Moving Team-Based Learning (TBL) Online - Faculty Guide

Jan 25, 2021 • 13min read


Are you trying to figure out how to move your in-person team-based learning class to an online or remote modality? Here’s our 10-part guide on how to make this transition.

Note: this will be geared towards implementing TBL in an online synchronous modality where learners and faculty are together at the same time but in different physical locations. For information on online asynchronous TBL, refer to this blog post: Impementing TBL in an Asynchronous Setting. 

1. Online TBL Can Be Done:  We started helping our TBL software customers teach online in 2016 and our third generation TBL software InteDashboard was designed with online TBL in mind. Today about 70% of our customers teach with TBL online. We have run over 80 online TBL workshops till date. In this guide, we have shared our experience of conducting TBL online and the insights that we have drawn from these sessions.

2. Make a Plan:  We recommend starting with a plan to address the following areas which are detailed below:

  • Roles

  • Technical requirements

  • Setup and dry-run

  • Instructor preparation

  • Learner preparation

  • Facilitation

  • Debriefing, evaluation, and grading


There are several roles that should be considered while implementing online TBL. They do not necessarily need to be five different people. Depending on the person they may be able to perform multiple roles. When we do this with faculty development workshops, I have one colleague that is a web conference host and project manager while I can operate the TBL system, facilitate and provide subject matter expertise.

1. Web conference host:  Sets up and operates or hosts the web conference, allocates students to virtual team breakout rooms, opens and closes breakout rooms. In our case, we use the Zoom web conference software.  

2. TBL system (or LMS) coordinator:  Sets up, starts and ends the Individual and Team Readiness Assurance Tests (IRAT and TRAT) and the Application Exercises. Displays team clarification requests, simultaneous reporting of team response and e-gallery walks. In our case, we use InteDashboard TBL software.

3. Facilitator: Provides an introduction and orientation during the opening plenary session and facilitates discussions after the TRAT and Application Exercises.

4. Subject matter expert: Provides topical content expertise during facilitated discussions.

5. Project manager: Develops and executes the plan.


1. Web conference tool:  The main web conference tool requirement is for virtual team breakout rooms. We use Zoom in our online TBL sessions and have customers that have used Blackboard Collaborate and WebEx as well.

2. Team-based learning software: We have used our own TBL software which was developed at Duke-NUS Medical School in 2010. You can use a general learning management system for online TBL. However, you may need to compromise on some elements of the TBL process particularly with the TRAT and the facilitation might be a little more difficult. As one of our customers says, you can light a fire without a match, but it is a lot easier to do it with a tool that was specifically designed for the task.

We and others have found that most general learning management systems (LMS) do not have several specific TBL functions which include:

  • TRAT with immediate feedback and decremental score
  • Clarifications screen with team comments after TRAT
  • Simultaneous reporting of team multiple choice and free response application exercises with free text, file or image upload and team comments for the rationale of choice
  • Team member names available by clicking on the team on reporting screens
  • Electronic gallery walks


Before your first online TBL session, we recommend doing a dry run with your colleagues to make sure the process and technology work as expected.


1. Plan agenda and timing:  We have used two-hour and three-hour formats for online TBL sessions as outlined below. 

Our online workshops use the two-hour format which sometimes can feel tight. We use a three-hour format for our TBL Fundamentals Certification series which allows us to run two batches of application exercises and include a break. 

Example agendas follow below:

  • Two-hour TBL session agenda: 2-hour agenda

  • Three-hour TBL session agenda: 2-hour agenda

2. Check applications for specificity:  When teams are in the virtual breakout rooms it can be difficult to address questions about application exercises. You may find it useful to make sure the application exercises are very clear to learners and teams before going into breakout rooms.  

3. Use breakout transitions sparingly: 

  • Consider the number of transitions to and from breakout rooms. Each time you transition there is lost time and focus. We recommend not transition back and forth to the team rooms frequently. Instead, do it once for the TRAT and maybe once or twice for the applications.

  • Communication back channel:  We have found having a WhatsApp messaging group for the instruction team very useful to stay connected between the web conference host, TBL system coordinator, facilitator, subject manager, and project manager to stay aligned. We use this messaging feature on our phones because our computers are occupied with the Zoom web conference and TBL software.


Like any successful TBL session, learner preparation is important in online TBL as well. A list of some of the elements to consider follow below. An example of how we do this is available here: Online TBL Practical Guide (video 2 12:21 and pdf 2 36 slides).

Technical requirements:  Working audio and web camera. We find laptops and desktops tend to work better than phones and tablets.

Open “doors” 15 minutes early:  We found that staring at the web conference 15 minutes before the actual start time allowed participants time to set up and test their audio and video equipment. When we didn’t do this, we lost a number of minutes at the start of each session.

What to expect in an online TBL session: Provide the agenda of what will happen and what you will be asking learners to do when. This may be particularly helpful if the TBL process is being modified from what is done in-person.

  1. How to use communication technology:  Explain key functions of communication technology such as chat functions, raising your hand, how to access help (in the plenary and in breakout rooms) and how to join team breakout rooms.

  2. How to use TBL technology:  Explain key functions of the TBL technology such as how to take the IRAT, how to select the team report and take the TRAT, how to make a clarification request and respond to free response or multiple-choice applications.

  3. Social presence with chat and video:  Ask participants to do a chat introduction and keep their video cameras on which helps establish a social presence. Learners have reported more engaging experiences when their video cameras were on.

