International Journal of Technology and Design Education

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 717-732

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A sampled literature review of design-based learning approaches: a search for key characteristics

  • Sonia M. Gómez PuenteAffiliated withEindhoven School of Education, Eindhoven University of Technology Email author 
  • , Michiel van EijckAffiliated withEindhoven School of Education, Eindhoven University of Technology
  • , Wim JochemsAffiliated withEindhoven School of Education, Eindhoven University of Technology


Design-based learning (DBL) is an educational approach grounded in the processes of inquiry and reasoning towards generating innovative artifacts, systems and solutions. The approach is well characterized in the context of learning natural sciences in secondary education. Less is known, however, of its characteristics in the context of higher engineering education. The purpose of this review study is to identify key characteristics of DBL in higher engineering education. From the tenets of engineering design practices and higher engineering education contexts we identified four relevant dimensions for organizing these characteristics: the project characteristics, the role of the teacher, the assessment methods, and the social context. Drawing on these four dimensions, we systematically reviewed the state-of-the-art empirical literature on DBL or DBL-like educational projects in higher engineering education. Based on this review we conclude that DBL projects consist of open-ended, hands-on, authentic and multidisciplinary design tasks resembling the community of engineering professionals. Teachers facilitate both the process of gaining domain-specific knowledge and the thinking activities relevant to propose innovative solutions. Teachers scaffold students in the development from novice to expert engineers. Assessment is characterized by formative and summative of both individual and team products and processes and by the use of a variety of assessment instruments. Finally, the social context of DBL projects includes peer-to-peer collaboration in which students work in teams. The implications of these findings for further research on DBL in higher engineering education are discussed.


Design-based learning Engineering education Authentic projects Scaffolding