approach has seen wide adoption in the educational sphere, more and more businesses are realizing the value of TBL for a wide range of corporate learning objectives. As the global pandemic forced employees out of the office and into virtual environments, the need for new forms of collaboration and organization has highlighted the importance of ongoing team-based development opportunities. 

Team-based discovery learning is here to stay (yes, even for the hybrid workforce), and it’s time for the corporate world to catch up. 

Key characteristics of team-based learning

The team-based learning approach in business satisfies three important criteria that promote optimal learning:

  1. Learners are immersed in a practical, ongoing activity
  2. Learning is multi-directional, with feedback from other learners and the instructor
  3. Learning is functional and based on a real problem

It is through this process of reflection and collaboration that learners are able to engage and become active participants in their own learning. 

New skills require a new approach

The World Economic Forum identified the top 15 skills needed for 2025 in its “The Future of Jobs”report:

  1. Analytical thinking and innovation
  2. Active learning and learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving
  4. Critical thinking and analysis
  5. Creativity, originality, and initiative
  6. Leadership and social influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring, and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation
  11. Emotional intelligence
  12. Troubleshooting and user experience
  13. Service orientation
  14. Systems analysis and evaluation 
  15. Persuasion and negotiation

By leveraging the strengths and experiences of all team members, team-based learning is well-equipped to develop many of these skills more effectively than traditional instructor driven formats, or individual learning experiences.

Another key advantage of TBL is the benefit of team brainstorming, which increases the number of possible ideas to solve a problem. While an individual may see a problem from a limited number of perspectives, a team is able to increase the quality of deliverables and hone critical skills through divergent thinking. When a learning team is comprised of individuals who work together in a business unit, enhanced team rapport and collaboration capabilities is a natural offshoot of any team-based learning experience.

The challenges of team-based learning

The backbone of the entire team-based learning approach is the creation of effective team exercises. In practice, this can also be its greatest challenge.

Michaelsen et al. (2004) indicate that a well-conceived TBL exercise should:

  • Promote a high level of individual accountability
  • Motivate vigorous discussion
  • Present teams with a set of specific choices that requires the use of course concepts to arrive at a decision
  • Prompt individual thinking, which contributes to intense intra-team discussion
  • Encourage individual accountability
  • Promote closer physical proximity during the team discussion
  • Promote a high level of interaction and discussion within the team

To achieve these objectives, team-based learning activities need to present a careful choice of problems and scenarios to help reveal common misconceptions and promote lively interaction and debate among team members.

The other challenge is one of proximity. A team must be able to interact freely in a safe space where all team members are engaged and attentive. The best way to create such a space has been on many learning leaders’ minds over the past two years, but in truth global teams have been figuring out how to best work together long before the onset of the pandemic. The rise of stable tech platforms that enable remote collaboration is one significant factor. Today’s conversation has less to do with the tech itself and more to do with ways to engage geographically dispersed team members.

Effective team-driven exercises for the hybrid workforce

Effective team-driven discovery learning requires a thorough understanding of the requirements and desired outcomes. Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM platform delivers immersive learning experiences that are custom-designed to address a specific organization’s needs. The end result: a richer and more relevant learning experience in a team environment. 

Our ExperienceBUILDER digital design platform takes the team-based learning methodology to the next level by presenting learners with complex challenges based on real-world dilemmas. Learners work in teams to consider important concepts, determine critical variables, and anticipate potential impact on a combination of business metrics to make a collective decision. These simulations offer multiple paths and no clear-cut right or wrong answers, which means that learners must engage in deep discussions and vigorous debate to move forward. 

By immersing and engaging hybrid and remote teams of learners in team-based learning experiences, ExperienceBUILDER is transforming the way that businesses build new knowledge and skills.

Would you like to learn more about how team-driven discovery learning can support your business objectives for the hybrid workforce? Contact us to schedule a consultation. 

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