Student Pharmacist

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What is team-based learning?

What is team-based learning?


Fatima Feroze, Julie Lam, and Aqib Khan are final-year PharmD candidates at the California Northstate University College of Pharmacy.

Team-based learning (TBL) is a form of collaborative learning used in several pharmacy, medicine, and nursing programs in the United States and internationally. TBL incorporates individual work, group work, and immediate feedback to promote durable learning and teamwork skills. In contrast to traditional lectures, TBL shifts students’ experiences from passive listening to active, collaborative engagement. Students are incentivized to prepare for class by frequent, low-stakes quizzes taken in class—first individually, then with teammates.

This is how TBL works at California Northstate University College of Pharmacy.

TBL methods

Each semester, students are randomly assigned to teams of five to seven members. Pre-class reading materials are provided in advance, allowing students to study individually or with teammates. Classes begin with a brief multiple-choice quiz. Next, teammates take the same quiz, together. The professor then spends 10 to 20 minutes reviewing the answers and providing feedback, followed by a 30- to 45-minute mini-lecture.

Then, students are given 30 to 50 minutes to complete a team application exercise in which they discuss the questions in more depth, apply their newfound knowledge, and use their skills in problem-solving. Teams then are randomly chosen to present their answers. At the end of the class, students complete a more in-depth quiz to reinforce their learning.

Individual reflections

Fatima: The TBL program is a reason I chose this school, as I heard positive things about it from previous students. I have had excellent teams with highly collaborative members, several of whom remained among my closest friends. Additionally, having different teammates each semester allowed me work with students from different backgrounds. I got to know many more of my classmates than I did in lecture-based classes as an undergraduate. Pharmacists must work well within teams, especially in work environments, where you cannot choose your staff.

Julie: Going through a program that incorporates TBL has helped me strengthen my time management, communication, problem solving, and decision-making skills, which I use daily in the pharmacy. I developed those skills and also made lifelong friends whom I can always go to whenever I have questions about the new material or the pharmacy program itself. I believe pharmacy school would have been a lot tougher if I did not work with teams.

Aqib: The TBL program helped me understand that as future health care providers, we need to adapt our role to what the team needs to fulfill its function. Across semesters, I learned I will not always have the luxury of working within my comfort zone. For example, I usually am a quiet person in class, but I have had teams with members who were even quieter. This forced me to speak up more. Depending on the strengths of my teammates, I vary between taking an active leadership role or a more supportive role. I improved my communication skills with my teammates as we worked together to make decisions.

TBL is essential because it helps prepare student pharmacists to cooperate with one another and other health care providers in the future.

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