Role of team dynamics in the learning process: a mixed-methods evaluation of a modified team-based learning approach in a behavioral research methods course

  • Elizabeth Reisinger WalkerEmail author
  • Delia L. Lang
  • Bethany A. Caruso
  • Leslie Salas-Hernández


Health sciences education is increasingly focusing on building students’ skills to work collaboratively. Therefore, instructors must intentionally incorporate team-based skill building into their courses, using teaching strategies like team-based learning (TBL). An assumption of TBL is that team dynamics facilitate learning; however, limited research has examined this connection. The primary purposes of this mixed-methods evaluation were: (a) to describe the characteristics of team dynamics in a graduate-level research methods course that employs a modified TBL approach, and (b) to examine the association between team dynamics and student grades. Given the importance of preparing health professional students to work collaboratively in their careers, a secondary aim was to examine how team skills developed through a team-based learning approach could be transferred to other courses and to future jobs. We conducted surveys on team dynamics at mid-semester (n = 64) and the end of the semester (n = 66), collected students’ grades for the final paper and overall course, and conducted 4 focus groups with Master of Public Health students (n = 25). Paired t tests were used to examine change in team dynamics and correlations were conducted to assess the relationship between team dynamics and grades. Thematic analysis was used to identify themes related to team dynamics from the focus group data. Overall, students reported experiencing positive and beneficial team dynamics. The findings support two main underlying categories of team dynamics, interpersonal team processes and task orientation, and the linkages between the categories that allow teams to function. Team dynamics scores were not associated with student grades. However, students recognized the value of practicing team skills in preparation for future group work and jobs. These findings suggest that active learning approaches, such as TBL, can help to facilitate the acquisition of collaborative skills.


Collaborative learning Health sciences education Mixed-methods Public health Team-based learning Team dynamics 



  1. Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health. (2014). A Master of Public Health degree for the 21st Century: Key considerations, design features, and critical content of the core. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from
  2. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101. Scholar
  3. Buhse, M., & Ratta, C. D. (2017). Enhancing interprofessional education with team-based learning. Nurse Educator, 42(5), 240–244. Scholar
  4. Carless, S. A., & De Paola, C. (2000). The measurement of cohesion in work teams. Small Group Research, 31(1), 71–88. Scholar
  5. Chang, A., & Bordia, P. (2001). A multidimensional approach to the group cohesion-group performance relationship. Small Group Research, 32(4), 379–405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chapman, K. J., Meuter, M., Toy, D., & Wright, L. (2006). Can’t we pick our own groups? The influence of group selection method on group dynamics and outcomes. Journal of Management Education, 30(4), 557–569. Scholar
  7. Commission on Collegiate Nursing Accreditation. (2018). Standards for accreditation of baccalaureate and graduate nursing programs. Retrieved November 6, 2018, from
  8. Considine, J., Payne, R., Williamson, S., & Currey, J. (2013). Expanding nurse initiated X-rays in emergency care using team-based learning and decision support. Australasian Emergency Nursing Journal, 16(1), 10–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Council on Education for Public Health. (2016). Accreditation criteria: Schools of public health and programs of public health. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from
  10. Davidson, L. K. (2011). A 3-year experience implementing blended TBL: active instructional methods can shift student attitudes to learning. Medical Teacher, 33(9), 750–753.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fatmi, M., Hartling, L., Hillier, T., Campbell, S., & Oswald, A. E. (2013). The effectiveness of team-based learning on learning outcomes in health professions education: BEME Guide No. 30. Medical Teacher, 35, e1608–e1624. Scholar
  12. Frenk, J., Chen, L., Bhutta, Z. A., Cohen, J., Crisp, N., Evans, T., et al. (2010). Health professionals for a new century: Transforming education to strengthen health systems in an interdependent world. The Lancet, 376(9756), 1923–1958. Scholar
  13. Haidet, P., Kubitz, K., & McCormack, W. T. (2014). Analysis of the team-based learning literature: TBL comes of age. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3–4), 303.Google Scholar
  14. Hrynchak, P., & Batty, H. (2012). The educational theory basis of team-based learning. Medical Teacher, 34(10), 796–801.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Huitt, T. W., Killins, A., & Brooks, W. S. (2015). Team-based learning in the gross anatomy laboratory improves academic performance and students’ attitudes toward teamwork. Anatomical Sciences Education, 8(2), 95–103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Interprofessional Education Collaborative. (2016). Core competencies for interprofessional collaborative practice: 2016 update. Washington, DC: Interprofessional Education Collaborative.Google Scholar
  17. Kalaian, S. A., & Kasim, R. M. (2017). Effectiveness of various innovative learning methods in health science classrooms: A meta-analysis. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 22(5), 1151–1167. Scholar
  18. Lang, D. L., Walker, E. R., Steiner, R. J., & Woodruff, R. C. (2018). Implementation and mixed-methods evaluation of Team-Based Learning in a graduate public health research methods course. Pedagogy in Health Promotion, 4(2), 140–150. Scholar
  19. Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., & Fink, L. D. (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching. Sterling, VA: Stylus.Google Scholar
  20. Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team-based learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 116, 7–27. Scholar
  21. Oakley, B., Felder, R. M., Brent, R., & Elhajj, I. (2004). Turning student groups into effective teams. Journal of Student Centered Learning, 2(1), 9–34.Google Scholar
  22. Palincsar, A. S. (1998). Social constructivist perspectives on teaching and learning. Annual Review of Psychology, 49(1), 345–375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Peters, M. (2000). Does constructivist epistemology have a place in nurse education? Journal of Nursing Education, 39(4), 166–172.Google Scholar
  24. Reimschisel, T., Herring, A. L., Huang, J., & Minor, T. J. (2017). A systematic review of the published literature on team-based learning in health professions education. Medical Teacher, 39(12), 1227–1237. Scholar
  25. Salas, E., Grossman, R., Hughes, A. M., & Coultas, C. W. (2015). Measuring team cohesion: Observations from the science. Human Factors, 57(3), 365–374. Scholar
  26. Schulz, A. J., Israel, B. A., & Lantz, P. (2003). Instrument for evaluating dimensions of group dynamics within community-based participatory research partnerships. Evaluation and Program Planning, 26(3), 249–262. Scholar
  27. Sisk, R. J. (2011). Team-based learning: Systematic research review. Journal of Nursing Education, 50, 665–669. Scholar
  28. Thibault, G. E. (2015). Public health education reform in the context of health professions education reform. American Journal of Public Health, 105(S1), S8–S10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Thompson, B. M., Haidet, P., Borges, N. J., Carchedi, L. R., Roman, B. J., Townsend, M. H., et al. (2015). Team cohesiveness, team size and team performance in team-based learning teams. Medical Education, 49(4), 379–385. Scholar
  30. Touchet, B. K., & Coon, K. A. (2005). A pilot use of team-based learning in psychiatry resident psychodynamic psychotherapy education. Academic Psychiatry, 29(3), 293–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tuckman, B. W. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63(6), 384. Scholar
  32. Vasan, N. S., DeFouw, D. O., & Compton, S. (2009). A survey of student perceptions of team-based learning in anatomy curriculum: Favorable views unrelated to grades. Anatomical Sciences Education, 2(4), 150–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioral Sciences and Health Education, Rollins School of Public HealthEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Hubert Department of Global Health, Rollins School of Public HealthEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations