Blog by Renate Klaassen, Programme coordinator 4TU.CEE Delft

Challenge-based education is becoming increasingly popular to prepare Higher Education students for the complexity of real-life challenges. Higher Education Institutions are experimenting and establishing what type of learning formats work best to engage students in challenge-based learning, to both realise the deep-learning and increased motivation it propagates.


Webinar series

4TU is equally aware of the relevance and dilemmas faced in designing this new kind of education. Therefore the four Universities of Technology  have started a webinar series on challenge-based education to learn from each other’s best practices. The series respectively focuses on:

  • How to get a challenge for challenge-based learning? – TU Delft
  • How to realise interdisciplinarity in challenge-based education? – University of Twente
  • How to realise challenge-based education in innovation spaces? – TU Eindhoven
  • How to prepare students with professional skills for challenge-based education? – WUR
  • How is challenge-based education realised in other European countries?

The Quintuple Helix system

On the 16th of February, the 1st webinar series started with contributions from the Joint Interdisciplinary Project by course manager Birgit de Bruin and the PhD research of Nina Bohm, related to Living Lab education within MSc MADE and the City Deal Kennis Maken. In these contexts, challenges are framed as open, dynamic, interdependent and complex (Dorst, 2017) and operating at different systems levels, following the Quintuple Helix system. In the Quintuple Helix system, new knowledge is built parallel in different systems such as University, Industry, Government, Society and the Natural Environment. (Carayannis et al., 2012). Naturally, this involves multiple stakeholders and should allow individual and team goals to be realised in collaboration and matching with the stakeholders’ goals.

One-stop-shop desk

In this 1st webinar, we mainly looked at how a challenge comes into being. In both presentations, it became apparent that the network with external partners is essential. Many initiatives start as a spin-off from other activities/ official collaborative agreements/ serendipitous encounters or a one-stop-shop desk at the university where all the challenges are submitted and redistributed across university education.

System level thinking

Interestingly, preparing for this type of education does not start a few weeks in advance but takes a whole year to prepare and is typically embedded in a bigger context than just a problem at a local level in government or a company. Often the challenges are related to the Sustainable Development Goals and require the students to think beyond the immediate needs of a client contributing to the system levels “society and the natural environment”. Thus, creating sustainable and technological innovations, which are the core-focus of the engineering curriculum.

Necessary student skills

Students’ learning goals necessitate developing professional skills/ transversal skills – interdisciplinary skills and complex problem solving, evaluative judgment and ethical acumen, collaboration, and communication skills for team work. Additionally, students should apply research/design/innovation methodologies acquired during the bachelor/master programmes and (new) content objectives particular to the challenge’s context.

Key-questions from the audience related to the paradox of openness and the closed structures of education, such as:

  • How do students acquire the skill to work independently?
  • How does the activity fit the regular curriculum?
  • What challenges do the staff encounter in guiding the students?
  • How does the structure of education link to the openness of, e.g. living labs/co-creation etc.?
  • How do students find (learning) resources in these educational contexts?

More information

Want to know more? Please watch this 1st session here and join us for the next on the 18th of March 2021!

If you have any questions related to the recording or this blog, you can contact the presenters at:

More information about the projects can also be found on the 4TU.CEE Innovation Map: Joint Interdisciplinary Project and City Deal Kennis Maken.

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