5 Common Pitfalls and Effective Solutions in Team-based Learning

Sep 13, 2021 • 3min read


The landscape of active learning continues to grow and team-based learning (TBL) has become increasingly widely accepted, with a 12% increase in publications between 2006-2020. However, poor implementation, substandard construction, and lack of adherence to the essentials of TBL have diminished the effectiveness of TBL and also clouded the literature. In this article, we present the five most common pitfalls that a TBL practitioner should avoid.

Pitfalls and challenges: Here are five common pitfalls in TBL and a brief explanation of why they are a problem.

  1. Breaking the 4S’s: Insignificant problems are different for every team where it is unclear what students are supposed to understand, limiting deep learning.

  2. Explaining every readiness assessment test (RAT) question: It wastes valuable problem-solving time and is unnecessary if most teams got them right.

  3. Differing iRAT & tRAT questions: It diminishes deep learning acquired through peer-teaching, communication, and immediate feedback.

  4. Students select their own teammates: It limits the development of high-performing teams and problem-solving. It sometimes promotes groupthink and underperformance.

  5. New material is presented during the instructor clarification: Presenting new material during the clarification may lead to missed opportunities to clarify crucial concepts covered in the RAT to enable students to apply concepts to real-world situations.

Independently, each pitfall is problematic, but collectively the impact significantly reduces the effectiveness of TBL.

Solutions and their Rationale: Now, let’s figure out how to avoid these pitfalls.

  1. Adhere to the 4S’s by making a checklist of the 4S’s and check that each application contains the 4S’s. This will improve applications and answer the students’ questions “Why do I need to learn this? and How am I supposed to apply this in my future career?

  2. Clearing up the muddiest points to focus on the concepts that remain elusive. InteDashboard’s real-time data provides insights to educators on trouble-spots to focus on. This promotes deeper learning because students can apply these clear concepts to problems.

  3. Use the same iRAT & tRAT questions that focus on the key concepts from the reading.

  4. Instructor formed teams that distribute perspective and resources through transparent methods. Consider randomization or “survey” to distribute talent.

  5. Assigning an advanced activity focused on key concepts that scaffold the most crucial information to be applied in solving problems. Alignment between the advanced activity, RAT questions, application exercises, and learning outcomes is imperative for student success. Consider tagging questions for alignment.

InteDashboard has several features that can help avoid these pitfalls: question statistics, adhering to the 4S’s, simultaneously create an iRAT & tRAT, tagging (topic) of questions, and forming teams ahead of time. We challenge TBL practitioners to follow best practices and traditional tenets of TBL to avoid pitfalls and achieve student learning outcomes.


  1. Dean Parmelee, Larry K. Michaelsen, Sandy Cook & Patricia D. Hudes (2012) Team-based learning: A practical guide: AMEE Guide No. 65, Medical Teacher, 34:5, e275-e287, DOI: 10.3109/0142159X.2012.651179
  2. Winter, E., Clark, M. C., & Burns C. (2021). Team-based learning brings academic rigor, collaboration, and community to online learning. In Thurston, T. N., Lundstrom, K., & González, C. (Eds.), Resilient pedagogy: Practical teaching strategies to overcome distance, disruption, and distraction (pp. 202-224). Utah State University. https://doi.org/10.26079/a516-fb24

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