This way you turn feedback into a powerful learning intervention

Rinke Huisman

People are inclined to surround themselves with like-minded people, people who think like us, who have the same interests and who understand each other. All this to reach the conclusion that something must be different too late. 

Ask yourself, what does someone surrounded with yes-men only achieve? There must be a good ambience, but without friction there’s no shine, no progression, nothing to be proud of. Who wants to develop, has to come clean sometimes and face the confrontation.

"Feedback is one of the most powerful interventions that encourages learning."

The goal of feedback is to give information on where the user is in their progress, and to offer more grip on achieving the learning objectives. Asking feedback from experts, dissidents and the opponents can result in the exact encouragement someone needs. And yes, it always hurts a little, but with the right tone of voice – in terms of an online learning platform tone of writing – it can become part of the learning culture on the work floor. 

What should you keep in mind while using feedback effectively in an online learning platform?

Goal

Feedback takes many forms and shapes and is used for different reasons. It happens that feedback is used in the wrong manner, resulting in it becoming harder to achieve your goal. Do you want to stimulate good behaviour? Give insight into the (knowledge) level of that moment? Or should the feedback appear just in time before it goes wrong? Ask yourself the following question: The feedback should serve who? Is the feedback meant for the recipient or is it mainly a measuring equipment?

Vorm

Which specific feedback form you choose depends on among other things the goal you have in mind. The three most important forms are: 

  • Direct feedback: This kind of feedback is directly received by the user, for example after answering a question on a test. By using this form of feedback you want to give someone insight into the right answer or the contemporary level. This often happens by means of a grade, correct or incorrect or an answer model. Direct feedback can also be applied well to an oral test or a coaching conversation. 
  • Intervention feedback: This feedback is enabled when you think someone is on the wrong track and something must change right now. Intervention feedback is often quite confronting for the recipient and demands good communication techniques. 
  • Success feedback: this form of feedback is often enabled when you want to reward, stimulate or confirm someone. 

In terms of form you can also choose between written and spoken feedback (audio or video). Most feedback is written, but online learning platforms enable the possibility to give spoken feedback. The advantage of this is that you can delve into the situation more specifically. Feedback is effective when it stimulates the user to think and to undertake action. While formulating feedback you should pay attention to the tone of voice and the tone of writing.

"Feedback is effective when it stimulates thinking and undertaking action."

Level

After you’ve determined what you want to achieve by giving feedback and which form(s) you want to use, you also need to make the choice on which level you want to give feedback. Hattie & Timperley (2007) distinguish four levels of giving feedback: 

  1. Task level, you provide feedback on the task, the product that is delivered (up until then). 
  2. Process level, this feedback concerns the chosen approach or strategy. 
  3. Self-regulation level, this feedback is aimed at the self-learning ability of the user, for example asking: What do you think are the strong and weak points of your assignment? How can you develop in this? 
  4. Individual level, this feedback is separate from the task on which is being worked at the moment, but focuses on the individual person. Think of behaviour, competences and talents. 

Timing

We know and use feedback already for decades, it’s the literal feedback you give after an action or a happening. Don’t let yourself be deceived by this term, because there’s more to it. First came intermediate feedback. By using this we obviated that not only on the last moment a check was performed, but also on important moments in between. Meanwhile, we also know the terms feedup and feedforward, which add a complete new dimension to giving feedback. 

  • Feedup focuses on the question: what do I work towards? 
  • Feedback focuses on the question: how am I doing up until now? 
  • Feedforward focuses on the question: what now?  

Feedback should come before it goes wrong in the final process. It must be there always, certainly when you pursuit a culture of continuous learning

"Feedback must always be there, not only at the final process"

Sender

Finally, there are various senders who can give feedback, feedup or feedforward to a user. The hierarchy and the amount of involvement play an important role in this. Is it given by a direct colleague, your boss, a mentor or a teacher? Does the user collect feedback in their private situation or will they assess themselves? Moreover, you’ve got the possibility of computer generated feedback. One of the great advantages is that it happens directly and the user can undertake action immediately. In case of multiple-choice questions it’s a logical and effective choice. In case of open questions or a file assignment this is a disadvantage, because it’s mostly too general. You can then better choose for an assessment by a teacher.

Whichever form of feedback you choose, always ensure that the user is encouraged to think and undertake action.