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Toward an Optimal Pedagogy for Teamwork

Earnest, Mark A. MD, PhD; Williams, Jason PsyD, MSEd; Aagaard, Eva M. MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001670

Teamwork and collaboration are increasingly listed as core competencies for undergraduate health professions education. Despite the clear mandate for teamwork training, the optimal method for providing that training is much less certain. In this Perspective, the authors propose a three-level classification of pedagogical approaches to teamwork training based on the presence of two key learning factors: interdependent work and explicit training in teamwork. In this classification framework, level 1—minimal team learning—is where learners work in small groups but neither of the key learning factors is present. Level 2—implicit team learning—engages learners in interdependent learning activities but does not include an explicit focus on teamwork. Level 3—explicit team learning—creates environments where teams work interdependently toward common goals and are given explicit instruction and practice in teamwork. The authors provide examples that demonstrate each level. They then propose that the third level of team learning, explicit team learning, represents a best practice approach in teaching teamwork, highlighting their experience with an explicit team learning course at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Finally, they discuss several challenges to implementing explicit team-learning-based curricula: the lack of a common teamwork model on which to anchor such a curriculum; the question of whether the knowledge, skills, and attitudes acquired during training would be transferable to the authentic clinical environment; and effectively evaluating the impact of explicit team learning.

M.A. Earnest is professor of medicine and division head, General Internal Medicine Division, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado.

J. Williams is assistant professor of pediatrics and training director of child psychology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado.

E.M. Aagaard is professor of medicine and associate dean for educational strategy, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, Colorado.

Funding/Support: The interprofessional education curriculum at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus that informed this paper was supported by grants from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, and the Doctor’s Company Foundation.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Correspondence should be addressed to Mark A. Earnest, 12631 E. 17th Ave., Mailstop B180, Aurora, CO 80045; telephone: (303) 724-2248; e-mail:

© 2017 by the Association of American Medical Colleges