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Team-based learning in an Industrial/Organizational Psychology course.

A team-based learning approach used in an undergraduate Industrial/Organizational Psychology course required students to develop their own company using industrial/organizational psychological principles. The course structure as well as a pretest/posttest evaluation of student knowledge and perceptions is discussed. The results indicate that students found the team-based learning approach both educational and enjoyable. Suggestions for using team-based learning in other psychology courses is provided.

Team-based learning has improved educational outcomes in science, education, business, and medical education courses (Haidet, O'Malley, & Richards, 2002; Michaelsen, Knight, & Fink, 2003; Seidel & Richards, 2001). As an instructional method, team-based learning (TBL) enhances students' communication skills, group interaction skills, and comprehension of complex course concepts (White, 1998). Furthermore, employers identify communication skills and social skills as the most desirable skills for job applicants (Appleby, 2000). Using team-based learning in an I/O course provides students with an opportunity to apply course concepts and practice communication and social skills in a low threat environment.

Team-based learning refers to an instructional strategy where students work together in teams on a three-part sequenced set of learning activities (Michaelsen, Knight, & Fink, 2004). The sequenced set of learning activities consists of a preparation phase, an application phase, and an assessment phase (Michaelsen et al., 2004).

In the preparation phase, students complete the reading assignments for the unit before the topics are discussed in class (Michaelsen et al). The goal is for students to have an introduction to the material before coming to class. On the first day of the new unit the students take a readiness assessment test individually and then in groups. The exams are graded in class and the teacher provides instruction on the concepts the students were not able to understand on their own. At the end of this phase the students have a more thorough understanding of the material and are ready for the application phase.

During the application phase, student groups apply the course content to help them make predictions, solve problems, or create explanations for increasingly complex problems (Michaelsen et al, 2004). Each group shares their solutions for the activities with the entire class and the instructor provides feedback about the quality of their responses. At the end of this phase groups are more cohesive, committed to team success, and have learned how to apply the course content to real life problems.

The final phase is the assessment phase (Michaelsen et al, 2004). Groups are asked to solve one more application activity to demonstrate their mastery of the material. The responses are evaluated by the instructor and the score is incorporated into each student's course grade.

Unlike cooperative learning, where group activities are used within a pre-existing course structure (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991; Millis, & Cottell, 1998; Slavin, 1996), TBL requires the instructor to reconfigure the entire course. One unique advantage however, is that TBL allows one instructor to facilitate effective small group learning in a large classroom setting. (e.g. up to 200:1 student faculty ratio) (Levine, O'Boyle, Haidet, Lynn, Stone, Wolf, & Paniagua, 2004).

According to McKeachie (1999) "there is a wealth of evidence that peer learning and teaching is extremely effective for a wide range of goals, content, and students of different levels and personalities" (p. 159). For example peer learning helps both high achieving and low achieving students perform better in the classroom, enhances retention of course information, promotes higher order reasoning, and enhances social support within the classroom (Gabbert, Johnson & Johnson, 1986; Johnson, Johnson & Lee, 1985; Johnson, Johnson, & Taylor, 1993; Mesch, Johnson, & Johnson, 1988; O'Donnell, Dansereau, Rocklin, Hythecker, Lambiotte, Larson & Young 1985; Vasquez, Johnson & Johnson, 1993). Despite the evidence supporting peer learning, many courses are still taught via the traditional lecture method. One problem for faculty using TBL is developing multifaceted learning activities. The purpose of this article is to describe how using a TBL approach in an Industrial/Organizational psychology course helped students develop real world business and psychology knowledge and workplace skills.


Participants and Procedure

Forty undergraduate students enrolled in a junior-level I/O psychology participated in the study. The sample was predominantly Caucasian, with 14 males and 26 females. The average age of the participants was 20. All students enrolled in the I/O psychology course were assigned to the experimental group.

On the first day of class the instructor assigned seven students to each heterogeneous group using the criteria outlined by Michaelson (2004). Each group contained an individual who met one or more of the following criteria: (a) industrial psychology major, (b) business major, (c) psychology major, (d) speech communication major, (e) work experience, (f) able to bring a laptop computer to class, (g) successful completion of a human resource management course, and (h) travel experience. These criteria were used because the instructor thought that groups knowledgeable in business, psychology, speech communications, computer literacy and cultural diversity had the greatest potential for developing a successful business. To encourage group identity, students identified a name for their organization and identified themselves using their company for the remainder of the semester. At the end of the semester it became apparent that using the company name when referring to specific students fostered group identity. Both inside and outside of class students responded faster to the instructor and each other when they were referred to by their company name.

