Feedback improves learners’ self-belief and increases their desire to learn.

feedbackWhen you give learners feedback it improves their self-belief and increases their desire to learn. Under the title “What’s been did and what’s been hid,” that is the eighth of 12 truisms that have influenced how I have been doing my work as a learning and performance consultant over a number of years. I hope you will feel free to support it with a book reference, a personal experience or a case study, or knock it down using similar sources of evidence.

Today I’m going to talk about my passion for feedback. I earnestly believe that when you give learners quality feedback it improves their self-belief and increases their desire to learn. To deserve the adjective “quality”, it must be well-intentioned, skilfully communicated, constructive and timely. Feedback can be spoken, written or done entirely without words, but in all cases it must be properly received and valued by the recipient, and that might involve some coaching too.

Not only does precise, constructive feedback help learners to perform better but also it increases their self-esteem, raises their appetite for learning and builds their learning habit and their capacity for constructive self-criticism.

So I’m ready to continue my pursuit of quality feedback and to rail against the damage done by superficial tokens such as the “Well done” and “Oops” type you sometimes find in packaged learning and the over-use of “Excellent” and “Brilliant” that you sometimes hear in classrooms. But am I acting from a well-founded base of evidence or am I just fuelling a personal bias? Let me put the challenging questions to you:

Is it really true that constructive feedback from instructors (or through the materials they have written) about the completeness and correctness of their efforts helps learners to learn? If it is true, then how do we know for sure?

Do timely comments about their performance act as a form of important recognition of their efforts, reward and motivate learners and so help them to correct errors?

When a learner is practising, will they spot their errors more immediately and know how to correct them if they are willingly receiving feedback as they retrieve and apply specific knowledge?

Is face-to-face, or one-on-one, or any single method best for providing feedback to learners, or is there no best method?

Should you give prompt feedback even when an answer is correct? It is quite common to do so because it seems to reinforce the solution and to be especially useful for metalearning where other learners who are observing can see how the right answer was reached and why it is correct. Can we be sure that this is good practice or is it patronising and does it irritate or slow the learner down?

Should we avoid giving learners general, non-specific praise and criticism?

Is it preferable to give reasons why something is correct or incorrect, or is it enough just to give the learner a mark and provide the correct answer?

Is it always necessary to focus wrong answer feedback entirely on the reasons why a solution or answer is incorrect, and explain how to reach the correct answer?

Must critical feedback really always be given in private, whether it is written or spoken, and never in front of others, or is this just being over-sensitive? Don’t a little naming and shaming, fear and dread now again sharpen learners’ wits?

Is it really true that constructive, timely feedback can reinforce and help learners to develop positive self-esteem as well as improve their scores, or is that a myth?

Are we building from a safe foundation if we think that learners who believe they can succeed usually do better than those who doubt their own capability?

Is it also true that learners who have been bolstered by motivating feedback are more engaged, more active, more independent and more likely to cooperate with others?

Finally is it possible to give too much feedback? Does the proliferation of feedback we see in e-learning and other programmed materials actually advance or hinder learning? Can feedback actually hinder future performance? Doesn’t real feedback come as an integral part of learning in the form of the results we see when we practise? Can hearing how well you are doing at each small task or attempt be excessive? Is this type of augmented feedback during instruction exaggerated, unnatural and potentially damaging? Is it better to limit instructive feedback to every-so-often, and would the very limiting of the feedback itself lead to more rapid learning and mastery?

You can probably detect where my own beliefs lie, but it would be very interesting to have contemporary evidence to support or challenge their authenticity. I welcome you to comment using the form below. [contact-form subject='[PG%26#039;s Tips’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Comment’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

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