Design-Build Experiences

A CDIO design-build experience is a learning event where the learning takes place through the creation of a product or system. It can range from basic, which requires no previous knowledge; to advanced courses, which requires sophisticated technical knowledge. The outcome may consist of hardware, software, a digital model or a combination, but it has to be functionally verifiable and provide immediate feedback to the students.

The nature of a design-build experience will be largely dependent on the engineering discipline from which is derived. However, the CDIO initiative is not specific to any one discipline so to provide an idea of its widespread applicability a number of examples of DBEs are described in the References section.

Development and realization of design-build experiences is different and more complex than traditional course development and teaching. The learning experience is not dependent on the quality of the workspace or the design-build task but a combination of both together with adequate faculty support within a well-designed structure. Thus, a number of general recommendations can be made:

  • start the development of a design-build experience well in advance
  • generate ideas by developing the design-build experience within a team
  • try to predict potential problems and prepare actions for them
  • ensure that all supervisors are appropriately educated and aware of the aims, objectives and procedures of the design-build experience
  • carefully consider the communication flow of student-to-student and student-to-staff
  • test the design-build experience with a small group of students before using it with a larger group
  • allocate a set amount of student hours to the DBE and consider monitoring the actual time spent
  • utilize checkpoints/deliverables to enable tracking of student progress

Having taken account of these general recommendations the person or persons responsible must move onto the more detailed design of the design-build experience. To assist with that process some more specific notes are presented in a list of essential and desirable attributes, and a checklist (below).

Design-build experience attributes


  • provide engineering product or systems building skills
  • include elements of conception, design, implementation and operation
  • enable testing and evaluation during the operation phase
  • focus on learning outcome rather than the product to be designed
  • provide an infinite number of paths to the solution
  • be fully integrated with the curricular activities
  • include adequate training in use of equipment
  • provide all students with similar opportunities to develop their skills
  • increase students' motivation for engineering
  • reward students fairly for their contribution to the task


  • provide a platform for training of professional skills
  • reinforce disciplinary knowledge
  • be cross-disciplinary
  • develop team work and build community
  • allow students to build and operate small, medium, and large systems
  • allow general prototype fabrication, test and redesign
  • develop written, oral, and graphical communication skills

Design-build experience checklist


  • which CDIO syllabus items are to be addressed?
  • what faculty competencies will be required?


  • what size/duration/scope will the project be?
  • what are the start conditions and end result?
  • will previous project themes be re-used, altered, scrapped?
  • what formal processes are required?
  • what will the team size and composition be?
  • what budget is available?
  • will there be any industry involvement and sponsorship?

Teaching and Learning

  • what type of instruction will be required?


  • how will the activity be assessed?
  • will there be student self/peer assessment?


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