After receiving IRB approval, students in the Industrial/Organizational psychology course were invited to participate in the study. To ensure confidentiality and prevent coercion, a research assistant was used to inform the students of the study and to collect the data. Students were able to withdraw from the study at any time by asking the research assistant to omit their data from the study. The instructor did not have access to the data until after the final grades for the course were submitted.

After participants signed the informed consent, they completed a pretest questionnaire covering organizational psychology concepts. The research assistant randomly assigned a code number to each participant and placed the number on each participant's pretest. A master copy of the code numbers and the participants' names was kept in a locked drawer. Only the research assistant had access to the master list. At the end of the semester the master list was shredded by the research assistant once he had matched the code number for the pre- and posttests.

Each part of the team project was linked to a specific chapter in the textbook. During the preparation phase, students took a readiness assessment test. The test consisted of 14 multiple choice questions that covered the required readings. Taking the test at the beginning of each unit allowed students to apply the information during the subsequent class meetings. Each person took the test individually and then again with their assigned team. Individual test answers were recorded on both a scantron card and the paper exam. Using Epstein, Epstein, and Brosvic's (2001) immediate feedback technique, students completed the multiple choice test in teams using an answer sheet that is similar to lottery scratch off tickets. If a test question was missed, teams looked for the correct answer in the text. This process ensured that students were knowledgeable in the basic concepts for a particular topic. The instructor then conducted mini-lectures over the content of the test questions missed by the majority of the teams.

During the application phase, students completed application activities in class. For example, students completed a leadership inventory and discussed their results with a classmate. Students also received individual assignments that related to the larger group project. The class activities and team activities built upon the individual assignments. For example, students selected what they thought was the best style (or styles) of leadership that was most effective for achieving the goals of the organization. They had to identify and explain the rationale for the single most important selection factor that led to their decision. Students then used the answers from their individual assignments to guide their discussion for the larger group project. Students had to rely on the expertise of those in their group and in their class in order to successfully solve the application problems. During the application phase the instructor met with each team and tailored the instruction to the needs of each group.

During the assessment phase the class time was spent working on the team project. The team assignments for the organizational part of the course consisted of the following: (a) development of a plan for the styles of leadership that would be most effective for achieving the goals of the organization; (b) development of a plan that would promote positive organizational attitudes and behavior; (c) development of a plan that would promote high levels of work motivation; (d) development of a plan of that addressed work environment issues in the organization such as job design, working conditions, and methods to decrease stress and increase the well-being of the workers. Upon completion of the assignments, the teams submitted a company portfolio for a class grade. Detailed descriptions of the activities and assignments may be obtained by contacting the author.

To ensure that students contributed their fair share to the team projects, students completed peer evaluations two times during the process; once in the middle of the process and again at the end of the process. For each person in the group, team members provided a numerical score and written comments about that individual's contributions. An average of the numerical scores and a summary of the comments, with the names removed, were given to each student. If a team member was not contributing to the project, the member was provided with a verbal warning for the first offense, a written warning for the second offense, and a probationary meeting with the instructor for the third offense. Students knew that they could be fired from their organization for social loafing. Only two students received first warnings, one student received a second warning, and no students were fired from their organizations. After the teams submitted their portfolios they completed the posttest questionnaire and the attitude survey about the class experience. Students took the posttest individually.

The pretest-posttest consisted of ten items assessing students' knowledge about leadership strategies, work attitudes, motivation, workplace stress, and workplace design.

Eight items with response options ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree) measured the extent to which team-based learning was perceived as effective, motivating, interesting, and fun. Some of the questions used on the attitude survey were: a) When compared to traditional lecture-based courses, I enjoyed class more when team-based learning was used, b) When compared to lecture-based courses, team-based learning was more fun, and c) When compared to lecture based-courses, I learned more from team-based learning.


A paired samples t test assessed student learning. Participants provided significantly more correct answers on the posttest (M = 5.63, SD = 1.70) when compared to the answers on the pretest (M = 3.90, SD = 1.53), t(39) = 5.16, p < .001.

When compared to traditional lecture, students reported a preference for team-based learning (M = 4.75, SD = 1.51), believed they learned more from team-based learning (M = 4.53, SD = 1.48), and would be willing to take another class using team-based learning (M = 4.95, SD = 1.41). In addition, when compared to lecture based courses students found team-based learning to be more effective for applying course information (M = 4.88, SD = 1.22), interesting (M = 5.23, SD = 1.09), motivating (M = 4.58, SD = 1.29), enjoyable (M = 4.80, SD = 1.47), and fun (M = 5.00, SD = 1.50).


The purpose of this study was to determine the effectiveness of using TBL in an I/O undergraduate course. Many times instructors of I/O psychology courses teach the course concepts via lecture. The results from the pretest/posttest indicate students learned the course content after participating in TBL. Although the participants did not perform as well on the post-test as the researcher had anticipated, the scores did show that learning occurred. This research suggests that having students develop their own fictional company provides them with an opportunity to apply many of the course concepts in a more realistic manner.

