Bridge the eLearning Gap with Effective Feedback

  • Posted on June 4, 2015   Shazia Wajid

    Before we begin, let’s imagine a situation. Envision yourself taking highly effective professional development training which contributes profoundly to your career. The training is useful, interesting, and highly interactive. All is going well, when suddenly you get confused about a certain point. You reach out and ask the instructor your question, and guess what he has to say? “That’s not right! Try again.” How would you feel in such a situation?

    While envisioning this situation is frustrating, imagine the confusion, a student in an elearning course would face if all they received was “incorrect” every time they made an incorrect selection in an online course. Apart from the learner’s frustration, ineffective feedback can erect learning barriers that prevent learners from meeting the learning objectives of the course, and result in your hard work writing reliable and valid assessment questions going in vain! Here are a few tips to help you fill in learning gaps and maximize learning transfer by writing effective feedback for your elearning courses.

    There is no “one-size-fits-all” feedback.

    The feedback students need depends on your course content, the level and type of information you are providing, the existing knowledge of your students, the learning objectives of your course, and so forth. It’s time to swap ready-made feedback (“yes,” “no,” “that’s correct,” “that’s incorrect”) with directed, context-based, useful information.

    Provide immediate feedback, at regular intervals, prior to the final exam.

    Include opportunities for learners to explore and confirm what they know throughout the course—and provide prompt coaching feedback during those elearning interactions (activities, games, quizzes…) to guide student understanding. Keep in mind that assessments can be effective tools to support learning, not just measure it. If assessment feedback is provided at the end of the quiz or exam, as a sort of report card, it may have limited impact on learner improvement. By putting it at the end, you rely on the learner to diligently go back and review the questions marked as incorrect and absorb your feedback. Many learners, upon seeing a passing grade on a quiz, even if it is not a perfect grade, will hurry forward to the next section rather than take the time to review. This can leave gaps in their knowledge that may negatively impact their performance on the final exam. On the other hand, if you provide assessment feedback immediately after a question is asked, at that moment you’ve got the student’s attention and can immediately reinforce key points and address common misconceptions and errors.

    Give it some thought. Explore alternatives and consequences.

    eLearning courses can allow learners to practice real-life situations in a controlled and safe environment. Take advantage of the opportunities available with online interactivity often not available in a live setting: Endless practice, impact-free exploration of alternate approaches and consequences, opportunity to change perspectives and goals to shed light on other aspects of a problem or situation. Combine practical engaging scenarios with helpful focused feedback in elearning interactions and assessments so that the learners are not only aware of reasonable alternatives but also the consequences inherent in those choices.

    Let’s suppose your elearning course is about food safety and you want to test the learner’s knowledge about handling the allergic reaction of a customer in a restaurant setting to food he or she has eaten. When there are multiple common or competing reactions to a situation, it can be highly useful to help the learner understand the consequence of each alternative (answer options). For example, when seeing the customer in distress, the server may want to make inquiries as to food allergies, carried remedies, whether there is a doctor in the restaurant, explore the possibility that the guest may simply be choking on something (unrelated to allergies), or call for an ambulance. In some cases, the quick arrival of an ambulance may help save someone’s life. In other, milder cases, where the guest carries medicine for just such events, it may be an unnecessary and problematic expense. Appropriate sequencing of inquiries to determine the nature of the situation, followed by appropriate action is critical. Allowing students to see the consequences of NOT asking the right questions can help drive home the learning.

    Make every feedback count.

    For maximum effectiveness, each feedback response should be something worthy of attention—even when the answer is “you’re right.” Again, imagine the instructor in the classroom. A remark of “great job” can make you feel good, but after enough of those, the student is likely to stop paying close attention. Adding a tidbit of information (for example “Great job. Did you know that _________?”) can set the feedback up as more of a conversation, where every feedback provides some useful or interesting nugget.

    Be clear and direct.

    Start your feedback with a statement that indicates immediately if the response was correct, partially correct, or incorrect. Then provide the follow-up. If the response was incorrect, explain WHY it was incorrect. Then, coach the student. If the student is likely to encounter the question in future assessment attempts (because the assessment draws from a limited bank of questions), provide a guiding hint as to the correct answer and how to approach such questions in the future. If the assessment draws from a reasonably large bank of questions, make feedback a teaching moment. Explain the thought process behind why the correct response was the best response.

    Keep feedback concise.

    In most cases, feedback should not be a mini-lecture. It’s a follow-up response to the user’s response. If you are concerned about skipping useful information in your feedback explanations, break core concepts into smaller chunks when writing assessment questions and designing elearning interactions. Focus each question or activity to address a particular aspect of the core concept. In most cases, this can help lessen the amount of feedback you need to provide at any given moment.

    It’s good to talk!

    Consider feedback as a developmental dialogue between you and your student rather than a monologue which is written to pinpoint the mistakes that the learners have committed as they moved forward in your elearning course. Write feedback in a friendly and conversational tone to help promote high order thinking by clarifying the tricky points of your course.

    In most cases, avoid blunt negative statements such as “You are wrong!” or “Incorrect!” It doesn’t need to be a verbal buzzer. Try replacing such openers with comments that make it clear that there is a problem, but with a little more compassion, for example: “Hmm, let’s look at that again.” “Careful.” For activities that allow the student to make a different selection, encourage the student with phrases like “Try again. You can do it!” or “Let’s try a different approach. What might work best?”

    In most cases, positive statements should not only confirm correctness, but cheer learners forward. Statements such as “Bravo!” “Great Job!” and “Way to go!” may be small phrases, but can strongly influence how the learner feels about their own performance and about the course itself. As in a conversation, keep the praise appropriate for the importance and scope of the task. “Fantastic!” for clicking the meaning of a word may strain credibility. The same remark applied to successfully analyzing a situation and identifying a solution with significant real-world impact could more reasonably merit “Fantastic!”

    Better learning, better feedback.

    We all learn from our mistakes. As online course developers, we should provide pleasant and informative learning experiences to our students and fill out any learning gap that exists between the learner and the online training that we have created. With the help of effective elearning feedback, we can ensure maximum learning transfer by helping our students embrace errors as learning opportunities.

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    1. Lilly says:

      Thank you Shazia, nice post…every learner wants the feedback to improve in their studies. Especially for the E learners don’t take their subject under the guidance so there is a chance of mistakes, for them this article may help.

      August 21, 2015 at 9:32 am - Reply
    2. andre says:

      Thank you for making curriculum issues clear as crystal.

      January 12, 2016 at 5:52 am - Reply
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