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A Psychological Foundation for Team-Based Learning: Knowledge Reconsolidation

Schmidt, Henk G. PhD; Rotgans, Jerome I. PhD; Rajalingam, Preman PhD; Low-Beer, Naomi MD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002810
Perspectives
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Although team-based learning is a popular instructional approach, little is known about its psychological foundation. In this Perspective, the authors propose a theoretical account of the psychological mechanisms through which team-based learning works. They suggest a knowledge reconsolidation hypothesis to explain how the distinct phases of team-based learning enable students to learn. Knowledge reconsolidation is the process whereby previously consolidated knowledge is retrieved from memory with the purpose of actively consolidating it again. Reconsolidation aims to preserve, strengthen, and adjust knowledge that is already stored in long-term memory. This process is generally considered an important reason why people who reactivate what they have previously learned many times develop knowledge structures that are extremely stable and easily retrieved.

The authors propose that 4 psychological mechanisms enable knowledge reconsolidation, each of which is tied to a distinct phase of team-based learning: retrieval practice, peer elaboration, feedback, and transfer of learning. Before a team-based learning session, students engage in independent, self-directed learning that is often followed by at least one night of sleep. The latter is known to facilitate synaptic consolidation in the brain. During the actual team-based learning session, students are first tested individually on what they learned, then they discuss the answers to the test with a small group of peers, ask remaining “burning questions” to the teacher, and finally engage in a number of application exercises.

This knowledge reconsolidation hypothesis may be considered a framework to guide future research into how team-based learning works and its outcomes.

H.G. Schmidt is professor of psychology, Department of Psychology, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

J.I. Rotgans is assistant professor of medical education, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

P. Rajalingam is senior lecturer of medical education, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

N. Low-Beer is professor and vice dean of education, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Funding/Support: None reported.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: Reported as not applicable.

Supplemental digital content for this article is available at http://links.lww.com/ACADMED/A686.

Correspondence should be addressed to Jerome I. Rotgans, Nanyang Technological University, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, 11 Mandalay Rd., Singapore 308232; telephone: (+65) 9172-5213; email: RotgansResearch@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges