Team-based learning (TBL) in the medical curriculum: better than PBL?

BMC Med Educ. 2017 Dec 8;17(1):243. doi: 10.1186/s12909-017-1068-z.


Background: Internationally, medical schools have long used a variety of approaches to develop hybrid Problem based learning (PBL) curricula. However, Team-based learning (TBL), has gained recent popularity in medical education. TBL maintains the advantages of small group teaching and learning, but in contrast to Problem-based learning (PBL), does not require large numbers of tutors. In 2016, TBL was introduced to Year 1 of the Sydney Medical Program (SMP).This study sought to compare students' perceptions of using TBL in place of PBL.

Methods: Year 1 students (n = 169) completed three PBL and three TBL sessions during one of the following teaching blocks: Musculoskeletal (n = 56), Respiratory (n = 59) or Cardiovascular (n = 54). Student feedback following completion of each block of teaching was collected by questionnaire, using closed and open ended items. Data were analysed using descriptive statistics and thematic analysis.

Results: In total, 144/169 (85%) of participants completed a questionnaire regarding PBL, and 152/169 (90%) completed a similar questionnaire regarding TBL. The students found positive aspects of their TBL experience to include the smaller group size, the use of readiness assurance tests, immediate feedback from senior clinicians, and time efficiency. In PBL, students reported that variable expertise of tutors; limited direction; and large group size hindered their learning.

Conclusions: Overwhelmingly, students preferred TBL over PBL, as the optimal teaching strategy. Students found the structure and format of the TBL sessions more conducive to learning, engagement and participation than PBL sessions. Although the use of TBL required an instructional approach, needing direction from the tutor, it remained student-centred, generating a range of positive outcomes. Study results provide confidence to change from PBL to TBL within Year 1 and Year 2 of the SMP in 2017.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards*
  • Educational Measurement
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Feedback
  • Group Processes
  • Humans
  • Problem-Based Learning*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Students, Medical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires