Multi-, inter- and transdisciplinarity in challenge-based engineering education

Klaasjan Visscher*, Coralie Johnson, Miles A.J. MacLeod, Jan van der Veen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionAcademicpeer-review

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Challenge-based learning (CBL) offers students in engineering programmes an opportunity to develop communicative and collaborative skills, apply disciplinary knowledge and develop boundary-crossing competencies. Mono-disciplinary approaches to CBL are generally regarded too limited, but whether multi-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary approaches should be used is open to discussion. Often, these concepts are used interchangeably, but there are notable differences. In literature, knowledge integration is mostly mentioned to make a distinction, but because of difficulties in applying this concept to education, we focus on tangible differences in educational practices, related to learning objectives, assessment, and the design of challenges. The different forms of CBL are illustrated by three case-studies carried out at a research university in the Netherlands. We found similarities, but also some subtle differences between multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary approaches to CBL. Multidisciplinary CBL projects are relatively pre-structured, with an indication of the knowledge that is to be applied, deepened, or combined. Interdisciplinary CBL is more open-ended, with students made responsible for connecting their disciplinary backgrounds to the project and for integrating disciplinary perspectives. Transdisciplinary CBL focuses more on impact than on integrating disciplinary contributions. Challenges are open-ended from a content and stakeholder perspective, while structure emerges in the interactions between students, teachers and stakeholders. Which form of CBL can best be employed in a course or programme is dependent on the intended learning objectives. Educators should be aware of tradeoffs and of the specific teacher competences required to design and support these different forms of CBL.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSEFI 2022 - 50th Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education, Proceedings
Subtitle of host publicationSEFI Proceedings
EditorsHannu-Matti Jarvinen, Santiago Silvestre, Ariadna Llorens, Balazs Vince Nagy
Place of PublicationBarcelona ES
PublisherSociete Europeenne pour la Formation des Ingenieurs (SEFI)
Number of pages9
ISBN (Electronic)9788412322262
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022
Event50th Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education, SEFI 2022 - Vertex Building (Campus Nord of the Technical University of Catalonia, UPC), Barcelona, Spain
Duration: 19 Sept 202222 Sept 2022
Conference number: 50


Conference50th Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education, SEFI 2022
Abbreviated titleSEFI 2022
Internet address


  • challenge-based learning
  • interdisciplinarity
  • project education
  • transdisciplinarity


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