  4. Technical check sessions: You may want to consider holding a separate technical check session for learners to check their audio and video equipment, communications technology and TBL technology. For some learners that may have more technical challenges, this may provide a less stressful way to get up to speed and help facilitators not get dragged down by one or two people with technical issues.

  5. Overload with help early: In initial sessions where learners may be new to communications and TBL technology you may want to consider have additional technical support available. In some of our first online TBL workshops, we put a facilitator in with each team to make sure they understood how everything this worked properly. We also did this with our technical software engineering team so they could witness first hand the learner experience and use this insight to make our work more effectively in online TBL.


  1. Prepare for multiple voices and chat inputs:  In web conferences, you may have someone speaking as well as comments coming in during the chat and others with their virtual hand raised. It can be a lot to process.

  2. Monitor with dashboards while teams are working:  Because the facilitation can be more involved, we have found it to be helpful to review IRAT, TRAT and Application dashboards while students and teams are working.  

  3. Use clarifications and elaborations: We use a feature that allows teams to submit clarification requests after the TRAT. This helps gain an understanding of what the trouble spots of the teams.  

  4. Application rationale:  We have teams that include a comment or rationale for their response during applications. This can help gain insight into the thinking of teams.

  5. Facilitation: Call on teams and names of people on teams specifically. We have found that click on the team and seeing the names of people on a team helps to get team members to speak out.

  6. E-gallery walk technique: We sometimes use an e-gallery walk to facilitate free-response applications. In this technique, we select 3-4 representative team responses and then have the teams vote on the best response. 

  7. Back pocket applications: Timing control can be different and take longer online so it may help to plan for one less application exercise and keep it as a back pocket in case time permits. We think this may be due to teams taking a little longer to coordinate and operate in an online environment than in an online environment.

  8. Back pocket application timing: Sometimes we have found that for a 20-minute application we will start by giving teams 15 minutes and then extend for another 2 or 3 minutes. As mentioned before, we think that some teams may underestimate the amount of time it takes to complete tasks online versus in-person.

  9. Visit breakout rooms of teams that are moving slowly: Not unlike in-person TBL, some teams take longer. It may be useful to check in on the team breakout rooms that are moving slowly. We use a dashboard and leaderboard to track this in real-time.


Debriefing: We have found doing a debrief with the teaching team extremely effective at improving the online TBL process and we highly recommend it. We also conduct learner feedback surveys after each session as well. This can be as simple as “What went well” and “Even better if”. 

Evaluation: We have started evaluating our own TBL sessions for faculty development and have found very high satisfaction with a median rating of 9 out of 10 and improvements from IRAT (60%) to TRAT (84%) and final exam (83%). I presented these results at the Ottawa 2020 conference. They are available as a video (10-min) and as a PDF document (18-slides)

Grading: For the first few sessions you may want to consider a non-graded or pass-fail graded approach to allow learners to adjust to the new modality, process, and technology without the overhang of grade anxiety.

Pitfalls and Plan B, C and D

Something will go wrong. It will never be 100% perfect. Have a Plan B, C or D in mind if something doesn’t work or at least keep this in mind and try to remain calm when it does. A few things to watch out for:

  • Web conference screen name versus real name:  Sometimes a participant name will show 915645045 or a student id as their name for someone that is really “Tom” which can be confusing.

  • Assigning teams for web conference breakouts:  Most web conferences that we are aware of don’t auto-assign teams or save team assignments so during the IRAT someone usually has to assign people to the correct team. This can be expedited by asking students to include their team number in the screen name such as “Tom 7” or “Brian 3” to help with this process.

  • Finding the breakout room invitation: We have had some learners not see the pop-up invitation to join a breakout room. It can get hidden behind other windows. You may need to restart your web conference tool.

  • Help in breakout rooms: When going into the breakout rooms, the chat function only connects members of the team. There is a button that asks for help from the facilitator. One time we had a team keep asking for help in the team chat thinking the facilitator would see it, but it was only seen by the team.

  • Assumption that we could use the same applications from in-person online: We had an application that stated “Take a learning objective and make an application for it” that was used pretty well for in-person TBL. We tried it online and half the teams were confused. It was very hard to go to have the teams in virtual team rooms to clarify what to do. We changed it to make it more specific to say “Take the learning objective of “Describe how to use learning analytics” and make an application for it” which worked much better because it was more specific.

Note: We have not explicitly touched on peer evaluation here. In general, it is pretty much the same. However, we have seen some TBL educators do more frequent peer evaluations to drive great accountability. They feel that there may be less accountable online where you don’t have to physically look your teammates in the eye every week. 

Additional resources:

  1. Observe an online TBL session: You can watch recording of one of our previous online TBL workshop. Please request the video by sending us an email at

  2. Participate in an online TBL session:  The best way to learn about Online TBL is to experience it. Our schedule of free online TBL workshops is available here. You can contact us here if you would like to arrange a session for your institution.

  3. Presentations and Videos:

Frequently Asked Questions: We have recorded and answered a number of frequently asked questions from our customers and workshop 


  1. Off to On: Best Practices for Online Team-Based Learning™ is a whitepaper by 17 members (including myself) of the Team-Based Learning Collaborative Online TBL Community of Practice. It is available here!

  2. Best Practices for Online Team-Based Learning: Taking Small Group Learning Online is an eight-chapter volume currently in peer review and expected later this year. I and some of our customers are co-authors of several chapters.

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