eLearn Australia - custom elearning solutions


What works in elearning (5/5):
Learning methods that work: Feedback

Tuesday 28th April, 2020

In this series on What Works in Elearning, we’ve been looking at the different learning methods that are not only useful in elearning but are effective across all learning delivery modes.

Our next learning method makes use of all the learning methods we’ve covered so far – spaced repetition, retrieval practice and real-world contexts.

We are talking about feedback.

Using feedback in effective elearning

What is feedback?

Feedback is the process of providing information that helps learners know where they are in relation to their learning goals.

Feedback is integral to any learning system and yet it sometimes gets a bad rap by being delivered without the learner’s needs in mind i.e. critically and without empathy.

How does feedback help in elearning?

Feedback in elearning helps learners identify where they are on the path to their learning objectives.

It is a type of retrieval practice that highlights where information is missing, forgotten, incorrectly remembered, or not attributed to a real-world practice.

Feedback can lead to later understanding

Depending on where a learner is at with their knowledge, skills and behaviours, feedback can help conceptualise information and practice (early) or build understanding (later).

For example, an aged-care worker early in their training might know that correct procedure for responding to a care recipient in immediate harm is to call 000 but would only learn (understand) later in their training why that is the protocol, who else is involved once that call is made, and how else they can provide care once that call is made.

Feedback that involves reflection allows learners to move toward the autonomy their roles require

Feedback allows learners to adjust on their path and it encourages them to continue in their learning. For those who are learning skills to take into the workplace, feedback that involves reflection allows them to self-monitor, self-evaluate and move toward the autonomy their roles require.

What is effective feedback in elearning?

Sign with Awesome and Less awesome

In Will Thalheimer’s 2017 review of the research into what works in elearning, feedback comes up as a consistent factor.

Going all the way back to 1995, a meta-analysis of feedback in computer-based instruction by Azevedo and Bernard found a very strong effect size for situations where learners received feedback.

  • Effective feedback is timely. While most recommend feedback comes soon after a learner has recalled information (for example, you select A on a multiple choice quiz and you immediately receive feedback if it is correct along with the correct answer’s rationale), there is research suggesting that the same principles that make spaced learning effective (having a delay between information in and out) can also be of benefit with feedback.

  • Effective feedback is based in the real world. The principles of authentic learning (using real world contexts) are also at play with effective feedback in elearning. Feedback that mirrors scenarios and simulations that learners will find themselves facing in real-world practice assists in making the learning relevant and meaningful.

  • Effective feedback is constructive. It adds to the learner’s knowledge, self-awareness and self-efficacy. It is positive, empathetic, provides learners with alternatives, and helps them reconnect with their learning objectives and the benefits of learning.

What are some examples of feedback in elearning?

Feedback can be provided in a range of ways in elearning.

From quizzes with true/false, multiple-choice, forced-choice, matching and recall questions to problem-solving, case studies, simulations and skill demonstration.

Showing that an multiple choice answer is correct Showing feedback after an online question is answered

Confidence ratings can be used to augment the feedback with further learner self-monitoring. The main criteria being to keep the feedback information-based and not overload with details.

How we’ve used feedback in developing elearning

In a series of online practice exams we developed for doctors-in-training in Australia, feedback was a key part of helping learners target their knowledge gaps and focus their learning.

For each practice set of questions, learners responded to real-world case studies and scenarios with multiple-choice, recall questions, as well as problem-solving tasks.

Feedback took the form of succinct information that outlined correct diagnoses, procedures and rationales as well as real-world consequences of different decision paths (as often answers aren’t a just matter of correct / incorrect but a fall on a spectrum of helpful to harmful).

Each multiple-choice question also had a corresponding confidence rating so that learners received another level of feedback beyond the correct/incorrect answer to identify gaps in knowledge. At the end of the practice set, learners were provided with a summary of their answers – along with confidence ratings.

Using feedback in effective elearning

Feedback allows learners to conceptualise and understand the knowledge, skills and behaviours that they will put into practice in the real-world. It is a learning method that is essential in all types of learning and is integrated into all our elearning courses and resources.


In this series we’ve looked at What Works in Elearning – exploring four different learning methods that research has found to be effective.

We have looked at retrieval practice, spaced repetition, real-world contexts and finally, the one that brings them all together, feedback.

These are learning methods that are effective across all delivery modes: classroom, elearning, and blended learning.

The challenge for those designing elearning is to begin fully utilising these and other methods in creating effective, engaging elearning.


Thalheimer, W. (2017). Does elearning work? What the scientific research says! Available at http://www.work-learning.com/catalog.html