Principles of Learner-Centered Learning


The Constructionist theory was pioneered by Professor Seymour Papert of Media Lab, MIT. His research spanned more than 20 years and brought new insights into how children learn. Briefly, his conclusion is that children learn best when the topic is interesting. Papert said, “Good learners don’t come from better teaching, rather good learners come from a process of personal discovery through inquiry.”

Professor Papert was instrumental in the formation of DSIL. DSIL was launched in November 2000, four years after the first long workshop on Constructionism was conducted in Chiangrai Province (Thailand) led by Professor Papert. The four intervening years were an invaluable and necessary preparation period of intensive Constructionist learning for the launch of the school. The methodology of Learner Centered Learning, introduced to Thailand by Professor Papert, Professor Glorianna Davenport, Dr. David Cavallo and others from MIT Media Laboratory, was applied to the school, in conjunction with MIT Sloan School Professor Peter Senge’s Learning Organization culture to optimize the children’s learning with a pool of intellectual resources. This means that the families and nearby community also took an active role in cultivating a continuous, rich learning environment for 7 days/week and 24 hours/day.

After a long period of preparation and operation, it was evident that both Learner Centered Learning and Learning Organization were inseparable and fruitful concepts in support of Constructionist learning. Moreover, information technology (being implicit in Constructionism) was fully integrated into the school life in order to enable or further elevate Constructionist learning. Lastly, DSIL’s goal was to become a center of learning about learning i.e. a place of reflective experimentation, where both the teachers and students could learn simultaneously.

Principles of Learner-Centered Learning

The heart of Learner-Centered Learning (Project-based Learning incorporating the concept of Constructionism) is the recognition of the dignity of each child, while the heart of the Learning Organization is the recognition of the dignity of both the learners and facilitators. Through these two philosophies, DSIL customizes and develops its activities in a way that suits each individual, keeping both learners and facilitators stimulated, promoting a mutual sense of ownership and self-development, and developing everyone into lifelong learners.

DSIL refers to its teachers as “facilitators” and the students as “learners” because the roles and relationship between teachers and students at DSIL is very different from those in traditional education. The DSIL teachers’ role is to facilitate learning and develop a mutual relationship of learning and respect with students. However, in this document, the terms teacher/facilitator and student/learner are used interchangeably.

At DSIL, students are encouraged to pursue their own interests and develop their own projects. In project-based learning, the students are encouraged to select the projects that interest them the most. Having understood that the power of passionate learning can lead to fluency or mastery, the first task of facilitators is to promote the students’ passion for learning, and the second is to facilitate their learning. The first is possible by allowing the learners to choose what they want to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Then, the teachers, as role models, can design and facilitate the process.

The emphasis on learning at DSIL is not for success on examinations, but rather on the much more important mastery of the “learning process” and the ability to help others, thus giving rise to joy, satisfaction, self-esteem and the enhancement of dignity in the lives of learners. DSIL’s innovative learning methods are continuously integrated with domain knowledge thus enabling DSIL students to successfully compete on national tests. By doing so, every aspect of Constructionism is covered and applied all the time with no constraints from traditional education ideas. Moreover, DSIL students learn and work as a team, building trust, planning and task-sharing skills and developing an ability to adapt to different learning and working environments.

At the same time, it is intended to instill Five Quotients (5Qs) into students through the project-based learning:

  1. Intelligence Quotient (IQ): The development of skills and knowledge to increase an intelligence level and a passion for learning.
  2. Emotional Quotient (EQ): The development of emotion and mentality to enable the learner to become self-realization and emotional stable.
  3. Adversity Quotient (AQ): The development skills that enable the learner to be able to confront all kinds of situations and find possible solutions to the unseen or unfamiliar problems, and also to enable them to work well under pressure.
  4. Technology Quotient (TQ): The development of technology fluency.
  5. Morality Quotient (MQ): The development of morality and ethics to bring about a beautiful-minded quality in each and every one of the learners so that they can work happily and peacefully together.

