What every Learning and Development professional needs to know about the International Baccalaureate (IB)

Having just recently started to work on IB programmes I have been really impressed, from a learning design perspective, with the intentions of the IB Middle Years (UK equivalent up-to GCSE) and Diploma (UK 6th form/A-Levels) qualifications.

A lot of what I have found interesting I’m going to share here – particularly for a Learning and Development (L&D) audience – as the growth of the IB has not really been recognised in my experience of the L&D profession. This might be as the IB has been historically ‘niche’ and for wealthy children in certain hubs of international business. However, there has been considerable growth in IB Schools since the year 2000 (see these slides for example). As these programmes grow in popularity (which is likely to continue with increasing globalisation) there will be potential implications in how we (companies and particularly L&D teams) encourage people to develop in the workplace…

Some Background:

IB mission statement

The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment.

These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.

The IB Learner Profile

The IB includes a ‘learner profile’, akin to the kind of attribute/value set most L&D teams will be reinforcing at organisational levels. The profile aims to develop learners who are:

  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective

Approaches to teaching and learning (ATL)

Perhaps more directly related to learning (and development) are the ATL. These are quite complex and have become increasingly important of late (see this blog for more). In many ways the ATL and learner profile encourage the kind of reflection and self-directed, lifelong, learning that L&D teams have long pushed for. The challenge for IB teachers with the ATL can seem similar to concerns L&D has faced, as Dianne McKenzie puts it on that blog post:

Why is…[embedding the ATL] such a hard thing? Is it because it has never been a priority? Is it because content has been king, with good pedagogy and skills coming in as the poor cousin?

http://librarygrits.blogspot.com/2015/05/repackaging-skills.html

As well as my previous experience in workplace learning these issues also ring a lot of bells for those who work in higher education. Indeed skills over content was a focus of an undergraduate module I supported and presented on a while back – yet Higher Education continues to be criticised as not fit for purpose by employers and other groups.

Similarly the Ways of Knowing and wider Theory of Knowledge attempts to install what feels like a detailed consideration of learning in students (and their educators):

language
sense perception
emotion
reason
imagination
faith
intuition
memory

Ways of Knowing

At what stage to develop all of this?

Personally, I suspect I’m not alone in getting to some of this level of self-understanding (around attributes like those in the learner profile) later than the IB age range at university and beyond. Indeed a recent alumni newsletter from one of my universities summed this up nicely:

My time at university taught me that your rewards are directly proportional to the effort you put in during your studies…
have a commitment to lifelong learning – never stop reading and actively keep up-to-date with your industry, following any changes and innovations.

Richard Robinson … Managing Director of holiday villa specialist, Sun-hat Villas & Resorts

The suggestion from the IB would seem to be that successful programmes would bring this through to school levels.

Therefore as well as L&D teams, university instructional design would do well to treat IB undergrads differently. The extensive Extended Essay research project of the diploma, for example, teaches many of the skills that libraries and universities spend time on in the first year of study.

So what might IB graduates expect of L&D teams?

If IB graduates are truly reflective, they should soon realise that ‘learning is work and work is learning’. So how might the IB graduates of the future understand the role of L&D if they are (even more than people in the past) used to managing their own learning?

Well, the IB’s definition of the school library is not far removed from L&D’s desire to shift to multi-modal facilitation of performance improvement:

The IB definition of a library is designed to focus on maximising its effectiveness: “Libraries” are combinations of people, places, collections and services that aid and extend learning and teaching.

Ideal libraries: A guide for schools (International Baccalaureate)

Indeed the role of the IB library is to support many areas that L&D professionals talk about for the workplace:

1. Curating

2. Caretaking

3. Catalyzing

4. Connecting

5. Co-creating

6. Challenging

7. +1 Catering

Six practices that energize learning and inquiry, and one that tends not to (from ‘Ideal libraries’).

All of the above will sound similar to the role L&D performs in many organisations, or at least try to carve out for themselves. Indeed the +1 to avoid (Catering) relates to just doing what the organisation wishes – or the classic, much maligned, L&D ‘order taker’.

The IB programmes also encourage inquiry within students in a number of ways that L&D pros often discuss as things they try to facilitate (with mixed success) in adults:

Social and emotional learning: relating to the growth and personal development of learners, and by extension the school community.

Service learning: relating to the knowledge and wisdom gained through serving the community.

Experiential learning: relating to what is learned through experience, experimentation, and reflection upon both (specific to the Diploma Programme [DP]).

Play: relating to the use of different forms of play and games, and reflection on the process and outcomes of them (specific to the Primary Years Programme [PYP]).

Ideal libraries (again).

With regards to the above, the IB’s Ideal Libraries report considers the resource centre as a form of conduit for learning, relating to the above forms of learning in addition to the dreaded (in some L&D circles) c-word – no, not that one…this:

Curriculum: relating directly to the content teachers are responsible to facilitate, and for students to learn. Research is a form of inquiry, and commonly associated with the curriculum.

Ideal libraries (again).

Therefore, an IB graduate might actually be more demanding of L&D than a ‘traditional’ school/university graduate as they are used to personalised support and facilitation of their own development from others (primarily teachers and ‘librarians’) whilst exposed directly to learning theory and concepts in ways others may not have been.

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