Observations of how engineering students approach learning activities in the earlier years of their degree, report that they do not recognise real-life context that links to the theory they are required to apply in learning tasks. This impacts on their motivation and contributes to a lack of transfer of basic knowledge in the latter years of their degree. A new subject for first year engineering students was introduced at the University of Wollongong in 2005 focusing on real-life engineering problems requiring analysis for effective solution. Students are encouraged to explore the use of basic principles and available analysis techniques relevant to projects they have to complete. Students’ experiences of learning were measured by survey. The results together with a review of learning theory led to adjustments for the subsequent offering. Experience with the implementation of this subject underlines the fact that curriculum innovation does not necessarily lead to immediate success. Time, experience, evaluation and development of theoretical understanding were all important for us in implementing a new approach to teaching.