The Rights and Wrongs of Feedback

Feedback: An Essential Element for Performance Improvement

Feedback: Love it or leave it? Do you like receiving it, do you like giving it, or are you okay without it? Do you know which types of feedback improve performance? 

I think we can agree that feedback is critical in attempts to improve employee job performance. Whether you sit across from someone and have a candid discussion about his or her work performance or you email an employee about a performance deficiency, the point is that you need to bring it to the individual’s attention to give him or her a chance to correct the problem.

Now, let’s ask ourselves this question: What if the feedback that needs to be given comes from a machine (i.e., your work computer)? It’s the year 2022 after all, and employees all over the world regularly complete computer-based training during the course of their jobs. So, what kinds of e-learning feedback are there and what are the best ways to incorporate feedback into your courses?

According to the book Designing Effective Instruction1, there are three considerations when thinking about feedback for e-learning: type, timing, and mode of presentation.

Types of Feedback

There are five types of feedback.

  1. Knowledge-of-result (KR): This is the most basic type of feedback. KR feedback informs the learner if the answer given is right or wrong.
  2. Knowledge-of-correct-response (KCR): This type of feedback provides the correct answer to the learner.
  3. Answer-until-correct (AUC): Just like it sounds, the learner must continue to select answers until the right answer is selected.
  4. Elaborated: In addition to seeing the correct answer, this type of feedback also gives the learner additional information related to the question, such as where to locate that piece of information in the e-learning. The learner can then go back to that section in the course and review the content again.
  5. Response-sensitive (also referred to as “error-contingent”): This type of feedback is tailored to each answer given by the learner, and it tells the learner why an answer is incorrect.

Timing

One of the easier decisions regarding feedback is about the timing. Timing refers to when the feedback displays on the screen. You can choose to give immediate feedback, meaning right after each response to the questions asked throughout an e-learning, or the feedback can be delayed until the learner finishes the training or test entirely.

In Designing Effective Instruction, the authors point out that immediate feedback is best used in situations where content/tasks are difficult. This is because mistakes made early in a lesson by a learner could result in “cumulative misunderstanding.”  So, it’s advantageous to call attention to and correct errors early on rather than wait until the end. 

In terms of delayed feedback, the authors state that “the rationale for using delayed feedback is that immediate information about one’s performance may interfere or be distracting at a time when learning material is more important than one’s score. Delayed feedback allows the material to be assimilated and the learner to be less preoccupied with his or her performance.”

Your best bet is to consider the training content (easy task vs. difficult task) and the needs of the learner (his/her characteristics) to determine the timing of the feedback.

Mode of Presentation

Mode of presentation is another relatively easy choice to make regarding feedback. Do you want to provide feedback using text, images, or audio? It’s important to choose a mode the learner can easily understand. For example, if the learner is visually impaired, you would want to provide narrated, audio feedback. If you have a hearing-impaired learner, feedback using text (“Yes, that’s correct!”) or images would be best. You could use a thumbs up or a smiley face for correct answers and a thumbs down or a frowning face for incorrect answers.  The point here is that you want to provide feedback in such a way that it aligns with the needs of your learner.

The take-away is this: When designing e-learning, there’s a right way and a wrong way to provide feedback. Make certain you give the proper type of feedback at the right time and in an appropriate way. Feedback should help reinforce the concepts taught so learners have a better understanding of the material. And if learners come away from a training event showing no gain in their knowledge or skills, that’s feedback too. It’s just not the kind you hoped for!

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1  Designing Effective Instruction 7th Edition by Gary R. Morrison, Steven M. Ross, Howard K. Kaman, and Jerrold E. Kemp, 2013.

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