Team-Based Learning VS the FIRST-ADLX Framework; What is the difference? Which one fits into the other?

I. Introduction and Personal Motivation

The learner-centered approach to teaching has been recently advocated in different contexts. Despite that many teachers aren’t capable of designing and facilitating the Learner eXperience (LX) we all aspire to.  Most teachers understand the importance of differentiation, respecting the students’ specific needs, connecting the abstract concepts to the real world, offering positive, constructive feedback, motivating the students, encouraging them to take action, and above all providing them with diversified opportunities to explore, collaborate, learn, and develop the 21st-century skills while learning. In short, many teacher-training programs were designed to teach us, the teachers, how to design and facilitate learning.

As a result, we enter our classes with the underlying assumption that once we follow the steps of a learner-centered approach, our students will be fully engaged, and the learning outcomes will be achieved. However, managing a classroom seems to be far beyond simply understanding the learner-centered approach.

The continuous failure of many teachers to create a safe Learner eXperience (LX) despite their credentials made me consider implementing the FIRST-ADLX Framework and integrating it with TBL (Team-Based Learning), one of the most collaborative learner-centered approaches to test the difference and find the gap.

II. Rationale and Significance of the Study

This study investigates the use of the FIRST-ADLX Framework together with TBL (Team-Based Learning) to design and facilitate a two-hour learning session with 15 female teachers. It describes the Learner eXperience (LX), types and level of interaction between the learners, the participants’ attitudes, the level of engagement, and the participants’ feedback. It also reflects upon the difference between a teaching method and a framework. Combined with literature, my study will allow me to understand the difference between the FIRST-ADLX Framework and a common learner-centered approach, TBL, and will help me make an informed decision on the difference between an approach and a framework, and on how to integrate both for an Active Deep Learner eXperience (ADLX).

III. Research Questions

Understanding the difference between the FIRST-ADLX Framework and a learner-centered approach and comprehending the framework’s added value requires answering three research questions:

  • What is the learners’ attitude towards being learners in a learner-centered classroom, where the FIRST-ADLX Framework is implemented?
  • What is the difference between facilitating with and without the FIRST-ADLX Framework?
  • Where does an approach fit in the FIRST-ADLX Framework if it does?


IV. Literature Review

For a clear presentation of what I actually did, defining some concepts is crucial:

Team-Based Learning

Team-Based Learning is an active, interactive collaborative approach. It is learner-centered but teacher-led (Koles et al. as cited in Hrynchak & Batty, 2012). It adopts a flipped classroom strategy and assigns a pre-task for the students to do before the class. In class, the learners take a readiness assurance test to check their readiness, and the results are used to create diversified groups. Then, the groups referred to as teams get engaged in solving a set of real-life, authentic problems, discussing answers, peer tutoring each other, sharing their answers, and editing their responses accordingly. TBL guarantees the acquisition of the learning outcomes and develops the 21st-century skills; collaboration, communication, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, etc. It also addresses the needs of every individual in big classes by dividing the learners into smaller manageable teams.  (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008; Hrynchak & Batty, 2012).

The FIRST-ADLX Framework

The FIRST-ADLX Framework is a “comprehensive holistic framework for designing and facilitating learner experience” (Bahgat, 2018, p.9). This framework consists of 5 domains which in turn embed 15 principles that are integrated to create an Active Deep Learner eXperience (ADLX). The FIRST-ADLX Framework “is based on other models and theories, such as experiential learning by Kolb and John Dewey; cooperative learning by Kagan; Carl Rogers’ facilitation skills, Roy’s 6Ds and learning transfer; as well as positive psychology principles” (Bahgat et al, 2017, p.3).

The 15 principles are incorporated to create a safe, learner-centric experience where every learner is a unique individual with unique needs and specific desires, learners review actively and reflect on their learning continuously, the students’ attitudes are prioritized over their skills and knowledge, different types of interactions occur in positive group dynamics, the sequence of the activities is coherent and flows smoothly, and the abstract learning is linked to the real life of the learners so that transformation of learning into practice occurs.

