UCPBL research strategy

In the summer of 2019, UNESCO prolonged UCPBL for another five year period (2020-2025) and at a strategic seminar of UCPBL in December 2019, the strategic focus for the coming 5 years of the UCPBL was outlined based on the core themes in the PBL research (see figure 10). As the UCPBL has been continued as a UNESCO category 2 centre until 2025, there is a need for formulating a strategy plan for both research and outreach.

Basically, the main areas will be continued in the future strategy, however with enhanced focus on digitalisation and sustainability. The research strategy is entitled PBL and Future Engineering and Science Education. The core of the research will still be Management of Change, PBL Competences and Digitalisation, which will be related to engineering and science education, STEM education in K12, professional practice and sustainability.

Figure 10. Overview of up-coming areas for UCPBL research


The research on PBL and management of change in engineering and science education has been the core areas of the UCPBL centre since the very beginning and it is the publications in this area that have had the most impact. There is a significant need for new research projects identifying ways of changing and optimizing a curriculum as a system and also to establish change to more student-centred learning at a course level. Retention, assessment, comparison of the effect of varies learning methodologies, staff development methods, learning environment, design of projects, progressive PBL learning objectives are just some of the researched topics in this area. Furthermore, there has been increasing attention on the affective learning domains and how these interfere with group dynamics. In this area, work has been centred around resilience, motivation, as well as conflict and stress awareness and management. Likewise, the group focus on how individual learning objectives, communication skills and different learning styles impact students learning. All these aspects have been highlighted in research as well as in student feedback as areas of great importance for student’s self-efficacy as well as their sense of belonging and on retention. It is a matter of supporting students in a group setting to be better equipped to persist, prosper, endure and learn vital competencies in an ever more complex work environment.

Based on this perspective the research strategy includes research:

  • to clarify and expand the understanding of PBL competences including the non-cognitive quality of PBL by considering the affective and emotive domain.
  • to strengthen progression of PBL competences including action research on the AAU case.
  • to offer perspectives on curriculum change and how PBL can match various forms of learning outcomes and institutional structures.
  • to further study the dynamic of individual and team-based learning in a PBL environment, including focus areas as motivation, diversity, resilience, self-efficacy and sense of belonging.
  • to ensure that staff development is aligned with the increasing complexity and diversity in PBL competences, including different project types and problem types, new collaboration patterns as well as new demands to integrate and balance current trends related to Industry 4.0 as well as sustainability.

Digitalisation and PBL Competences

The use of digital tools has been an integrated part of educational practice for a long time, but recently there has been an increased focus on the interaction and potential re-enforcement of emergent digital technologies and different perspectives on problem based learning. Research in digitalisation and digital transitions within PBL in Science and Engineering will therefore be closely connected with one or more of the other research areas in the UCPBL group – but still the distinct strategic focus on digitalisation points to the ambition of clarifying and appropriating the possibilities of digitalised learning to PBL environments. This research is still in a phase of conceptualisation and exploration.  In this perspective, the group envisions research within the following three sub-areas:

  • Digital literacy, namely digital competences, emerging technologies, data science (e.g. in relation to ethics, sustainability);
  • Digital infrastructure, namely digital tools & support, organisation and implementation;
  • Digitalized learning, namely blended curriculum models, learning analytics & assessment, digital collaboration and learning communities.


Sustainability is a holistic concept that includes principles, vision, ethics and values. Therefore, students working with SDGs need to be based on solid and thorough understanding of the holistic concept of sustainability.

The overall strategy would be to support Aalborg University and other universities in becoming a driving force in education for sustainability and SDGs, locally, nationally and internationally, by:

Analysing which elements of sustainability and SDGs are relevant for the type of problems addressed in which engineering programmes and for which external stakeholders (e.g. municipalities, NGOs, industry, etc.)
Analysing the perception and needs of sustainability and SDGs of students, academic staff, management and other stakeholders
Developing diverse resources to support students’ learning for sustainability, as well as for academic staff development and assessing their impact.
Proposing interdisciplinary, progressive, flexible and personalised curriculum structures that support students and academic staff in addressing sustainability and the SDGs.
Contribute to the existing body of knowledge on how PBL principles and frameworks promote Education for Sustainability in Higher Education.


Management of change related to STEM and Continuing Engineering Education

Together with regional, national as well as international partners, the research group has created a unique research profile which adds a PBL perspective to the STEM education initiatives in the pipe-line to engineering, science and mathematics education – including pre-primary, primary, secondary school, high-school as well as higher education. This perspective includes attractiveness to STEM, subject didactics, but also outreach – bridging to the research on continual engineering education learning.

Based on this perspective the research strategy includes research to:

  • clarify and elaborate on the understanding of pre-engineering competences – elaborating on what future engineering students should learn.
  • increase the attractiveness of STEM by studying what motivate pupils for STEM, and how a PBL approach could foster an increased interest in STEM e.g. by bringing in real life scenarios.
  • explore the importance of tangible modalities in the ideation process of engineering and how emergent technologies can play a role in the creating a pre-engineering identity.
  • clarify the needs for postgraduate engineering professional development considering the trends of Industry 4.0 and the increasing focus on sustainable engineering.
  • ensure life-long learning by a continuous research on PBL models for continual engineering education to interrelate work-based learning with revisited formal education.
  • increase social responsibility of educational systems by developing PBL models, which are specifically suited for people that are currently challenged to enter the workforce.
  • explore synergies of new pedagogical structures e.g. mega projects, social relations, partnerships and communities of practices across formal educational borders from K12 to CEE.





Research projects and publications

Research Evaluation 2015-2019