Team-Based Learning with Apps!

Delivering TBL modules using mobile app technology.

iTunes U course code: DBE-PSY-JRF

So what?

Team-based learning is a popular teaching strategy that promotes active learning through cooperative and constructivist methodologies. Preparation, readiness assurance, and application exercise are the hallmarks of the TBL three-phase cycle. Here is a quick primer for delivering a TBL module using mobile app technology.

Getting Started

Move beyond "lotto ticket" educational tools. Leverage technology to promote active learning. Utilize devices students already own to promote both personal and cooperative educational pedagogies. Engage millennials and keep them interested.

Shopping for Apps

Consider devices on the market. For Apple devices with the iOS operating system, shop the Apple App Store. For devices with Samsung, Google Chrome, Amazon, and others, shop the Google Play store.

Learning Platforms

Every institution has a learning management system (LMS). Check the capabilities of your system first. Inquire about mobile experience and check the store reviews. To get an honest opinion, ask students. Try small pilot groups before going full scale.

Managed Mobile Devices

Programs lucky enough to have 1:1 environments should think about managed device options. Settings for devices range from loose to completely locked down and controlled devices.

Team-Based Learning (TBL) Review

Big picture

Phase 1: Preparation

Provide clear objectives to guide students through curated materials and resources. Individual assignments, preclass study materials, guided learning, "flipped" lectures, etc ar amongst the more common of many options.

Phase 2: Readiness Assurance (iRAT)

Readiness assurance consists of two parts:

  1. Individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT)
  2. Group Readiness Assurance Test (gRAT)

The iRAT is an important assessment to check for an individual student's understanding of the material assigned during Phase 1: Preparation. Instructors have options from not very secure to very secure platforms for delivering the iRAT.

Phase 2: Readiness Assurance (gRAT)

Readiness assurance consists of two parts:

  1. Individual Readiness Assurance Test (iRAT)
  2. Group Readiness Assurance Test (gRAT)

The gRAT is also known as tRAT which replaces the "g" for group with a "t" for team. Purists of the TBL format will duplicate the same question items from the iRAT to the gRAT immediately following the iRAT to enhance the active, cooperative, and constructivist learning benefits of the method. Others may choose to use different questions and/or activities around the same objectives and goals covered on the iRAT. Problem-solving in a collaborative environment is the key to this phase.

Phase 2: Discussion

After both the iRAT and gRAT are completed, the traditional TBL format includes a brief overview of the material with emphasis on key points, high yield information, and "muddiest" areas of focus. Just-In-Time-Teaching (JITT) are often employed effectively to deliver discussion summaries tailored to the real-time results culled from the iRAT/gRAT data collection.

Phase 3: Application

The third phase of the TBL method varies the most due to the wide variety of application exercises employed. Selection of the exercise primarily depends on the type of topic, objective, competency, and/or goal being addressed. In addition, application exercises may be singular or multiple and can be delivered to either individuals and/or groups. Consider using survey collection tools like Qualtrics and Socrative when immediate feedback is key. Google Forms can be used to collect data that can later be mined using popular database software. Finally, remember that LMS systems can be used to curate content, deliver asynchronous assignments and assessments, and post materials to further enhance or supplement a TBL module.

Real World Application

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) Physician Assistant Studies Program is heavily invested in team-based learning teaching methodology. UTRGV is a 1:1 iPad program and also recognized as an Apple Distinguished School. The program previously employed an Apple Distinguished Educator who facilitated much of the integration of iPad technology into the program's curriculum, personnel, and administration. The apps highlighted below were used most frequently to deliver TBL modules.


Elias Villarreal, Jr.

Program Director/Department Chair

Clinical Associate Professor

Apple Distinguished Educator

Northern Arizona University

Department of Physician Assistant Studies

Phoenix, Arizona