A short introduction to CDIO
The purpose of this page is to give a short introduction to CDIO in general and examples of how CDIO is applied in the education programs within the Faculty of Sceince and Engineering at Linköping University. The presentation does not have the ambition to cover all aspects, and a more detailed description can be found via the web site www.cdio.org and the references listed in the reference section below.
What is CDIO?
The question can be answered in different ways, and three possible answers are:
- An acronym: Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate.
- A framework for development of engineering education based on this framework.
- An international network, The CDIO Initiative, consisting of a large number of educational institutions around the world working with education based on the CDIO framework.
The acronym CDIO
The acronym CDIO (Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate) is meant to represent the entire lifecycle of a product, process, or system, to start from an idea or an identified need, and then develop, implement, take into operation, use, and finally take the product/process/system out of operation.
The CDIO framewok
The CDIO framework consists of two main parts:
- A description ("definition") of the role of an engineer.
- Documented goals for the edcuation together with a structured work process, tools to assess to what degree the goals are fulfilled, and ways to develop the education to an even higher degree of goal fulfillment.
A definition of the role of an engineer
The starting point of the CDIO framework is the definitionen, see , page 12 (or 50):
We believe that every graduating engineer should be able to:
Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate complex value-added engineering products, processes, and systems in a modern, team-based environment.
Assuming that this definition is adopted as a description of the role of an engineer, the natural concequence is to design and develop the education with this role in mind.
The CDIO framework is based on two fundamental documents:
- The CDIO Syllabus
- The CDIO Standards
The purposes of the documents are to help when answering the questions:
- Which knowledge and skills are expected from the graduates from an engineering education program?
- How should an education program be designed and executed so that the program makes it possible for the students to reach the expected learning outcomes?
The documents will be described in some detail below.
The CDIO Initiative
The CDIO Initiative started as a joint project between MIT, Chalmers, Linköping university, and KTH with funding from the Wallenberg foundation. After some years it developed into an international network with now more than one hundred educational institutions from all parts of the world. Additional information about the the organization and activities within the network can be found via www.cdio.org and the section below.
Why use the CDIO framework?
There are several reasons why the CDIO framework is a useful starting point when developing education programs in general and engineering education in particular. Some of the most obvious arguments are:
- All types of education programs need continous work to develop quality and ensure that the objectives of the program are fulfilled. The CDIO framework offers a systematic approach for doing that.
- CDIO can be viewed as "strucured common sense", where the different questions and aspects always have been under dicsussion when working with edcuation programs. Rather few topics and tools within the framework are entirely new, but the main point is that they have been put together in a systematic way.
- Since the start of the CDIO Initiative, and due to the fact that several universities have joined along the way, a lot of experience and many good examples have been collected based on the common framework. This can be a great value in the work with your own education program.
The CDIO Syllabus
The CDIO Syllabus is used to state the expected learning outcomes in terms of knowledge and skills of the graduates from a program. The first version was developed during the first years of the CDIO Initiative, but the document has later been revised and since a few years there is a CDIO Syllabus 2.0. Both the original version and version 2.0 can be found via www.cdio.org. In the CDIO Syllabus the expected learning outcomes are structured in four sections, and in version 2.0 they are:
- Disciplinary knowledge and reasoning.
- Personal and professional skills and attributes.
- Interpersonal skills: Teamwork and communication.
- Conceiving, designing, implementing and operating systems in the enterprise, societal and environmental context - The innovation process.
One new feature in version 2.0 is that section four has been extended with two new sub-sections with emphasis on leadership and entrepreneurship. The new sub-sections are 4.7: Leading engineering endeavors and 4.8: Engineering entrepreneurship respectively.
During the first years of the CDIO Initiative the Syllabus, version 1.0, was translated into Swedish (collaboration between LiU, Chalmers and KTH). Later also CDIO Syllabus 2.0, down to level x.y, was translated into Swedish, and it is found as reference . Based on the Swedish translations a number of modifications and extensions have been done within the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Linköping University. A main modification has been to include a section five, in addition the four presented above, to enable that the document covers also bachelor's and master's progams in natural sciences and other disciplines, i.e. "non-engineering" progams. Some different generations of this document, the LiTH Syllabus, are given as refernces  and .
During 2018 a new revision was carried out, in which sub-sections 1.4 and 1.5 were included, to get an even better match with the formulations in the Degeee Ordinance. Also section five has been revised. The new version, version 3, has also been approved by the board of the Faculty of Science and Engineering. The document is given as reference .
An English translation of LiTH Syllabus 3.0 was developed during 2019, and this can be found as reference . The document differs from CDIO Syllabus 2.0 in that section 1 has been modified and that section 5 has been added. Sections 2 - 4 are almost identical with the CDIO Syllabus 2.0
CDIO Standards consists of twelve properties that characterize an education program that follows the CDIO framework. Also this document has been revised and developed during the years, and there is hence both version 1.0 and version 2.0 of the document. Both can be found via www.cdio.org. According the formulations in version 2.0 the twelve standards are given by:
- Standard 1: Adoption of the principle that product, process, and system lifecycle development and deployment -- Conceiving, Designing, Implementing and Operating -- are the context for engineering education.
- Standard 2: 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.
- Standard 3: 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.
- Standard 4: An introductory course that provides the framework for engineering practice in product, process, and system building, and introduces essential personal and interpersonal skills.
- Standard 5: A curriculum that includes two or more design-implement experiences, including one at a basic level and one at an advanced level.
- Standard 6: Engineering workspaces and laboratories that support and encourage hands-on learning of product, process, and system building, disciplinary knowledge, and social learning.
- Standard 7: 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.
- Standard 8: Teaching and learning based on active experiential learning methods.
- Standard 9: Actions that enhance faculty competence in personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills.
- Standard 10: Actions that enhance faculty competence in providing integrated learning experiences, in using active experiential learning methods, and in assessing student learning.
- Standard 11: Assessment of student learning in personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills, as well as in disciplinary knowledge.
- Standard 12: A system that evaluates programs against these twelve standards, and provides feedback to students, faculty, and other stakeholders for the purposes of continuous improvement.
The CDIO Standards is a useful tool in the development of an education program, and it can also be used for self evaluation. During the first years of the CDIO Initiative the Standards 1.0 were translated into Swedish and given the name CDIO:s principer, see . A brief translation of CDIO Standards 2.0 was done during 2015. It is named CDIO Standards 2.0 på svenska, and it is given as reference .
How can the CDIO framework be used?
One way to answer this question is to start from the items in the CDIO Standards and give examples of how program development can be done using these items. The presentation does not have the ambition to cover everything, i.e. the different items in the Standards do not get equal attention. The presentation is based on applications of the CDIO framework that have been done within the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Linköping University.
Standard 1 - The Context
Adoption of the principle that product, process, and system lifecycle development and deployment -- Conceiving, Designing, Implementing and Operating -- are the context for engineering education
Standard 1 expresses a statement about the purpose of the education and is closely connected to the definition of the role of and engineer that was give above. In order for the CDIO framework to be applied in a successful way it is important that this statement is known and that it is adopted on different levels in the organization, from managment level to individual teachers and students.
Standards 2 och 3 - Learning outcomes and Integrated curriculum
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
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
Since the start of the CDIO Initiative a number of methods and tools have been developed to enable systematic work with goals of programs and courses, and how to design a curriculum that enables for the students to reach the goals of the education. Some of the available tools will be presented below, and they are:
- Syllabus Survey.
- Course and program matrices (previously denoted IUAE matrices).
A fundamental requirement for an education program is that its design and execution enable for the students to achieve the goals for education. In addition to this, the design of the program can be affected of the disciplinary contents, choice of learning methods, etc. One tool that can be used to get guidance for how to prioritize is the so called Syllabus Survey. The tool is described in some detail in , and an example of an early use of it is given in . The first step is to identify the stakeholders of the program, which can be teachers, students, alumni, persons within industry or the public sector with some kind of leading role. The second step is to, for the subsections x.y of the CDIO Syllabus, grade how important the contents of section x.y is for the students graduating from the progam. The scale that is discussed in  ranges from level 1 - To have experienced or been exposed to to level 5 - To be able to lead and innovate in. The outcome of such a survey can be a profile of the education showing how the different types of knowledge and skills in the CDIO Syllabus can be prioritized.
Course and program matrices (previously denoted IUAE-matrices)
The purpose of the course and program matrices is to, in a systematic way, describe how the contents, learning objectives, learning activitites and examination in a course contribute to the fulfillment of the goals of the education program, which the course is a part of.
One dimension of the course matrix consists of the expected learning outcomes, in terms of knowledge and skills, structured according to the sections and subsections of LiTH Syllabus. Using the local extension of the Syllabus, used in order to also include non-engineering programs, the LiTH Syllabus has the following five sections. See also .
1. Disciplinary knowledge and reasoning.
2. Personal and professional skills and attributes.
3. Interpersonal skills: Teamwork and communication.
4. Conceiving, designing, implementing and operating systems in the enterprise, societal, and environmental context.
5. Planning, execution and and presentation of research or development projects in the scientific, societal, and environmental context.
