05 October 2012


It is a scandal how far behind teaching BIM is at the majority of academic institutions.  I though academia was supposed to be leading innovation, not trying to play catch-up. Doing research on BIM is not the same as teaching it.  We don't need any more dry, out of date, utopian, and ultimately irrelevant, papers about BIM.  We need building professionals with a good understanding of BIM and the skills to make it work.

This is the fourth and last post of my comments on the Australian Institute of Architects and Consult Australia group of documents under the title "BIM in Practice". My first post was A REVIEW: BIM IN PRACTICE - Legal & Procurement, the second A REVIEW: BIM IN PRACTICE - BIM Management Plans, and third BIM PRACTICE - BIM Outreach; advice to the various players in BIM projects.

All documents are available from  BIM/IPD[AUS] (http://www.bim.architecture.com.au/).

The documents are really discussion papers, and pretty much represent current thinking about BIM by BIM experts in Australia.  These posts are not so much about what is in these documents, as what is wrong (in my opinion) and what is missing. But please keep in mind that I agree with the vast majority of what they contain, and that my aim is not to denigrate this outstanding effort.


Clearly written set of documents that, unlike the other workgroups, suggest a way forward.
And something really needed. Whilst those doing BIM are learning by experience, there needs to be some thought put in to how that knowledge can be passed on to future BIM users.

Three areas of approach are clearly articulated:
 - teaching of BIM concepts
 - teaching of BIM methodologies
 - teaching of collaborative practice

An issue not touched on is the danger of BIM education straying outside the area of expertise of those being taught.  Whilst it might be beneficial to teach architects how a structural engineer uses BIM to do their work, you don't want to encourage architects to actually do, and take responsibility for, structural analysis. Even if it is as easy as Autodesk is telling everyone when you use their cloud analysis service.


Separating out the different types of BIM learners is useful. Convincing a CEO to adopt BIM is a different task to making someone proficient in BIM tools, as is teaching project leaders and managers how to manage BIM teams and projects.

It is NOT clear "that shared BIM database servers will play a more significant role in supporting collaborative processes".  Another example of the single unified database fallacy.
The danger is by making this assumption problems that exist now are put aside as not being important as they will be solved "when everyone moves to a single model".

A discussion on specialisation within BIM tasks may have been worthwhile.  The range of skills and knowledge required across all BIM competencies is beyond a single human being. Even using BIM software like Revit it is not possible to be competent at everything it can do. Particularly when some tasks might only be done a few times a year, or once a project.


Good points are made about academia. It seems academia is just like any other large, conservative organisation. Those at the top don't understand BIM and have no interest in it.

Anecdotally (mainly from students) BIM teaching in academia is disappointing. It would be interesting to see a comparison study of which institutions are doing what with integrating BIM into their courses.

IPD and single shared BIM databases solve a lot of the problems encountered while using BIM. But if that is all learners know they will have no skills in how to overcome those problems when they end up on projects in the real world that don't use these technologies.
This exposes the issue that only teaching future BIM users what is considered desirable is not going to help the industry. Nor is relegating BIM to post-graduate research projects "about the future".

New roles bring new expertise and specialisation. Managing large amounts of digital data is new to the building industry and not currently considered a skill required by building professionals. Perhaps building professionals are not the appropriate ones to take this role on. But some-one has to, it can't just be ignored.

BIM involves those from cost control through to building product suppliers, to facilities management. It is important education policy captures all players, not just some.

The role of reference sources is not discussed.  It is unrealistic to think that once you "teach" someone BIM they will know everything about what they will be called to do.  In CAD this was possible. The skills to draw a stair are the same as drawing a window. But in BIM software there are different tools to construct stairs and windows. There may even be more than one tool to model windows.  The role, creation, maintenance and accessibility of reference sources must be integral to all training.


Very good dissection of the issues and clearly articulated (being an architect, I'm a sucker for a good diagram).

A national framework for BIM competencies is suggested, with an on-line "BIM Learning Hub" that centralises it all. And that this be done by a newly created "National BIM Institute" (NABIMI)?.

If it is set up with just another government grant with no on-going funding (like all BIM initiatives in Australia so far) I don't see it doing much. It might work if picked up by one of the academic institutions or professional bodies.  After all, it could generate income if used by enough BIM education providers.
An ambitious, but an interesting idea, worthy of further discussion.


BIM education has a lot of catching up to do.
A National BIM Institute setting a BIM education agenda is a worthwhile idea.  Particularly for those who don't know where to start (and there seems to be many).

