IB Learner Profile- Does it support a constructivist approach to learning?

BCW teamIB PYP, Inquiry

Learners Constructing Meaning. Learner Profile

IB Learner Profile- Does it support a constructivist approach to learning?


I have started formal study after a long break. It has been both challenging and interesting to become a ‘student’ again.

I have discovered that as a learner I like to dive down rabbit holes of ideas and topics that interest me, and re-learning that formal study requirements leaves little time for such research. The discipline of staying on task has me starting to critically analyse the topics that are up for investigation.

This study is a Masters in International Education with a focus on the IB programmes. The focus of the first unit has been looking at internationalism and the learner profile and the pedagogical theories that underpin them. I was surprised to discover that the research and connections to pedagogical theory came after the development of the various programmes, a somewhat back to front way of designing best practice in education. George Walker states that many research questions in the IB were posed and pondered by practitioners and were designed to knit theory with practice. (Walker, 2012)

The IB learner Profile was adopted as the PYP developed, however John Wells points out the IB haven’t used “psychological or sociological theory or research to justify their claims concerning the development of the PYP student profile (which later became the IB Learner Profile)”(Wells, 2011). There are suggestions in a number of readings that link the basis of the 10 attributes to American character/value education models.

The biggest “Oh My’ moment was looking carefully into the learner profile (the peg that the IB hang ‘Internationalism’ on) only to discover a connection that I had vaguely wondered about previously but hadn’t voiced.

The IB believes in and bases much of its approaches on social constructivist theories of education, basically the learner is supported in developing and constructing their own understanding of things. However, the Learner Profile is prescribed, imposed and not available to question. Despite its international perspective, the IB is sensitive to criticisms that it is too closely associated with the values of the Western world. Indeed, Walker (2010) argues that the IB learner profile is largely predicated on the Western humanist tradition of learning.”(Bullock, 2011)

How can the Learner Profile and its implementation be so incongruent with the rest of the philosophy and pedagogical practices that underpin IB approaches to learning and teaching?

Van Oord states “With the appearance of the IB learner profile, it seems that this principle no longer includes moral thought or behaviour. Here, students should not modify their own environment; they should stick to the noble habits decided upon at the IB headquarters. Students are asked to conform, and autonomous decision-making is only allowed within the parameters of the learner profile attributes”(van Oord, 2013)

In this way the learner profile may become canonical in nature, prescribing a reified moral way of being…it is a colonisation of students via an imposed vision of one group’s decision about what values, morals and behaviours should be reified and continued.

After reading, discussing and thinking about these ideas I will be more thoughtful about the hidden curriculum dictating what an internationally minded person might look like.  This awareness will influence my teaching and the way I support the co-construction of ideas that help learners live in a world in ways they find ethical, based on history, culture and beliefs.



Bullock, K. (2011). International Baccalaureate Learner Profile: Literature review. International Baccalaureate Organisation

Walker, G. (2012). Postscript. Journal Of Research In International Education11, 275 -279.

Wells, J. (2011). International education, values and attitudes: A critical analysis of the International Baccalaureate (IB) Learner Profile. Journal Of Research In International Education10(2), 174-188. doi: 10.1177/1475240911407808

van Oord, L. (2013). Moral education and the International Baccalaureate learner profile. Educational Studies39(2), 208-218. doi: 10.1080/03055698.2012.717260