Collaborative Learning in Engineering Design Education: A Systematic Literature Review

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Contribution: This article presents a comprehensive overview of characteristics of educational designs of collaborative engineering design activities found in literature and how these characteristics mediate students' collaboration. Background: Engineers have to solve complex problems that require collaboration. In education, various collaborative engineering design activities have been implemented to prepare students for these professional practices. According to cultural historical activity theory (CHAT), educational activities can be described in terms of interrelated elements, i.e., subject, object, tools, rules, division of labor, and community, that influence learning outcomes. A key issue is how these elements mediate students' collaborative efforts and how they contribute to learning. Research Questions: 1) How is collaborative learning implemented in engineering design education? 2) How do the elements of CHAT and their interrelations mediate collaborative learning? and 3) What is the evidence that the implementation of collaborative learning contributed to the achievement of desired learning outcomes? Methodology: A systematic literature review following preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analyses protocols guidelines was conducted, including 111 articles published between 2011 and 2021. CHAT was used as analytical framework. Findings: Collaborative learning was implemented in engineering design activities to develop technical as well as nontechnical skills. For the CHAT elements, it was found that establishing a common object, rules for collaboration, and division of labor are essential for effective collaboration and can be enhanced through digital technologies (tools) and support from a community, for example, educators. Finally, results showed that there is evidence that described implementations contribute to learning. However, this evidence needs to be interpreted with care, due to methodological issues in some included articles.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)509-521
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Green Open Access added to TU Delft Institutional Repository ‘You share, we take care!’ – Taverne project Otherwise as indicated in the copyright section: the publisher is the copyright holder of this work and the author uses the Dutch legislation to make this work public


  • Activity theory
  • Bibliographies
  • Collaboration
  • cooperative learning
  • Cultural differences
  • Education
  • educational technology
  • Federated learning
  • knowledge gain
  • Mediation
  • Systematics
  • team-based learning

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