How does TBL Really Develop Critical Thinking Skills?

Aug 3, 2021 • 2min read


Critical thinking, it’s everywhere! How do I really know I’m doing it? 

Critical thinking skills are used routinely to build, strategize, and solve problems, make critical decisions, and for continued growth of the individual, institution, and company; accounting for increased efficacy, efficiency, and profits.  According to business leader reports from Forbes and Business Wire, employers  noted an increasing trend of new graduate Interviewees and Employees to be well equipped with the knowledge in performing their jobs; but significantly lack many soft skills like critical thinking. How can educators ensure that the students are not only developing hard skills required to excel in a job role, but are also developing soft skills? Teaching students with team-based learning is one such way. But how does team-based learning impact critical thinking? 

It has been well established through qualitative anecdotal evidence that TBL increases student critical thinking skills, yet quantification of this impact is devoid. In 2021, Silberman et. al., investigated the impact of two-years of TBL instruction on critical thinking in pharmacy students. Researchers used the Health Science Reasoning Test, a validated instrument to quantify critical thinking skills of undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a career in health sciences. Critical thinking skills are imperative to health care professionals as they provide life and death guidance to patients.  

Critical thinking encompasses eight domains including analysis, deduction, evaluation, explanation, induction, inference, interpretation, and numeracy. In this study, the majority of students demonstrated improvement in at least one domain with significant differences observed between pre- and post-assessment.

So why might TBL bolster critical thinking skills? During the TBL process, the majority of time is spent solving problems in groups. Through this process, peer teaching occurs in the form of countless opportunities for intra- and inter-team discussion. During this period, students explain their thought processes to their team and/or to the class in defense of selected answer choice, thus building metacognition for self. Further, students demonstrating this metacognitive behavior, models the tenets of metacognitive processes, namely, planning, monitoring, and assessing/evaluating one’s comprehension and/or accomplishment. Certainly, additional research is needed to be able to extrapolate these findings to the wider learning community. However, this is the first known quantitative analysis of the impact of TBL on critical thinking skills as opposed to academic performance measures or satisfaction. To most effectively build critical thinking skills in our learners, best practice in the development, design, and implementation of TBL is necessary. It is recommended that faculty highlight the need for critical thinking in achieving academic and workplace success and honor the role of facilitator of knowledge as opposed to the deliverer.

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