Giving good feedback to learners

Giving feedback to your learners is an essential component of your role as an instructor. Learn about effective feedback methods that will guide your students towards success as learners.

Helpful feedback is:

  • goal-referenced
  • tangible and transparent
  • actionable
  • user-friendly (specific and personalized)
  • timely
  • ongoing
  • consistent

Source: Seven Keys to Effective Feedback

Define why

It's crucial that when you give feedback, you address the problem not the person.

A good way to test this is by asking yourself why you're giving feedback. Your purpose should always be to help.

Follow the EPM formula

When you're giving feedback keep in mind the EPM formula:

  • Empathetic — Establish a cooperative tone.
  • Pinpoint problems — Be specific.
  • Move forward — Find a solution.

Good feedback is:

  • Solicited — Discuss your learner's goals and concerns prior to class. Learn what specific feedback they would like, and whether they would welcome other feedback as well.
  • Given in a caring and respectful manner Consider how and why you are giving feedback. Is it in the receiver's best interests? Will it help your learner to build on their strengths and develop their potential?
  • Descriptive, rather than evaluative Good feedback describes behaviours you have observed, not your inferences about their causes. Describe your observations, rather than your assumptions. Let the receiver consider the meanings behind the behaviours or invite you to help in this exercise.
  • Specific, rather than general Specific comments help the receiver to learn to replicate positive behaviours and to change ineffective ones.
  • Timely Give feedback as soon as possible after the event.
  • Given frequently and appropriately (considering the time, place and amount of information) Avoid the temptation to overload the learner with feedback.
    • Respect the receiver's need to save face, and ability to process the information you have shared. This is particularly important when interacting with learners from other cultures whose norms may be different than yours. Keep in mind that what is a tolerable or acceptable correction to a Canadian student may not be acceptable to someone from another culture.
    • Remember that we tend to be vulnerable and insecure when learning new things. A positive comment reinforces our value as a human being and allows us to build on our strengths.
  • Expressed in terms of more or less, rather than either/or or good/bad — Use the continuum method to encourage learners to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviour. For example you could suggest "Taking more time to review your paper would result in fewer grammatical and spelling errors."
  • Checked for understanding Ask learners to highlight the points that they have found helpful. Processing information requires time. If receivers don't have the opportunity to reflect on comments or re-state them they may forget them.
  • Honest Give honest feedback in a caring and respectful manner.
  • Given to be helpful — Always consider the reasons for giving feedback. Are you trying to be helpful to the learner or to unload some of your own feelings? Avoid giving feedback if it's for your benefit, rather than for your learner's.

In addition, good feedback does the following:

  • Emphasizes strengths Too often we ignore what we do well. Let learners know what they are doing well, if it's desirable for them to continue doing it.
  • Focuses on behaviours that can be changed It's pointless to focus on attributes that can't be changed. However, there are certain behaviours that learners can overcome. For example, you could suggest "Taking time time to listen to each member of your group will help you with the teamwork needed to complete this project."
  • Focuses on something related to performance Avoid judging the person. Rather, comment on how a specific change to behaviour would enhance learning.
  • Offers suggestions for change — Provide options and ideas for the receiver to accept or refute feedback, and suggest alternate ways to do things. Avoid confusing providing feedback with demanding change.
  • Reflects the instructor's opinion and can be accepted or refuted — When giving feedback, use "I" sentences rather than the accusatory "you."
  • Can be given in many different ways — You can provide written, verbal or visual feedback, and feedback through body language and gestures. Aim to maintain congruence between words and body language.
  • Includes sharing your feelings or concerns Avoid portraying yourself as all-knowing. Learners can often assimilate feedback more effectively, if you share your own struggles in the same area.
  • Engages the learner in a dialogue Give feedback by asking questions like "How would approaching this project as a series of scheduled tasks affect your completion?" Questions such as these will provide the learner with opportunities to reflect on the feedback and talk through effective solutions with you.