Similarities and Differences between TBL and the FIRST-ADLX Framework

Undoubtedly, TBL and the FIRST-ADLX Framework share a common perspective in the way they approach teaching and learning. They both are learner-centric, view the teacher as a facilitator rather than a lecturer, focus on the learner, encourage group work, foster different types of interaction, assure the readiness of the participants, emphasize authenticity, provide the learners with different opportunities to solve real-life problems, and stress the importance of the positive, constructive feedback. TBL and the FIRST-ADLX Framework address the 21st-century skills and foster the skills of collaboration, communication, problem-solving, decision making, critical thinking, etc.

Moving to the differences, the FIRST-ADLX Framework differs from TBL and any other learner-centric approach in many aspects. This paper will shed light on two main differences. The first is the fact that TBL adopts a set of stable steps to achieve the previously mentioned objectives. Students do a pre-task, take an individual readiness assurance test (IRAT), form groups depending on the results of the test, take the same test again but in groups this time (GRAT or Group Readiness Assurance Test), share their answers, and edit their responses accordingly, collaborate and apply what they learned, share and edit again, listen to their teacher’s mini-presentation and take notes, practice more, then share and edit (Palsolé and Awalt, 2008). In the end, students share positive, constructive peer feedback.

On the contrary, the FIRST-ADLX Framework doesn’t offer a one-and-only sequence to be followed, but it emphasizes the smooth flow of the activities, which are of different types; energizers, openers, pre-openers, linking and summarizing activities, educational activities, or closures. The facilitator divides the content into small units and organizes these units in a coherent, logical, and well-structured sequence taking into consideration the learners’ emotional, physical, and mental state and the significance of time management.

The second main difference is that TBL focuses on the mental readiness of the learners, and little if any, importance is given to their emotional and psychological readiness. Differentiation is established by creating diversified groups and making sure all the members are engaged; however, the output is the same for different groups regardless of their preferences or learning styles.

On the other hand, the FIRST-ADLX Framework fosters individualization and focuses on the learners’ emotional, psychological, and mental readiness, and calls for diversified outputs where the needs of every single individual are addressed.

In brief, TBL and the FIRST-ADLX Framework share some common principles. Nevertheless, the FIRST-ADLX Framework is wider and deeper in the way it approaches learning and teaching.


V. Methodology

My research is mainly qualitative as it is designed to measure the attitudes of the learners and the facilitator in a TBL environment where the FIRST-ADLX Framework is implemented.

  • My own observation
  • A survey that was filled out by the learners
  • A tracking sheet to track the interaction of the learners before and after the learning session.
  • Oral and written comments by the learners
Participants and Context

My participants were 15 female teachers that taught different topics including languages, sciences, math, social sciences, and religion. Seven teach in Lebanon, five teach in the UAE, two teach in Egypt, and one teaches in Saudi Arabia. Fourteen out of the fifteen teach in the private sector.


I created a two-hour learning session in which I integrated TBL into the FIRST-ADLX Framework. The steps of TBL were implemented as they are, but I added three short activities; an introductory activity to break the ice, energize, and emotionally prepare my learners for the learner experience, an energizer in the middle to give my learners a break and to increase motivation, and final activity in which I answered some of my learners’ pre-questions. I also ended up with a thank you virtual gift.

The pre-work, IRAT, GRAT, the application and practice stages were all RAR activities. As for the stage in which the facilitator is supposed to present, I created a linking and summarizing activity and put effort into pulling rather than pushing information. Consequently, I made sure to test my students’ readiness before every activity and guided them to review actively and reflect after each stage. I questioned the link between the learning outcomes and their real life and invited them to discuss different opportunities to apply what they are learning in the future.

I applied individualization in different activities, greeted and motivated my learners one by one, trusted them to lead the discussion, created breakout rooms to increase interaction, differentiated the types of interaction,  repeated key terms with intonation and stress, made some jokes, praised their contributions and thanked their collaboration. TBL as an approach made it easier for me to set the sequence, which is one of the FIRST-ADLX Framework’s 5 domains, while the FIRST-ADLX Framework helped me set a plan to manage this sequence.

VI. Findings

In the process of designing and facilitating my Active Deep Learner eXperience (ADLX), the research questions raised earlier were fully addressed. In response to the first question which asks about the learners’ attitude towards a learner-centered classroom where the FIRST-ADLX Framework is implemented, some of the participants’ comments extracted from the survey answer this question.

