November 30, 2015

Team Learning



In basketball, championships and especially repeated/dynastic success only come to those teams that are well-built and well-coached. For example, Michael Jordan is widely considered the best basketball player to have ever played. And yet he played at a statistically elite level for six years in the NBA before winning his first title. It was not until his teammate Scottie Pippen developed into a superstar and his coach Phil Jackson got into his second year that the Bulls became one of, if not the most dominant team in NBA history.

Team games emphasize collaboration to complete tasks too large for a single individual. Successful teams are consciously constructed and actively developed with attention given to roles and complimentary skill sets.  Great coaches create frameworks that both maximize the current abilities of their players and develop those players by improving their existing skills and adding complimentary skills.

In higher education, we often use discussion groups, study groups, or research groups.  However, these groups are often constructed through student choice, random number assignment, or other equally unplanned methods.  In applying the lessons from team games, we should think about social, cultural, and intellectual factors when we create groups.  We should provide guidance in the types of roles and duties that team members might take on, and we should ensure that these roles and duties are shared equitably and without reaffirming potentially negative social constructs.

In the day-to-day management of the class, students can be required to do homework to prepare for class so that class time can be used for discussions, activities, and projects.  For accountability, assessments can be used to measure both the individual students’ preparation and the collective groups mastery of the lessons. By shifting from a lecture format, to a more active format, faculty members can focus on facilitating student growth on both the individual and group levels.



The Power of Team Learning

Team-Based Learning: Group Work that Works

Puzzle Break – Teamwork and Escape the Room Games


Overview of team building in practice, notable for the appendices that can be adapted and applied for your class:

  • Barbara Oakley, Richard M. Felder, Rebecca Brent, & Imad Elhajj, “Turning Student Groups into Effective Teams,” Journal of Student Centered Learning 2, no. 1 (2004): 9-34. (direct link)
  • Joanna Wolf, Team Writing: A Guide to Working in Groups (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2009), ch. 1. (direct link)

Further reading:

Curate for GOBLIN

Evaluate GOBLIN

Write Blog Post

Challenge Activity


  1. What is team learning?
  2. How does team learning differ from Team-Based Learning™?
  3. Why would you want to make team learning a part of your course?
  4. Where was team learning present in GOBLIN?
  5. What do ideal learning teams look like?
  6. How would you create effective learning teams in your courses?
  7. How can team learning be used in your assignments to increase student success?
  8. How can team learning be used in your courses to increase student success?
  9. Develop a plan to integrate team learning into an assignment.

Suggested Games

These are games that we believe use team learning effectively: