Skip to content
Educational Transformation through Technology at MIT
Open SharingCollaborationActive LearningLearning Spaces
Case Studies
Project GalleryProject Index

CDIO - Conceive-Design-Implement-Operate


CDIO space renovationCDIO learning space

In the years following World War II, engineering education and real-world demands on engineers drifted apart. To close the widening gap, MIT pioneered a new model of engineering education, stressing engineering fundamentals within the context of the actual process engineers use: conceiving, designing, implementing and operating. Today, MIT and other leading American, European, Canadian, British, African, Asian, and New Zealand schools have formed a collaborative, the CDIO Initiative, to develop and implement this model worldwide.


In the late 1990s, MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (MIT Aero-Astro) engaged in a rigorous process to determine the knowledge, skills and attitudes that graduating engineers should possess. They surveyed industry and government leaders, alumni, and educators, and examined industry and accreditors' wish-lists, The results show that the success of real-world engineering requires more than knowledge of engineering fundamentals; it requires abilities ranging from experience with hands-on design-build projects to skills in communications and teamwork. The task of educating engineers in the post-Cold War era demands a new conceptual framework that teaches professional, personal, and interpersonal skills, in addition to the technical fundamentals.

MIT soon conceived that framework: CDIO, short for conceive, design, implement, operate. With funding from the Wallenberg Foundation, MIT joined three Swedish universities in 2000 to form the CDIO Initiative, an international collaboration to reform engineering education. Collaborators engage in an ongoing discussion to refine CDIO and provide a flexible, open architecture, along with enabling tools and resources, that can be applied to any engineering discipline at any school.


Determined to produce graduates prepared with the skills and abilities to be successful engineers, MIT Aero-Astro changed both course content and the sequence and manner in which courses were taught.

Content: Curricula were modified to include design-and-build projects. Conventional subjects were coordinated to demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of engineering. Challenging experiences were created in which students design, build and operate product systems.

In addition to theoretical problem solving, classes now include team-based projects progressing in complexity toward an elective capstone design course that requires students to integrate and apply their cumulative knowledge to a comprehensive project.

Methodology: Aero-Astro faculty introduced teaching methods that encourage active learning rather than passive note-taking. One of the most successful techniques is called the "concept test." After lecturing on a concept, the instructor asks students a multiple-choice question, and students respond using infrared response pads that send the answer to the instructor's computer. Instructors learn instantly if students are having trouble, and students are able to gauge their own understanding of the material.

Physical Space: As the curriculum and teaching methods were transformed, so was Building 33, Aero-Astro's Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory. In a multi-million dollar renovation, the building was redesigned to support the CDIO curriculum, with specific conceiving, designing, implementing, and operating spaces and resources.


The CDIO Initiative has become an international venture, with sixteen universities currently collaborating. Others throughout the world have started participating in CDIO activities and expect to become collaborators in the near future. An annual international CDIO conference facilitates the progress, and workshops throughout the year introduce potential collaborators to CDIO.

Through its concept; its reforms of curriculum, teaching and learning; and its creation of workshop activities and assessment processes, CDIO is resolving the conflict in engineering education—bringing engineering education in line with real-world engineering needs.


Ed Crawley

Ed Crawley received a Bachelor's (1976) and a Master's (1978) in Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a PhD (1980) in Structural Dynamics from MIT. He is currently a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT, a MacVicar Faculty Fellow, and the Executive Director of the Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI). Prof. Crawley's current research interests include: the design of spacecraft and space systems; the development of intelligent structures with embedded actuators, sensors and processors; and the architecture of large engineering systems. He is the author of over 50 journal publications in the AIAA Journal, the ASME Journal, the Journal of Composite Materials, and Acta Astronautica.

Prof. Crawley has served as the Chairman of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), International Gas Turbine Institute (IGTI), Structures and Dynamics Technical Committee, and serves as Chairman of the Soaring Society of America (SSA) Structures and Materials Panel. He is a Fellow of the AIAA.

In 1987, Prof. Crawley was an advisor to the National Academy of Engineering Committee on Space Station, and in 1993 was a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on the Space Station Redesign. He is also a member of the NASA Technology and Commercialization Advisory Committee (TCAC).

He was a finalist in the NASA Astronaut selection in 1980, is an active pilot, and was the 1990 and 1995 Northeast Regional Soaring champion.

Ian Waitz

Professor Ian Waitz is a professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a member of the MIT Gas Turbine Laboratory. He is also the Director of the Partnership for AiR Transportation Noise and Emissions Reduction (PARTNER), an FAA/NASA/Transport Canada-sponsored Center of Excellence. His principal fields of interest include propulsion, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, reacting flows, aero acoustics, and, in particular, aspects of the above that relate to environmental issues associated with aircraft design and operation. Prof. Waitz pursues a variety of experimental and computational research in these areas.

He has written approximately 50 technical publications, holds three patents and has consulted for many organizations. He was an associate editor of the AIAA Journal of Propulsion and Power.

In 2003 Prof. Waitz received a NASA Turning Goals Into Reality Award for Noise Reduction. He is an AIAA Associate Fellow, and an ASME and ASEE member.

He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in the fields of thermodynamics and energy conversion, propulsion, fluid mechanics, and environmental effects of aircraft. He was honored with the 2002 Class of 1960 Innovation in Education Award and appointment as a MacVicar Faculty Fellow in 2003.

Measuring Success

Assessment efforts for Concieve-Design-Implement-Operate (CDIO), based on data collected from 2000 to 2005, have resulted in the following conclusions:

  • Introducing CDIO has deepened, not diminished, students' understanding of engineering disciplines
  • Annual surveys of graduating students indicate that they have developed intended CDIO program knowledge and skills
  • Areas of most developed abilities are those that are important to program stakeholders, and conversely
  • Areas of least developed abilities are those that are least important to program stakeholders
  • Students show progress in key areas from start to finish in a CDIO program
  • Course evaluation results and instructor reflective memos indicate that faculty are using a variety of teaching and assessment methods
  • Student self-report data indicate high student satisfaction with design-build experiences and workspaces that promote a sense of community among learners
  • Longitudinal studies of students in CDIO programs are showing increases in program enrollment, decreasing failing rates particularly among female students, and increased student satisfaction with their learning experiences
  • Results have been used to improve CDIO programs

Ed Crawley
Ian Waitz

Measuring Success
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
The material on this page is licensed under a Creative Commons License.