What is Quality Learning?

A time-tested theory for improvementDr W Edwards Deming

Education continues to be subjected to wave after wave of reform, all aimed at improvement. Researchers, policy makers and practitioners are constantly looking for ways to improve learning. However, they rarely look beyond education.

We are not saying businesses have got it right. Many have not. But there is much to be learned and shared with other organisations to better understand what works.

One of the key thought-leaders in improving quality in organisations continues to be Dr W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993). Dr Deming has 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.

Best efforts and hard work, not guided by knowledge,
only dig deeper the pit we are in.
W Edwards Deming, The New Economics for Industry, Government and Education, 1993, p3.

Learn more about the origins of Quality Learning.

Deming's System of Profound KnowledgeDr Deming distilled this knowledge into a theory for improvement. He called this a System of Profound Knowledge. Deming's System of Profound Knowledge provides a framework for organisational improvement. The theory continues to be affirmed by the work of today’s leading thinkers. It is applied by organisations the world over.

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

Learn more about Appreciation for a System, Theory of Knowledge, Knowledge about Variation and Psychology.


Quality Learning is the application of this improvement theory and tools to improve the quality of learning and school life. It has been applied to education for the last two decades, with great success. Unlike many other 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 to education and how to apply it.

Working together to improve

In his remarkable paper, The Germ Theory of Management, Dr. Myron Tribus pointed out that in many organisations, workers were asked to ‘leave their brains at the gate’ – in other words to just come in and do what they were told to do. He used the following diagram (right) to illustrate this.Myron Tribus 'the hidden assumption'

We believe this same model represents a hidden assumption in the heads of many teachers, principals and administrators. In our schools, students represent 'the workers', and 'the managers' are the teachers, principals and administrators!

As Myron advises:

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

Only the managers (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)

Quality Learning helps to refocus our efforts to work together to improve. 

We devote time to working on the system of learning, to continually improve it, with the help of our students.

We give our students real 'student voice'. We can begin by asking our students the following questions:

What is getting in the way of your learning?
What is creating lost opportunity, frustration and wasted effort?

Similarly, as school or system leaders, we can begin by asking those whom we work with, the following questions:

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

There are Quality Learning tools and methods to help us to do this.

Learn more about Quality Learning in education.

Learn more about Quality Learning tools.

At QLA our focus is on building your capacity to work with others to continually improve the systems you are responsible for. If you don't improve them, who will?!

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