Introduction to learning systems

High-level Quality Management System Framework

The learning system is at the core of good quality management. It ties the other components of the Quality Management System framework together.


Why are learning systems important?

  • Defined terms create a common, accessible language for all
  • Better communication increases understanding and enables the sharing of knowledge
  • Systems which drive learning enable us to manage the quality of work
  • Purposeful activity to share information results in faster, iterative learning and;
  • They are a practical way to create a culture of learning


When to use a learning system

Not every piece of work merits its own learning system. Use a learning system if an issue is complex with many interdependencies or if adapting new learning to a different setting. The more any new learning will need to be adapted or “translated” to work in a new setting, the more it would benefit from a learning system (Guzman et al, 2014).

Consider the following questions:

  • Would it be beneficial to involve a range of people from different backgrounds and contexts?
  • Do participants potentially have different needs from the system and different levels of interest to engage?
  • Is it unclear how you might achieve your goal?
  • Is the issue being tackled complex, uncertain and requiring multiple perspectives to solve?
  • Do people need to form close working relationships and feel trusted to share information?

If the answer is “Yes” to any of the questions above then a learning system built on a Network approach could be valuable.



The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the need for organisations to learn and adapt quickly. Having a system that learns effectively is at the centre of good quality management. The HIS Quality Management System framework  places the component “Learning System” at the centre of the framework, overlapping the other essential areas. But despite being at the core of quality management it felt hardest to define. Healthcare Improvement Scotland has set out to define and illustrate the theory, and show how it can be put into practice.  

Organisational structure, hierarchies of power and budget constraints can all impact on the sharing of information. This coupled with the complexity of organisations and their work, highlights why designing specific systems which focus on enabling learning and using that knowledge in the system is beneficial.

A Breakthrough Series Collaborative is a very good example of a learning system focused on QI, but in this document we want to widen the scope of the learning to all facets of good quality management. 

Source: The Breakthrough Series: IHI’s Collaborative Model for Achieving Breakthrough Improvement,


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