How effective feedback boosts the learning process
In the previous episode, we discussed three main conditions in which practices foster learning and performance. Today, we are talking about feedback.
Goal-oriented practice alone is not sufficient to foster students’ learning process. Goal-oriented practice must be complemented with targeted feedback to achieve the greatest learning gains. The main purpose of feedback is to help learners achieve desired performance.
Let us take a look at an example to understand the importance of feedback in the learning process. While on a trip, we use GPS to help us find the best possible routes to our destination. GPS provides key information about our current position and the easiest way to the destination and will sort the routes according to various parameters like the time needed and amount of traffic and will warn us if there is any maintenance work going on. Likewise, feedback provides information about students’ current state of knowledge and performance that will guide them in the journey towards a specific goal. It will help students understand whether their performance is going well or poorly and how they should direct their subsequent efforts.
Now let us use the map analogy we used earlier again. Suppose you are stranded somewhere without knowing what direction to move towards, or you have no idea how to find your way to the destination. You do not have the luxury of a GPS or any maps. There are no people nearby to help you in the right direction. Without guiding information, you will waste time and energy and become confused even if you finally find the way. This position is the same that students are in without effective feedback. It is proven that effective feedback greatly facilitates students’ learning.
According to research, there are two features of feedback that make students’ learning more effective and efficient. First, feedback should give students an idea of where they are now in relation to the starting goals and what should be done to improve. The timing of the feedback is the second feature. Feedback should be given when students can make the most use of it based on the learning goals.
There is no single approach to feedback that we can apply seamlessly across various situations that teachers and students might encounter. The content and timing of the feedback need to be considered in terms of the learning goals, students’ proficiency, and the practical constraints of the course.
Communicating progress and directing future efforts
Feedback is most effective when it communicates to students about specific aspects of their performance in relation to specific target criteria and when it provides information that helps students progress towards meeting those criteria.
We can divide feedback into two – formative feedback and summative feedback. The kind of feedback that directs students’ subsequent learning is called formative feedback. Summative feedback is the one which gives a final judgement or evaluation, such as grades.
Timing of feedback involves how soon the input is given and how frequently it is done.
Feedback is not effective when it only tells students that they are wrong. Effective feedback involves giving students a clear idea of how their current knowledge differs from the actual goal and providing guidance on adjustments that they should make in their learning behaviour or process to reach the goal. Research has also shown that feedback is more effective when it focuses on specific aspects of students’ performance than a generic evaluation.
Another important aspect of feedback is the amount of feedback given to students. Too much feedback can have a negative impact on the learning process – it will be counterproductive as students will be overwhelmed by the number of areas to consider. They also might work on easy-to-fix elements rather than focusing on important conceptual changes.
Timing of feedback
Timing of feedback involves how soon the input is given and how frequently it is done. There is no fixed rule in calculating the appropriate time for feedback. It is best decided in terms of what would support students’ goals in the best way. To put it in simple words, feedback should be given when students really need it. It means that the feedback should support students in reaching their goals.
Giving feedback frequently leads to more efficient learning. It helps students stay on track and address these issues at the earliest. Research shows that even a modest amount of feedback if given at the appropriate time, will positively impact the learning process.
How can you make the timing of feedback better? Research shows that students should be given time to understand and rectify their mistakes independently. It is important to give them ample time to reflect on their own before giving feedback. When we become sure that they would not be able to do it on their own, we can provide them with appropriate feedback.
Today, we discussed how feedback influences learning. We understood that feedback must focus on the knowledge and skills we want our students to learn. It should be provided when students are more likely to use it and should also be linked to additional practice opportunities. Each of these aspects should align with students’ learning goals.
In the next part, we can discuss strategies needed to ensure goal-directed practice and targeted feedback.
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