Helping students learn through guidance and support.

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The Importance of Feedback

Instructional feedback is a response, usually from a mentor, used to guide student learning. Feedback can take several forms including verbal, nonverbal, written and digital.

Feedback gives students direction and answers three questions (Hattie & Timperley, 2007):

  • Where am I going?
    Reaffirm desired learning outcomes.
  • How am I going?
    Highlight learner’s progress and areas of improvement in relation to desired outcomes.
  • Where to next?
    Advise learner on how to make progress towards desired learning outcomes.

Benefits of Effective Feedback

When students are in the beginning stages of learning new concepts and skills, they may not yet have the ability to self-evaluate their performance. This makes expert feedback very important to help improve their understanding. While students may eventually discover solutions, guidance is often more effective and more motivating for learners (Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark, 2006).

Learning is more efficient and successful when students understand:

  • the correctness of their conceptions.
  • the quality of their performances.
  • the extent to which they are meeting learning objectives.

Educational research has shown that for students to learn teachers must engage their previous understanding, support the development of a conceptual framework of ideas (i.e., students lack authentic learning if they collect unconnected facts) and support metacognition for students to monitor their own learning (Bransford et al., 2000).

When students receive effective feedback, they can:

  • reflect on their understanding.
  • clarify mistakes or misconceptions.
  • monitor their progress.
  • review missed content.
  • stay motivated.

Feedback also has many benefits for instructors, including:

  • building and fostering positive relationships.
  • guiding students in modifying their learning strategies.
  • allowing students to become self-directed and self-reflective learners.


Faculty are often concerned with finding the time to give effective feedback. It is important to consider the act of providing feedback as an investment in creating more self-regulated learners. As students improve at reflecting on their own learning, they become better at self-evaluating and require less guidance. However, the quality of feedback is important when the desired goal is for students to strengthen their self-regulation skills.

Challenges can occur if poor feedback is given. For example, if feedback is:

  • given only to the whole class, instead of individually
  • not used because it is unconstructive, unclear, or interpreted incorrectly
  • mostly related to tasks and content knowledge when students are beyond novice learners
  • only given to students, not also received from students

(Carless, 2006; Hattie, 2012; Nuthall, 2007)

These concerns highlight the importance of needing to learn how to effectively provide feedback and should not be interpreted as reasons to avoid giving feedback.

Strategies for Providing Effective Feedback

Goals of Feedback

Provide feedback that:

  • reduces the gap between the students’ current performance and the learning goals
  • is constructive, direct, positive and specific
  • increases learning opportunities
  • guides students on how to proceed, make progress or clarify misunderstandings
  • encourages students to self-evaluate their learning
  • evaluates observable learning: what students do, say, make or write

As instructors, it is necessary to communicate to your students why feedback is important. Consider sharing the following principles with your students:

  • stress the importance of feedback for learning and achievement
  • show how comments and grades go together to illustrate where and how to improve
  • explain what to do with the feedback and how to apply it to future learning to help them meet the desired course learning outcomes

(Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Poulos & Mahony, 2008; and Van der Kleij, Feskens & Eggen, 2015)


Feedback can be either Performance-Oriented or Mastery-Oriented (Dweck, 2016).

Generally focused on:
  • a specific score
  • proving one's ability
  • the product
  • achievement (fixed mindset)

Generally focused on:

  • overcoming challenge
  • effort towards improvement and growth
  • the process and learning
  • growth (growth mindset)

While both types of feedback focus on student outcomes, mastery-oriented feedback helps students improve, focusing on how to better understand a concept or develop a skill. Students will benefit more when feedback is mastery-oriented.

Levels of Focus

It is important that instructors are clear with students about the level of feedback that they are providing. This ensures that feedback has the intended effect and makes students aware that there may be other levels of feedback from which they may benefit, depending on the task.


(Hattie & Timperley, 2007)

The types of feedback, their specific goals and levels of focus apply to all delivery modes and learning environments. There are additional feedback types you can consider if you are teaching an online course.

Incorporating Feedback in Online Learning

The following examples are ways to incorporate feedback into online learning.


Inline Grading
Digital notes or comments added to essays and other assignments to help students revise

Voice recording that gives verbal, direct and specific feedback to students’ work

Formative Assessments

Polls or journals to help the instructor to assess student learning

Peer Review

Discussion board in which students review one another’s work


Online scoring guide to help students assess their learning


Self-assessment in which students review their individual work

Summative Assessments

Blog, portfolio or project that helps the instructor assess student learning


Video recording that gives verbal, direct and specific feedback to students’ work

Many educational technology tools help faculty provide feedback more efficiently, particularly in a hybrid and online course.

Applying Feedback to Your Course

After reviewing the activities and assessments in your course, complete the following items:

  • Step 1: Identify an activity or assessment in which you can integrate feedback. Determine what type of feedback will best support your students in obtaining the task’s objectives and/or learning outcome.
  • Steps 2: Incorporate the feedback into the activity or assessment. For example, create a checklist with guiding questions to help students with a writing assignment or add feedback to a multiple-choice quiz.