The purpose of the second dimension is to describe how the different knowledge and skills are treated, practiced and assessed in the course.This is done using the words Introduce (I), Teach (Swe: Undervisa), Utilize (Swe: Använda), and Examine (Swe: Examinera). The steps can be interpreted in the following way.
I - Introduce: The knowledge/skills are introduced, without being subject to examination.
T - Teach: The knowledge/skills are stated as learning objectives and subject to examination.
U - Utilize: The knowledge/skills are used in the course and they are considered as prerequisities from previous courses.
E - Examine: The type of examination, expressed using the notation in the course plan, that is used to assess the type of knowledge or skill represented by item x.y. The matrix also contains a fifth column where explanatory comments can be given.
It should be stressed that there is no "correct" answer for how a course matrix should be filled in. It is a matter of the individual teacher's view of the course.
A starting point when filling in a course matrix is to think about the role of the course in the program, which the course is part of. For all programs at the Faculty of Science and Engineering the program goals, stated in the program plan, are formulated according to the sections in the LiTH Syllabus on level x.y. The contents, learning objectives, learning activities, and examination of a course should be possible to connect to the overall goals of the program. For each activitiy in a course it should, in principle, be possible to ask the question: Which goal(s) of the program are supported by this activity? By learning activities are here meant e.g. lectures, exercise sessions, laboratory sessions, but also projects, seminars, base group work, study visit, homework exercises, etc. It can also be noted that e.g. a laboratory exercise can support different goals depending on the contents, purpose and execution, for example if written documentation is included or not. Below is an example of a course matrix for a course that is part of both and engineering program and a program within natural sciences. Note that the matrix below shows the "old" appearance, i.e. before moving the matrices to the BILDA system.
To some extent the sequence I-U-A can be used to illustrate the progression of knowledge and skills during the education. However, one aspect that is more difficult to capture using the course matrix is the complexity within a certain topic or learning actitivty. The sequence Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO), i.e. subsections 4.3-4.6, can be applied to products or systems of both low and high complexity.
During the spring semester 2019 the Faculty of Engineering and Science arranged a number of workshops about course and program matrices and their role in the new quality assurance system that is being implemented at LiU. The workshops presented the underlying ideas and some guidance for how to think and do when filling in a course matrix. The slides from these workshops are in regerences  and .
The course matrices for the courses in a program can then be put together to form a program matrix. An example of such a matrix is given below. The purpose of the example is to, without going into details, illustrate the possible use of such a program matrix. The matrix shown below covers the mandatory courses during the first three years, courses that are required to fulfill the requirements on courses within economy and MTS (humans-technology-society), and the mandatory courses from one of the master's specalizations. By studying the columns in the program matrix it is possible to see possible weaknesses of the program, e.g. areas that are covered to a sufficient level.
Connections between the CDIO Syllabus and the Degree Ordinance
Even though the CDIO Syllabus offers a logical way to structure the goals for knowledge and skills, it has to be kept in mind that it is necessary to ensure that the goals specified in the Degree Ordinance are fulfilled. Hence it is necessary to ensure that there is a clear connection between the goals in the Degree Ordinance and the CDIO Syllabus, and this connection is shown in the matrix below. (The matrix was originally proposed by Johan Malmqvist, Chalmers, and later extended and refined wtihin the Faculty of Engineering and Science.) The matrix shows that all goals in the Degree Ordinance are covered if all sections of the CDIO Syllabus are covered. The example below shows the matrix for the five year engineering program, and in  the corresponding matrices are given for the three year engineering program, bachelor and master degree. The same type of mapping can be done between the CDIO Syllabus and and other systems to formulate goals. For example, Table 3.3 in  shows the mapping between the CDIO Syllabus and the ABET criteria, which are used in USA for accreditation of engineering education programs.
Black box exercise
Concerning curriculum design Standard 3 talks about "... mutually supporting disciplinary courses ...". One very useful tool for studying the connections between the courses (and whether they are mutually supporting) in a program is to carry out a so called "Black box exercise", which has been proposed by Kristina Edström at KTH. A brief description is given in the slides in  and in Box 4.2 on pages 106-107 in . The key idea is to concentrate on the interface between the courses, in terms of knowledge and skills. The "inputs" to a course are knowledge and skills which the students are supposed to have obtainied in previous course, i.e. prerequisities, and the "outputs" are the intended learning outcomes, i.e. the knowledge and skills that students are supposed to obtain during the course.