With regards to class engagement, students found TBL motivating, interesting, enjoyable and fun. These findings are consistent with Hernandez' (2002) findings that TBL improved student motivation and classroom perceptions. Anecdotally, the instructor observed a different pattern of interaction for the TBL class than for the same course taught in a previous semester using the traditional lecture-based format. Students in the TBL class exhibited more student-to-student engagement and more student-to-instructor engagement. In the traditional lecture course students were more passive recipients of information. In the team-based learning classroom students asked more sophisticated questions and challenged both each other and the instructor about the course material. For example one discussion was about whether an organization could be too diverse. Students in the traditional lecture course had difficulty discussing this concept while the students in the TBL course debated this issue for 20 minutes.

The role of the instructor was different as well. The primary role was that of facilitator. The instructor helped foster engagement in the learning process by facilitating interactions within and amongst the teams. The instructor had to move beyond simply conveying course content to the active management of group process for each of the teams. Although there was not a designated control group within the TBL taught course, a comparison of the TBL taught group and a traditional lecture group taught the previous semester showed that the grades overall were higher for the students in the team-based learning course (M= 94.38, SD = 3.98) when compared to the students' grades in the traditional lecture course (M = 87.43, SD = 6.61), t (82) = 5.76, p < .001. These results should be interpreted with caution since the students were in different classes taught in different semesters. One explanation for the higher grades is the amount of group work required in the team-based learning course. In addition, students held each other accountable for their actions. As a result the students worked harder in the course and had higher attendance rates when compared to students taught in the traditional lecture format. Students could not be passive recipients of information and still do well in the course. They had to be active, engaged participants.

There were several limitations to this study. This study was limited to a convenience sample. There was only one section of the course taught each year so students were not randomly assigned to a control and experimental condition. Another limitation was that the data for the TBL group was compared to data obtained from Industrial/Organizational students from a previous semester. Finally, one additional limitation that could have influenced perceptions about team-based learning was the novelty of experiencing a new teaching method. Developing a fictional organization for a course grade may have been well received in part because students did not have to take post-unit exams or quizzes. The stress of studying for exams was removed and students may have felt less anxious about completing the team project. Future studies could consist of randomly assigning students to lecture-based and team-based learning conditions. Researchers could alternate TBL with a traditional lecture-based format within one class to more directly compare the effects of teaching strategy upon learning. Alternatively, researchers could compare two sections of the same course with one section using TBL and the other using a traditional lecture format.

Team-based learning opportunities exist for individuals who teach a wide variety of psychology courses. Instructors who teach a Developmental Psychology course could use TBL to educate students about the theory of Constructivism. In the preparation phase students would read material about the theory of Constructivism. During the application phase teams would describe how a Constructivist approach could be used to foster social, emotional, cognitive, or physical development in young children. Finally, to demonstrate their mastery of the material student teams could develop a comprehensive plan for a daycare using a Constructivist approach. Configuration of classroom space, interactions with parents, specific learning activities, and discipline could be addressed in the project.

TBL could also be used in a Social Psychology course. Prior to the application phase, students would complete reading assignments pertaining to health behaviors, attitudes, prejudice, and stereotyping. Next, student teams would be asked to identify effective ad campaigns and explain why these campaigns are so successful using a variety of Social Psychology concepts. During the assessment phase, students could develop a media campaign promoting help seeking for mental health issues in college students. In their final report student teams would need to address the use of persuasive techniques, ways to encourage help seeking behaviors and methods for overcoming stigma, stereotyping and prejudice in college populations.

In conclusion, the effectiveness of using TBL as an instructional method in psychology courses is worth further study. Careful planning and applied activities can enhance the understanding of course principles and allows students to connect with the material in a more meaningful way (McClanahan & McClanahan, 2002). Promotion of critical thinking, tolerance of diverse individuals, cognitive development, expression of creativity, and improved social skills are benefits of using TBL (Abson, 1994; Livingstone & Lynch, 2002; Scribner, Baker & Howe, 2003). In addition, TBL is not only useful for teaching course content but also for practicing problem-solving skills and group communication skills (Laverie, 2006). Instructors who desire a more engaging approach are encouraged to consider using TBL in their classrooms.


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Note: I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on a previous version of this article.

Author info: Correspondence should be sent to: April B. Haberyan, Department of Psychology, Sociology, and Counseling, Colden Hall, Northwest Missouri State University, Maryville, MO 64468; email:

April Haberyan

Northwest Missouri State University
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Author:Haberyan, April
Publication:North American Journal of Psychology
Date:Mar 1, 2007
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