Active learning is an educational paradigm that has been reinvented and methodologically underpinned many times in order to intensify learning in various forms. This paper presents a complex approach to active learning in a design-centred academic course with international participation. Research and design were considered as vehicles of active learning in the academic virtual enterprise environment established for the course. The former provided a methodological framework for exploring and structuring dispersed information and knowledge, and for constructing new ones. The latter supported the further development of the creative design capabilities, skills and experiences of the students by involving them in a project presented by the problem-owner partner company. The students formed international design teams, collaborated with industrial and academic experts, managed their own work, acquired information and knowledge in a systematic way, conceptualized and prototyped products according to real-life expectations, and persuaded the partner company to buy their concept products. The course proved to be an excellent active learning environment also for the educators, who could verify new pedagogical concepts and gained experience with the daily management of an academic virtual enterprise.