Standard 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
Standard 4 stresses the need to start the engineering education programs with a course that gives a first impression of the engineering role, which among other things include an initial experience of development work in a project. A course of this kind can be found in many of the five year and three year engineering progams within the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Among them one can mention:
- Engineering project (TFYY51) for the programs Applied physics and electrical engineering, Applied physics and electrical engineering - international, and Biomedical engineering.
- Introduction to CAD (TMKT94) for Mechanical engineering, Design and product development, Energy, environment, and management, and the three year engineering program in Mechanical engineering.
- Engineering project (TFYA46) for Engineering biology and Chemical analysis engineering.
For natural reasons the disciplinary contents differ, and to some extent also the organization, but some of the common components in these courses are:
- Lectures and exercises about group dynamics.
- Ledctures and exercises about written and oral communication.
- Lectures about some project model, e.g. LIPS . See also .
- Presentations by alumni.
- Project work.
- Projet conference and/or competition.
The main part of the course is spent on the project work.
Since the start of the CDIO Initiative a larger number of courses of this type have been created around the world. Several examples can be found via the link Knowledge Library on www.cdio.org.
Standard 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
Design-implement experiences is not unique for the CDIO framework, and courses and learning activities of this type existed before the CDIO Initiative started. This type of activity plays an important role if an engineering education program can be said to follow the CDIO framework. This is reflected by the fact that Standard 5 states that an engineering education program should contain at least two courses of this kind. This section will present a few examples from the engineering programs at the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Linköping University. First, design-implement experiences are important parts of several of the Bachelor project courses within the engineering programs, and, second, some examples of so called capstone courses from the last year of the engineering programs will be given.
Design-implement experiences in Bachelor project courses
Since 2014 all five year engineering programs at the Faculty of Science and Engineering contain a Bachelor project course. There are in toal 17 such courses, and most of them are of design-implement type. Some of them are:
- Bachelor project in software development TDDD96 for the Computer science and engineering program.
- Bachelor project in electronics TSEA56 for the program Applied physics and electrical engineering and the specialization in Electrical engineering for the program Industrial engineering and management.
Design-implement experiences via capstone courses in year four and five
Within several of the five year engineering programs there are capstone courses during year four or year five. I some cases the projects are run in collaboration with industry. The courses in the list below represent just a few examples of such courses:
- VLSI design TSEK06
- Automatic control - project course TSRT10
- Images and graphics - project course CDIO TSBB11
Standard 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
There are many engineering workspaces for hands-on learning within the Faculty of Science and Engineering. Among them one can mention the workspaces Muxen and Laboteket belonging to the Department of Electrical Engineering and prototype labs belonging the Deaprtment of Management and Engineering.
Standards 7 och 8 - Integrated learning experiences and Active learning
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
Teaching and learning based on active experiential learning methods
The courses within the education programs at the Faculty of Science and Engineering use various types of integrated and active learning. The course Introduction to engineering (Standard 4) and the design-implement experiences (Standard 5) are examples of such courses. There are also numerous other courses and actitivities with active learning such as laboratory exercises, projects within programming courses, case studies, and base group work within the Problem based learning framework.
Standards 9 och 10 - Enhancement of faculty competence and Enhancement of faculty teaching competence
Actions that enhance faculty competence in personal and interpersonal skills, and product, process, and system building skills
Actions that enhance faculty competence in providing integrated learning experiences, in using active experiential learning methods, and in assessing student learning
The pedagogical unit of Linköping University, Didacticum, arranges a number of courses and seminars around various aspects of teaching and leanring. In addition, the unit offers possibilitites to apply for funding for pedagogical development projects.
In a similar way the pedagogical development group PUG (Pedagogisk utvecklingsgrupp) within the Faculty of Science and Engineering also provides possibilities to apply for funding for pedagogical develpment projects.
Since 2015 the Faculty of Science and Engineering arranges an annual Education day for teachers, persons involved in program management, and other interested. The event is around the end of the spring semester and the theme varies from year to year.
Standard 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.
The programs within the Faculty of Science and Engineering use a multitude of methods for assessment, depending on the learning objectives and execution of the course. In courses that involve design-implement experiences (See Standard 5) both the result and the development process are assessed. In  is discussed how a so called project model can be used for continuous assessment during the execution of such development project.
Standard 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.
An education program and its qualitities can be evaluated in many ways, e.g. using external reviewers or via self-evaluations. One way is, as the description of Standard 12 says, to carry out a self-evaluation based on the twelve items of the CDIO Standards. For this the information in  can be used. Another methods for program evaluation is alumni surevys, and an example of such a survey within the Faculty och Science and Engineering is given in .
Organization and activities within the CDIO network
The organization of the CDIO network is described via www.cdio.org, and only a brief summary is given here.
