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.
We are talking about 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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