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Learning from MIT on STEAM Education

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About the Entity

In the late 1990s, there were intense discussions about the practicality of science education in higher education institutions. Many believe that the success of real-world engineering requires more than knowledge of engineering fundamentals; it requires abilities ranging from experience with hands-on design-build projects to skills in communications and teamwork.​

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Under the leadership of Ed Crawley, MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (MIT Aero-Astro) engaged in a rigorous process to determine the knowledge, skills and attitudes that graduating engineers should possess. They surveyed industry and government leaders, alumni, and educators, and examined industry and accreditors' wish-lists. The “Conceive, design, implement, operate” framework were soon conceived. With funding from the Wallenberg Foundation, MIT joined three Swedish universities in 2000 to form the CDIO Initiative, an international collaboration to reform engineering education.


We interviewed Ed Crawley, the Ford Professor of Engineering, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics as well as one of the founding members of the CDIO initiative, to distill more insights about the CDIO initiative and its implications for the K-12 space:

8 About the Entity
8 Setting th Vision

Setting the Vision



Learning Principles


There are multiple principles that the CDIO initiative is grounded upon. The guiding principles are reflected by the 12 standards that are used to describe CDIO programs:


  1. The Context: Adoption of the principle that product, process, and system lifecycle development and deployment -- Conceiving, Designing, Implementing and Operating -- are the contexts for engineering education

  2. Learning Outcomes: Specific, detailed learning outcomes for personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills, as well as disciplinary knowledge, consistent with program goals and validated by program stakeholders

  3. Integrated Curriculum: A curriculum designed with mutually supporting disciplinary courses, with an explicit plan to integrate personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills

  4. Introduction to Engineering: An introductory course that provides the framework for engineering practice in product, process, and system building, and introduces essential personal and interpersonal skills

  5. Design-Implement Experiences: A curriculum that includes two or more design-implement experiences, including one at a basic level and one at an advanced level

  6. Engineering Workspaces: Engineering workspaces and laboratories that support and encourage hands-on learning of product, process, and system building, disciplinary knowledge, and social learning

  7. Integrated Learning Experiences: Integrated learning experiences that lead to the acquisition of disciplinary knowledge, as well as personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills

  8. Active Learning: Teaching and learning based on active experiential learning methods

  9. Enhancement of Faculty Competence: Actions that enhance faculty competence in personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills

  10. Enhancement of Faculty Teaching Competence: Actions that enhance faculty competence in providing integrated learning experiences, in using active experiential learning methods, and in assessing student learning

  11. Learning Assessment: Assessment of student learning in personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills, as well as in disciplinary knowledge

  12. Program Evaluation: A system that evaluates programs against these twelve standards, and provides feedback to students, faculty, and other stakeholders for the purposes of continuous improvement

8A Learning Principles
8. Enabling Active Learning

Enabling Active Learning Within Each Discipline

Curriculum & Instruction


The CDIO initiative believes that engineering education should be based on the product, process and system lifecycle of engineering. The model is essentially Conceive - Design - Implement - Operate:

  • The Conceive stage includes defining customer needs; considering technology, enterprise strategy, and regulations; and, developing conceptual, technical, and business plans.

  • The Design stage focuses on creating the design, that is, the plans, drawings, and algorithms that describe what will be implemented.

  • The Implement stage refers to the transformation of the design into the product, process, or system, including manufacturing, coding, testing and validation.

  • The final stage, Operate, uses the implemented product or process to deliver the intended value, including maintaining, evolving and retiring the system.

Food for Thought for K-12 Educators:
What is the essential framework/lifecycle that your subject follows in real life? What are the intended learning outcomes? How can you ensure that your curriculum aligns with these?
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The CDIO initiative also believes that the learning outcomes of the engineering education should be codified in the syllabus, and should include outcomes for technical disciplinary knowledge, personal learning outcomes, interpersonal learning outcomes, as well as product, process and system building skills. (Click HERE for the CDIO Syllabus that MIT has developed, which includes the syllabus structure, detailed content developed etc.) An integrated curriculum should be designed in close alignment with the intended learning outcomes.


In order to give students opportunities to make connections between the technical content they are learning and their professional and career interests, the CDIO initiative emphasizes on creating the design-implement experience in real-world contexts. All engineering courses should include two or more such experiences (e.g. research projects and internships) one at a basic level and one at an advanced level. The iteration of design-implement experiences and increasing levels of design complexity reinforce students' understanding of the engineering lifecycle.


Furthermore, CDIO initiative believes that learning environments and teaching practices that support hands-on and active learning are fundamental. Students should be directly engaged in their own learning as well as have opportunities for social learning through learning environments like workspaces and laboratories. To help students make connections among key concepts and facilitate the application of knowledge to new settings, active learning methods (e.g. simulations, case studies) should be adopted.

8B Curriculum & Instruction


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