The network is lead by the CDIO Council, consisting of 15 persons, including the two Co-directors, the leaders of the different regions (one per region) and six members-at-large (normally elected two by two) for a period of three years. In the election each participating instititution has one vote each. The composition of the different regions and the corresponding leaders can be found via the link About on the site www.cdio.org . The Co-directors are elected for two years, and for the moment these positions are held by Aldert Kamp, Delft University of Technology and Helen Leong, Singapore Polytechnic. The network, including the web site, is managed by the CDIO Office, which is located at Chalmers, Sweden.
The main actitivity of the network is the yearly conference, the International CDIO Conference, which normally is arranged in June. A list of previous and upcoming conferences can be found via the link Meetings on www.cdio.org. It can be mentioned that Linköping University arranged the 2nd International CDIO Conference in 2006. The conference contains plernary and parallel sessions, poster sessions, roundtable discussions, and workshops. The first submission of papers is normally in November. In addition to the annual conference, there is a work meeting for the entire network in November. There are also meetings on regional and national levels. Time and place for these meetings, previous as well as upcoming, are presented via the link Meetings.
FAQ (Frequently asked questions)
Can the CDIO framework be applied to other types of education than engineering?
Yes! The framework was develped for engineering education, and it is primarily institutions working with engineering education who are participating in the international network. However, this does not imply that the framework is restricted to this type of education. The key point is to be able to define (characterize) the professional role the education is aiming for. With such a definition it is possible to adapt e.g. the CDIO Syllabus such that the document suits also this education. Several of the items in the CDIO Standards, like e.g. the items about student active learning, faculty competence, formulation of learning objectives and assessment, are relevant for all types of education programs.
What is new with CDIO? We have always worked like that.
Good, keep on with that! It is hard to claim that any of the components in the CDIO framewok is entirely new. The fundamental questions about which knolwedge and skills that are required for a graduate in order to be able to carry out the professional role, and how an education program should be designed to enable for the students to reach the specified goals have existed for many years. The CDIO framewok offers a systematic way to approach these questions, and the CDIO Syllabus and Standards can provide support when dealing with these questions.
How do we actually know that the CDIO framework contributes to the quality of the education?
This is of course difficult to "prove", but a good structure, suitable processes, and clear objectives for the education contribute to the quality. The CDIO framework has been developed and is used in an international context, and it can be seen a consensus around the design and execution of high quality engineering education. Nationally UKÄ has also pointed out the CDIO framework as a good tool for these purposes.
Do all education programs within the Faculty of Science and Engineering follow the CDIO framework?
Yes! There is no strict machanism saying when a progam should be called a "CDIO program" or not. The twelve items in the CDIO Standards represent one way to highlight the most important components of such a program, and based on those components the responsible program board can choose and prioritize where to put most of the efforts. However, there are a number of aspect that support the statement that all programs follow the CDIO framework. Some examples:
The program goals for the different education programs are formulated according to the structure of the CDIO Syllabus. Also the course matrix for each course follows this structure.
All programs contain a substantial amount of student active learning.
All programs contain project courses and/or project based learning activities. The bachelor's projects are often of design-build type, and many of the programs have an Introdoductory course early in the progam.
 Crawley E.F., Malmqvist J., Östlund S., Brodeur D.R., Edström K. Rethinking Engineering Education. The CDIO Approach.Springer. 2:a upplagan.
 Wiklund I., Lindblad E. och Gunnarsson S. Using an Alumni Survey as a Tool for Program Evaluation. 1st International CDIO conference, Kingston, Canada, 2005.
 Bankel J., Berggren K.-F., Crawley E.F., Wiklund I. och Östlund S. The CDIO Syllabus: A comparative study of expected student proficiency. European Journal of Engineering Education, 28(3), 2003.
 Svensson T. och Gunnarsson S. Using a project model for assessment och CDIO skills. 1st International CDIO conference, Kingston, Canada, 2005.
 Svensson T. och Krysander C., Projektmodellen LIPS. Studentlitteratur, 2011. ISBN 978-91-44-07525-9.
 LiTH Syllabus 2.0, 2016.
 Vägledning för att fylla i kursmatriser. 2020
 LiTH Syllabus 3.1, 2019.
 Koppling mellan LiTH Syllabus 3.0 och Examensmål, 2018.
 Om LiU:s kvalitetssystem. Slides from workshops about course matrices VT2019.
 Om LiTH Syllabus och kursmatriser. Slides from workshops about course matrices VT2019.
 English translation of LiTH Syllabus 3.0. 2019.
Last updated: 2021-05-10