Proposed e-learning infrastructure

Based on the literature review and preliminary insights from previous editions of PBL courses, the main objective was to propose e-learning infrastructure that should be tailored for the PBL context according to the previously mentioned specificities, principles and processes. It has to cover the basic theoretical design background for the project through textual, audio and video material. Besides, it needs to integrate virtual and digital technologies to provide students with the opportunity for collaborative and creative problem-solving in design, to avoid students go through educational materials traditionally, which is against the PBL principles of constructive and self-directed learning (Verstegen et al., 2016). Therefore, it is crucial to rethink and adapt the existing platforms so that the new infrastructure organically encompasses three different aspects: contents for design, collaboration in design and lecturer’s needs. The figure below shows the general layout of the infrastructure detailed in the next subsections.


Figure: E-learning infrastructure prototype (integration of platform, repository and tools)

Content aspect within the e-learning course

Currently, the existing e-learning platforms are often perceived only as a document repository with no practical value for design PBL courses. Yet, Learning Management Systems (LMS, as Moodle) help to store teaching material and course calendar. For more effective learning in the design PBL course, these materials also have to include lecture video recordings, presentation files, guidelines for conducting certain design activities (e.g. how to build a storyboard, how to make patent search/analysis, etc.) and templates for reporting activities in a user-friendly and transparent manner.

Student collaboration within the e-learning course

The teamwork activity in design PBL courses requires quite frequent communication, and therefore there should be a variety of e-learning modules and tools that foster these course aspects. Furthermore, the inherent limitations of LMS and various virtual tools point to the need for adapting the support to the different phases of design projects. For example, sketches facilitate communication during the conceptual phase, while throughout the embodiment phase, students utilise CAD and PDM tools for exchanging engineering information. Ferreira de Farias et al. (2016) criticised LMS Moodle for its inadequate support for more demanding PBL implementations. Although Moodle provides various modules such as Gantt chart, Calendar, Design project or Activity Panel, students do not perceive them enough intuitive and flexible. Then, the existing LMS for design project-based courses can be mostly used as the main hub of the e-learning infrastructure for the provision of information about how to access multiple tools at one place. In fact, scholars such as Ku and Chang (2010) argue that traditional LMS often do not sufficiently support the collaborative learning experience. For example, wiki systems intended for building collective text are frequently replaced with word processing apps such as Google Docs. As such, the proposed infrastructure facilitates accessing these tools for preparing project reports and tracing their work progress. To organise the workflow and sequence of activities, the infrastructure facilitates students to access project management tools (e.g. Trello and Slack), in case the LMS functionalities (e.g. Mahara in Moodle) are not adequate. For exchanging technical information, students can share concepts via communication tools integrating whiteboard and screen sharing functionalities (e.g. Adobe Connect), as well as CAD and PLM tools: this helps addressing the needs highlighted in the bullet list (a-f) in Section 2.2. Ferreira de Farias et al. (2016) suggest that various virtual resources should be employed to foster active learning style. For that reason, the students who tested for the first time the infrastructure presented here were also told about the existence of cloud-based applications that can help them bypassing obstacles with exchanging files created in various proprietary software packages (e.g. Onshape). OwnCloud is used as a file repository to synchronise and share the created outputs among students and educators during the design process (to share relevant, current and prior, knowledge – a). The tools were selected according to the functionalities they can provide along the design process. Students were left free to use the tools they prefer and received suggestions for free.

Integration of educator’s aspects of the e-learning course

LMS should support educators throughout the course to organise the activities, e.g. design reviews, and to monitor the progress of students. The proposed infrastructure enables the tracking of students’ performance. Educators can analyse the frequency and type of e-learning activities on the LMS learning analytics modules as well as the dynamics of file versions on the repository. Second, the LMS enables creating questionnaires/quizzes to collect students’ feedback on their performance, motivation and satisfaction. In addition, educators can easily communicate through the e-learning platform in a more formal manner and organise weekly online meetings (e.g. via Adobe Connect) with their respective teams for synchronous communication and knowledge exchange with team members. An additional LMS feature, crucial for the course reporting, is related to grading of student performance and its coupling with learning outcomes. Therefore, this aspect should not be neglected in the long-term by educators.


Ferreira de Farias, G., Spanhol, F. J., & de Souza, M. V. (2016). The use of LMS to support PBL practices: A systematic review.

Ku, D. T., & Chang, C. S. (2010). A framework of PBL strategy integrated in LMS and a ubiquitous learning environment. In The 6th International Conference on Networked Computing and Advanced Information Management (pp. 722-726). IEEE.

Verstegen, D. M., de Jong, N., van Berlo, J., Camp, A., Könings, K. D., van Merriënboer, J. J., & Donkers, J. (2016). How e-learning can support PBL groups: A literature review. In Educational technologies in medical and health sciences education (pp. 9-33). Springer, Cham.

Full source:

Becattini, N., Škec, S., Pavković, N. & Cascini, G. (2020). E-learning infrastructure prototype for geographically distributed project-based learning. In Proceedings of the Design Society: DESIGN Conference. Cambridge University Press.