Part of the
Centre for
Engineering Education
TU DelftTU EindhovenUniversity of TwenteWageningen University
Centre for
Engineering Education


+31(0)6 48 27 55 61


The potential of mixing professionals and traditional students in the classroom

Friday, 21 January 2022

Lifelong learning is there to stay because the nature of work changes rapidly. This asks for professionals who can respond and adapt in a versatile way through continuous development. This trend is particularly relevant for engineering education that aims for close connection with industry and public organisations in societally relevant research and state of-the-art technologies. According to the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, higher education is to support professionals in their development. This implies that professionals will (re-)enter the higher education classroom in various phases of their lives. As a result, the classroom composition will change dramatically: higher education classrooms transform into mixed classrooms with both professionals and traditional students.

Mixed classroom

At Wageningen University, didactic experts and teachers believe this has great potential for adding value to learning for both professionals and traditional students. In the ideal situation, the mixed classroom facilitates cross-pollination between both groups. It allows for integrating practical knowledge and experience -offered by professionals- with the latest academic insights -brought in by traditional students.

Didactics guiding the design and development of a mixed classroom for professionals and traditional students are still in a preliminary phase. “At Wageningen University, we experiment with the mixed classroom, further developing the concept so that it fulfills its potential of adding value for learning by both professionals and traditional students, says Sarah de Vries, educationalist at WUR.

Transdisciplinary courses

The context of the mixed classroom courses is the domain of Managing Public Space. The foundation Managing Public Space represents municipalities, provinces, knowledge institutions and consultancies. The foundation asked Wageningen University to deliver education to both professionals and master students, which led to the initiation of three mixed classroom courses.

The domain of public space deals with big and complex challenges such as climate adaptation, energy transition, mobility, and social issues. These are wicked problems, for which no single solution exists. Traditionally, professionals in this field are educated as either engineers, planners, designers, or managers of public space. But the wicked problems require an integrated, interdisciplinary approach. In addition, an integration of practice and academia is required. “That is why we create transdisciplinary courses in a mixed classroom setting”, explains Marlies Brinkhuijsen, who is assistant professor Landscape Architecture at WUR.

Learning from each other’s world

“In the spring of 2021, we delivered the first course to 15 professionals and 13 students”, continues Brinkhuijsen. “The course includes theoretical and practical components: lectures, realistic cases in an individual and a group assignment and personal development. The individual assignment is based on cases from the professionals’ daily practices. The group assignment has an external commissioner”.

De Vries: “We evaluated the course based on surveys, informal conversations between learners and teachers, an evaluation meeting with all participants, personal development reports and observations by teachers. The first findings are very promising. Learners are very enthusiastic about the concept of the mixed classroom.” The interaction and collaboration between students and professionals are highly appreciated. Particularly the integration of theory and practice is regarded as very valuable. Professionals are challenged to leave their daily practical routines. The academic input from students stimulates them to take another perspective, to critically reflect on practices they usually take for granted, and to consider their daily practices from a strategic rather than a hands-on perspective. Instead of starting from daily routines and limiting possible solutions by a given budget, they are challenged to freely explore possible futures and to come up with innovative solutions and approaches. In turn, professionals learn students more about what the daily reality of a professional in the field looks like. Students learn how content, process and context interact with each other and experience the skills and routines used by professionals.

Great potential

Based on these preliminary findings, De Vries and Brinkhuijsen believe that the mixed classroom has a great potential for serving tomorrow’s higher education classroom. Questions that are yet unanswered are: which didactical choices are key for adding value to learning by both professionals and traditional students in the mixed classroom? And: how can we design courses and learning materials based on these insights? We will try to find answers to these questions in future versions of the three courses.

“We believe that the mixed classroom can be more widely applied than the domain of Managing Public Space. It seems particularly suitable for domains dealing with wicked problems that require an integrated practical and academic approach, such as the domain of engineering and technology.”


More information:

Contact Or read: