The IB programmes are based on a social-constructivist learning theory, as expounded and developed by John DeweyJean Piaget  and Lev Vygotsky. Their original work has been expanded upon by successive researchers over several decades. The term refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves, i.e. each learner individually (and socially) constructs meaning as he/she learns.

CAIS Philosophy of Learning

The CAIS Philosophy of Learning is a summary of the key concepts behind constructivist learning theory adapted from Professor Hein, Constructivist Learning Theory 1991, Educational Leadership  Nov 1999 Vol 57 No 3.

1. Learning is an active process.

- Learning is not a passive activity that happens to the learner, the learner is an active participant in the process, engaging with the world.


2. People learn to learn as they are learning.

- Learners improve how they learn as part of the learning process as we are learning.


3. Learning happens in the mind.

- A learner's reflection of learning improves learning  (Dewey).


4. Learning involves language. 

- The language used influences learning (Vygotsky).


5. Learning is a social activity.

- It is something that happens interactively, between  people (Dewey and Piaget).


6. Learning happens in a context.  

- Learning is neither  abstract nor occurs in a vacuum and is dependent on the context such as the social and active process (as in 1 and 5).


7. People need knowledge to learn. 

- Learning builds on previous knowledge.


8. It takes time to learn. 

- Learning is not a destination but a journey/interactive process with different stages.


9. Motivation is key to learning.

- Knowing why something is being learned and how to apply it creates a desire to learn.




Lev Vygotsky (USSR)

1896 - 1934

Lev Vygotsky’s theory is one of the foundations of constructivism. It asserts three major themes regarding social interaction, the more knowledgeable other, and the 'zone of proximal development’.

The zone of proximal development refers to the tasks a child is unable to complete alone, but is able to complete with the assistance of an adult.  That is the teacher pitches a learning experience for a specific child at a level just beyond his/her current level of performance.

Vygotsky views a child’s interactions with adults and more able peers as key to their overall development.


John Dewey (USA) 

1859 - 1952

John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. He is regarded as one of the most prominent American scholars in the first half of the twentieth century.  (wikipedia)

Dewey believed that human beings learn through a 'hands-on' approach. This places Dewey in the educational philosophy of pragmatism. Pragmatists believe that reality must be experienced. From Dewey's educational point of view, this means that students must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn. He believed in an interdisciplinary curriculum, connecting multiple subjects.


Jean Piaget (Switzerland)

 1896 - 1980

Jean Piaget was a Swiss psychologist known for his work on child development. Piaget's theory of cognitive development and epistemological view are together called "genetic epistemology”.

Paiget declared in 1934 that "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual."

According to Ernst von Glasersfeld, Jean Piaget was "the great pioneer of the constructivist theory of knowing."

Piagets theory of child development is studied in pre-service education programs. Educators continue to incorporate constructivist-based strategies.


Constructivism Learning Theory

'The great triumph of Western intellectual history from the Enlightenment until the beginning of the 2Oth century rested on its ability to organize the knowledge of the world in a rational way independent of the learner, determined by some structure of the subject. Disciplines were developed, taxonomic schemes established, and all these categories were viewed as components of a vast mechanical machine in which the parts could be explained in terms of their relationship to each other, and each part contributed to making the whole function smoothly. Nowhere in this description does the learner appear. The task of the teacher was to make clear to the learner the working of this machine and any accommodation to the learner was only to account for different appropriate entry points for different learners.'

Constructivist theory requires that we turn our attention by 180 degrees we must turn our back on any idea of an all-encompassing machine which describes nature and instead look towards all those wonderful, individual living beings---the learners---each of whom creates his or her own model to explain nature. If we accept the constructivist position we are inevitably required to follow a pedagogy which argues that we must provide learners with the opportunity to: a) interact with sensory data, and b) construct their own world.

Professor Hein, Constructivist Learning Theory 1991, Educational Leadership  Nov 1999 Vol 57 No 3