The flow was present in many of the participants’ comments. They said that the content was presented in a unique framework, and the sequence was smooth, easy to follow, clear, and systematic. Authenticity and practicality were also repetitive. Three participants said that the content was practical, real, and authentic, three showed readiness to implement it in the future, and two asked some more questions about future possible uses.

The value of interaction and the positive, motivating atmosphere were present as well. The learners described the Learner eXperience (LX) using terms like “unique interaction”, “interesting trip that grabs attention,” “motivation, positive spirit, and wonderful feedback,” “easy communication, and a motivating atmosphere”, and “positivity”. On the platform, the comments were very similar. The learners used words like “fun”, “motivating”, “energetic”, “beneficial”, “applicable”, “authentic”, “practical”, in addition to phrases like “trusts the learner” and “develops the 21st-century skills”.  To sum up, the learners were greatly motivated, and they enjoyed their learner experience.

The second question targeted the difference between facilitating with and without the FIRST-ADLX Framework. Depending mainly on my own observations, I noticed that:

  1. Learners are more motivated and engaged. The three principles of Focusing on the Learner Domain, individualization, probing and assessing, and trusting the learner, foster a sense of intrinsic motivation and encourage the learners to perform.
  2. Learners feel safe and there is a sense of belonging as the whole experience turns to be a social event as the facilitator nurtures the positive spirit and strives to motivate and raise the attention of the learners’ when needed, thus applying the 3 principles of Interacting within Positive Group Dynamics Domain, the FIRST-ADLX Framework’s second domain.
  3. “Reviewing Actively within the RAR Model Domain”, which is the third domain of the FIRST-ADLX Framework, is of great importance. It helps the learners understand the value of what they are learning and plan to use it in the real life. This realization was clearly depicted in their feedback and comments on the platform.
  4. Adding the icebreaker at the beginning which addresses every single learner, the funny energizer in the middle, and the thank you gift at the end enrich the sequence and help the learners relax and recharge.
  5. Last, the fifth domain of FIRST-ADLX Framework, Transforming Learning into Practice Domain, with its 3 principles paved the way for a real transformation. Reflecting on the reality, training the participants to use the tools, practicing, and living the experience of being learners in such a learner experience encouraged five out of 15 participants to implement this strategy directly after the trip.

The third question asks about the place of an approach in a framework; the place of TBL in the FIRST-ADLX Framework.  I understand now that the FIRST-ADLX Framework is not only a learner-centric strategy of teaching. It is rather, as its name indicates, a framework that embeds the centric methods of teaching in addition to many other theories and practices to make sure that learning occurs in a deeply impactful way. The comparison between an approach and a framework might be invalid, but it was necessary for a teacher-researcher like me as it helped me better comprehend the added value of the FIRST-ADLX Framework in any learner-centric experience.

VII. Conclusion

In conclusion, the FIRST-ADLX Framework helped me create an active, deep, safe, learner experience and reach far beyond what I could have ever reached by using any learner-centric approach alone. The study has many limitations like the one facilitator- researcher, the limited number of participants, the lack of clear quantitative data, and depending mainly on attitudes and feelings; however, sharing the experience with other teachers and facilitators who teach or facilitate in a similar context or have similar concerns can be of great value and can open the horizon for more pieces of research.


Bahgat, M. M. (2018). FIRST Framework, 5 Domains 15 Principles: Design & Facilitate Active Deep Learner eXperience (Volume 1) (Vol. 1). Mohamed M. Bahgat.

Bahgat, M., Elsafty, A., Sharawy, A., Elsamman, K., Samir, R., & Said, T. (2017, November). Facilitating Active Deep Learner eXperience, Using FIRST Framework Transforming Role of Teacher in the Classroom. In Proc. 5th International Conference on Islamic Education (ICIE 2017) (Vol. 21, p. 23).

Hrynchak, P., & Batty, H. (2012). The educational theory basis of team-based learning. Medical teacher, 34(10), 796-801.

Michaelsen, L. K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of team‐based learning. New directions for teaching and learning, 2008(116), 7-27.

Palsolé, S., & Awalt, C. (2008). Team‐based learning in asynchronous online settings. New Directions for Teaching and Learning2008(116), 87-95.


Written by:

Ms. Zeina Almasri

English Teacher & Coordinator

Master’s in English Language Education

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