In thinking about academic institutions it is hard to see how BIM can taught if students don't know how to use actual BIM technologies - which means softwares.
One of the problems I see at a number of architecture schools is that it is considered not their role to teach what they call "the tools of the trade".  Not as a part of the core course anyway. Their view is it is up to the students to learn whatever they deem appropriate. The argument given is that they are teaching architecture, and it is not their place interfere with what tools students use.  The result is students have a mish-mash of softwares they use, often using 3 or 4 different programs on one submission (e.g. Rhino, AutoCAD, Photoshop, MS Excel). And of course different students have different skill levels, from each other and within the softwares they know.
I would of thought, if you are concerned about teaching architecture, a better approach would be to restrict them to one software. After the initial learning period students would spend less time wrangling software and more time on the architecture. Product from students would also be more uniform, making it easier to identify good architecture from merely good IT skills.

I understand it is even worse in engineering schools, where it is considered below an engineer's dignity to be involved in drawing, which in their view includes 3D modelling.

And then there is collaboration. Students work in teams within their facility, but rarely with students from other facilities.  It would be great if this happened more often, as a matter of course rather than one off research "pilots".

I could go on. Maybe in a future post.

But perhaps I'm wrong. Let me know if I am.
If you have a view please add your comments to my blog, or go to BIM/IPD[AEC] (http://www.bim.architecture.com.au/) and put your comments there.

This is my last blog on the BIM in Practice documents.


  1. Thank you Antony for reviewing the BIM Education documents and for sharing your personal insights… We've published the documents to instigate discussion and all feedback is encouraged and appreciated. However, there are a few inaccuracies in your review and I'll identify the more important ones below:

    - You've highlighted the “danger of BIM education straying outside the area of expertise of those being taught”. In principle, linking ‘danger’ to ‘education’ is not a good thing - but I understand your concerns. These are exactly the concerns BIM education should address, not avoid.

    - You've somehow decided that our statement “shared BIM database servers will play a more significant role" is another example of the ‘single unified database fallacy’. Shared and ‘single unified’ are two different things; and shared databases are not a fallacy – a single integrated ‘3D model file’ is. Also, the quoted statement provided "when everyone moves to a single model" does not appear in our documents nor do we make that assumption.

    - You are right to say that academia seems similar to large [industry] organizations but you shouldn't really generalize beyond that. Like industry, there are innovative academic institutions as well as conservative ones. Also, many of those at the top of academic institutions are extremely well-informed (I met close to thirty Deans and Heads so far) but are shackled by enormous cultural and regulatory requirement. Rather than belittling their efforts to date, we need to help academia to adopt/teach BIM concepts as their adoption challenges are way more complicated than ours.

    - I'm not sure what you mean by ‘reference sources’ which we haven’t discussed. However, I'm sure you agree that BIM Education should never be confused with BIM Software Training - which may or may not be required depending on one’s individual role. I'm also hoping you agree that BIM Education should not be too concerned about the different ways a window/stair can be modelled as opposed to drafted. Software tools and their specific skill requirements can be easily addressed (by both industry and academia) and are but a distraction of where our focus should be: collaborative workflows, regulatory frameworks and - what I term - the BIM Flux, the ongoing mutations of our roles and responsibilities.

    - Finally, I think you've missed commenting on the first and most important Education Principle (EP1 – document E1, page 4). That is, BIM Education is the “shared responsibility of academia and industry”. Yep, shared not ‘single unified’. I hope you and your blog readers agree with this guiding principle and help us by encouraging your university, TAFE, professional body or industry organization to participate in future phases of this BIM Education effort.

    Thank you again for your review.
    Bilal Succar

    1. Bilal, Thanks for your comments. To clarify myself on some of the points you raised:

      I admit I paraphrased "when everyone moves to a single model", I based it on the actual quote of "but in the future it is clear that . . .". My point is that it is not clear.

      I believe my point about academia being similar to large organization stands. My comments match your point about "shackles of cultural and regulatory requirements". Of course I am generalizing, and don't mean to belittle those making real progress.

      By "Reference Sources" I mean on-going access to educational material. My point is doing "the training" is not the end of learning how to do BIM. Too many offices, and academic institutions, think one training session or subject of BIM is all that is necessary.

      I actually DON'T agree that BIM education should NOT be about how to use specific software. The problem with not teaching how to be proficient in a particular BIM software is that learners never have a deep understanding of BIM. BIM can only be done via software, so you can't do BIM unless you know how to use BIM software. It is far better to teach students how to use a particular software, and leave the industry to teach other softwares, than give students cursory skills on many softwares. It is like teaching computer students Pascal, even though they will never use it in the real world. I say this because the "BIM Flux" you talk of is so out of touch with the real world.

      I agree both academia and industry bodies have roles to play in supporting BIM. Probably different roles, but definitely roles. But "encouraging" is too weak a word. Why can't we expect our industry bodies and academia to step up to the mark? After all, what are they there for?

      Unlike you, Bilal, who is doing great things in this area, keep up the good work!