DSIL has applied the learning process to the students since day one, then extended it further according to Dr. Peter Senge’s methodology as presented on the following chart.

Peter Senge’s Learning Process Illustrated as a Feedback Spiral (with DSIL’s Addition of Lifelong Learning’s Linear)

Excerpt from Peter Senge et al., Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education (New York: Doubleday, 2000), page 190.

Learning Organization Culture and Disciplines

The Suksapattana Foundation members found through experience that it is difficult to produce good learners in bureaucratic, slow-moving government environment. The foundation sought innovative approaches and structures and through its research began networking with academicians and practitioners who were studying and developing a new science of management and organizational development under the banner of “organizational learning” that sought to help organizations of all types become “learning organizations.”

Peter Senge, who is a senior lecturer at MIT’s Sloan School of Business and also Chairperson of the Society for Organizational Learning and author of The Fifth Discipline and co-author of the other Fifth Discipline Series of books has been the leading pioneer of learning organization research and development under the view that “human values in the workplace; namely, that vision, purpose, reflectiveness, and systems thinking are essential if organizations are to realize their potential. These approaches are relevant for educational institutions of all types, as noted in his recent book “Schools That Learn.”

The idea of a “Learning Organization” culture, an inseparable part of Constructionist Learning to optimize the children’s learning process, has been the main area of focus at DSIL since day one. DSIL believes that the school must adopt a “Learning Organization” practice in order to produce good learners in both the students and teachers. The most significant efforts are to build a concept of “ownership” among teachers and staff, and to apply a democratic management system to the school in order to obtain optimal participation. Everyone is encouraged to make comments and take part in school planning i.e. “show and share” is the school culture. Each shall have the rights to speak up or give different opinions about the organization and the management. However, it has proved time consuming and in need of continual effort to change some of the cultural influences, since Thai people are fairly rooted in a seniority-based system.

As an official member in the Society for Organizational Learning (SOL), DSIL is extremely committed to these principles and to the continuous development of our organization. In addition, DSIL is a non-profit organization that adheres to the highest ethical standards in business. DSIL is a showcase of good corporate governance and strives to be a role model for businesses all over Thailand.

A Summary of Learning Organization disciplines (5Ds) as seen today at DSIL follows:

  1. Personal mastery: Experimental forms of self-assessment, covering criteria needed for self-improvement, are prepared by the school support team to provide teachers and staff the opportunity to recognize their actual situation or their developmental level and to set their goals of self-improvement and self-learning. Everyone will be able to analyze himself or herself honestly and objectively, see their strengths and weaknesses clearly, realize where they are, where they want to be, and what they need to develop and improve upon to get there. As a result, they will learn the art of “self-mastery” over different tasks of organizational development and continuously evaluate and improve themselves.
  2. Mental models: It is well understood that people have different ideas due to life experiences, family background, education and other factors, therefore the greater respect for the opinions of others should not be overlooked. In fact, everyone should be open-minded, ready to accept and learn from each other, and develop trust in each and every member of the organization.
  3. Shared vision: The teachers and staff are participating in setting up a vision, mission, strategy, and goals of the organization and attempting to work efficiently in cooperation with one another. As DSIL students’ progress, they are welcome to participate in the continuous improvement process of the vision, goals, and strategy. DSIL encourages a “show and share” technique that helps the organization communicate and learn; it has become a part of DSIL’s culture.
  4. Team learning: “All for one and one for all”, the teachers and staff are learning as a team, sharing knowledge derived from one another and helping each other to overcome emerging problems. This in turn is the most powerful idea of the learning process, which leads to “unity” within the organization.
  5. Systems thinking: Systems thinking is very important in understanding the cause and effect and inter-relationships in any system. Understanding the structure of a system enables more effective planning and problem solving solutions at any level: organizational, operational or personal. It enables the teachers, staff and students to work together to “see” causes of problems, develop and test solutions, and hopefully avoid ‘unintended consequences” that would otherwise result from lack of understanding a system before attempting to change it.