Team-based Learning (TBL) is a highly effective teaching approach that promotes student engagement, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. When designing a TBL course, educators are encouraged to adopt the backward design approach (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005). The backward design approach suggests that instructors should identify the intended learning outcomes first. This approach helps instructors better align the instructional techniques and learning experiences to best achieve specific learning outcomes.
Too often, instructors design their courses by thinking of the topic and resources needed first, rather than the session and course learning outcomes. The pitfall of this approach is that it may result in a disconnected course that fails to align with the intended learning outcomes, leading to poor student engagement and learning retention (Abdullah, Alfauzan, Tarchouna, and Nessima, 2017).
Basic steps in backward design
To design an effective TBL course using backward design, there are three steps to follow.
Step 1: Identify the learning outcomes of the course.
The learning outcomes should describe what students should know or be able to do at the end of the course. Bloom's Taxonomy is a widely used framework for creating effective learning objectives (Biggs and Tang, 2011).
Educators can use Bloom's Taxonomy to identify various verbs that help to create clear and measurable learning outcomes that reflect the level of learning the educators want their students to achieve. It helps educators design outcomes and consider outcomes from lower-level cognitive skills to higher-order cognitive skills. You may read more about Bloom’s Taxonomy here.
Many people also use the following mnemonic as a strategy for developing comprehensive learning outcomes: ABCD(E).
A - Audience: a reminder that the outcomes should be learner-centered - what the learner should be able to do - not what the educator is planning to do.
B - Behavior: describe the observable behavior or learning outcome you expect to see or measure, using a verb (e.g., Bloom's Taxonomy).
C - Condition: describe under what conditions you will determine if the learner has met the objective (outcome) - this is typically an assessment and should be mapped to a verb.
D - Degree: describe the passing criteria from which you can develop a scoring rubric.
E - Environment: describe the learning environment required to achieve the behavior or outcome.
Here is an example using the mnemonic as a strategy:
At the end of the workshop participants (A) should be able to:
Accurately (D) define (B) online tbl through MCQ (C) (or team discussion).
Reflect (B) on experience of being a learning in a simulated online synchronous modality using Gibbs Reflection Model (D) in the post session evaluation (C)
Draft (B) a comprehensive (D) online TBL through team application (C)
Step 2: Align assessments to measure students’ learning outcomes.
A part of crafting your learning outcomes is considering the assessment strategy you will use to ensure the learning outcomes are met. In TBL, the Readiness Assurance Test (RAT) and Applications are particularly effective as both formative and summative assessments that are incorporated into the learning experience (Fink, Knight, and Michaelsen, 2002). Your assessments need to have clear and specific criteria to determine the success of the student achieving the learning outcomes. It is also important to link your assessments to the learning outcomes. Each outcome should have an assessment, and each assessment should be linked to a learning outcome.
By analyzing these assessments, educators can determine whether students have met the learning outcomes. Information from assessments can also be used to provide feedback on the success of their efforts and if there may need to be any revisions in the learning outcomes, assessments, or activities in subsequent courses.
Step 3: Plan a learning environment that will prepare students to complete the assessments.
The final step is to plan a learning environment that will enable students to achieve the learning outcomes and prepare them to be successful in the assessments. This involves designing lessons that are interactive, engaging, and aligned with the outcomes and assessments of the course. Team-based Learning is one type of learning environment that achieves interactive, engaging, and aligned modules.
To put this in context of the backward design approach, after educators draft their learning outcomes, they link it to the Application activities. These activities should be designed to challenge students to apply what they have learned to solve complex problems or analyze real-world scenarios in a team-based setting. The most effective applications follow the 4S framework, which stands for "significant problem," "same problem," "specific choice," and "simultaneous report."
After creating the Application activities, the educators need to consider what types of questions will ensure the learners have the necessary fundamental knowledge to solve the application cases. These are written as single best answer multiple choice questions and focus on fundamental concepts and/or common misunderstandings. You may read more about 6 common questions asked about RATs in TBL in our blog post here.
Lastly, after creating Application activities and RATs, educators need to select the prework for students - this needs to be completed by students before coming to class, which will help ensure that they are prepared to engage in meaningful discussions and activities with their team members. Refer to this blog post to learn more about how you can effectively prepare prework.
By planning a thoughtful team-based learning environment that successfully prepares students to complete assessments and achieve the specific learning outcomes, educators can be assured they have created an effective and engaging learning environment.
All in all, backward design is a valuable strategy that prioritizes student learning outcomes and aligns the assessments and learning environment. By starting with the end goal and working backwards, educators can create more impactful and engaging learning experiences for their students.