What is Quality Learning?

A time-tested theory for improvementDr W Edwards Deming

Most organisations continue to be subjected to wave after wave of reform, all aimed at improvement. Leaders, researchers, policy makers and practitioners are constantly looking for ways to improve. However, they rarely look beyond their own system.

         There is much to be learned and shared between organisations to better understand
                                              what works in bringing about improvement

One of the key thought-leaders of the last century in improving quality in organisations was Dr W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993). Deming supported the quality improvement efforts of many hundreds of organisations. He developed a deep understanding of what is required to achieve high quality and improving performance, and distilled this knowledge into a comprehensive theory for improvement. Deming called this a System of Profound Knowledge. 

The System of Profound Knowledge provides a framework for organisational improvement. The theory continues to be affirmed by the work of today’s leading thinkers and practitioners, and is applied by organisations the world over.

(Learn more about the origins of Quality Learning.)


Deming's System of Profound Knowledge








(Learn more about Dr Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge and the principles of Quality Learning.)

(Learn more about Appreciation for a SystemTheory of Knowledge, Knowledge about Variation and Psychology.)






Quality Learning is the application of this improvement theory and tools to improve performance, producitivty, learning and the quality of work life in organisations. It has been applied to education for the last three decades (with great success!).

Unlike many models, this theory for improvement comes with a comprehensive ‘how to’. A set of practical tools and methods that bring it to life.

Our aim is to help you to understand the relevance of the improvement theory and how to apply it in your context.

Working together to improve

Stakeholder collaboration is key to improving the quality of any organisation. Especially collaboration between the leaders of the organisation and those on the 'front line' - the workers.

Another major contributor to the theory of improvement was Dr Myron Tribus. In his remarkable paper, The Germ Theory of Management, Myron pointed out that in many organisations, workers are asked to ‘leave their brains at the gate’ – to 'just come in and do what you are told to do'.

He used the following diagram (right) to illustrate this, and warned:

Only the people working IN the system know what is going wrong and creating waste.

Only the managers working ON the system, have the authority to change it.

Myron Tribus 'the hidden assumption'

In schools, we believe this same model continues to represent a hidden assumption in the heads of many educators and educational leaders. Where our students are 'the workers', and 'the managers' are the teachers, principals and administrators...

If we wish to make breakthrough improvement in our schools and school system, we must make time to work on the system of learning, to continually improve it, with the help of our students.

Only the students working IN the system
know what is going wrong and creating waste.

Only the teachers, principals, administrators,
working ON the system, have the authority to change it.

Myron Tribus, Will Our Educational System Be The Solution or the Problem?, (1998)

This is true student voice.

We can begin by asking our students:

What is getting in the way of your learning?

Similarly, as school or system leaders, we can begin by asking the people we work with:

What is getting in the way of doing a superb job?
What is causing frustration and wasted effort?


Quality Learning tools and methods help us to do this and at QLA our focus is on building your capacity to work together with all stakeholders to continually improve.

Learn more about Quality Learning in education.

Learn more about Quality Learning tools.


 (Dr W Edwards Deming picture source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming#Quotations_and_concepts)