Mastering Deeper Learning, Part 2: Feedback
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Why Feedback Is Crucial For Mastering Deeper Learning

Patti Shank, PhD, author of the Make It Learnable series, is allowing our readers to read portions of her new books. This article comes from Practice And Feedback For Deeper Learning.

In the first part of this article, Mastering Deeper Learning, Part 1: Practice, we talked about the role of practice in mastering deeper learning. Let’s now discuss feedback.

According to John Hattie—a noted educational researcher at the University of Melbourne, Australia—feedback is one of the top ways to improve learning outcomes. But, interestingly, research also finds negative effects! What this means is that people who design and deliver instruction must understand the factors that improve the effectiveness of feedback.

Feedback has several roles to play during instruction, especially related to practice, including:

  • Confirming understanding when understanding is correct.
  • Correcting mistakes or misconceptions when understanding is incorrect.
  • Closing the gap between what people can do and what they should be able to do (learning objectives).

I will start by discussing the factors that influence the effectiveness of feedback. This information comes largely from Hattie, Valerie Shute (now a professor of education at Florida State University), and Susanne Narciss (professor in the Department of Psychology at Technische Universität Dresde).

Feedback That Hurts Learning

Research has found that certain types of feedback can result in less effort and reduced learning. They include the following:

  • Trivial goals
  • Praise
  • Rewards
  • Comparisons to others, such as rankings
  • Threats
  • Discouragement

Feedback research finds that praise and rewards hinder intrinsic (internal) motivation; therefore, we should consider not using them. Instructional feedback should emphasize the role of learning and growth in knowledge in skills with time and effort. When people feel unsure or wrong, feedback should help them see how they will get back on track. In other words, feedback should have a support-and-learning focus rather than a performance-at-any-cost focus. Anxiety about needing to perform while learning can make it harder to learn.

Skill And Prior Knowledge Affect Feedback

The amount of skill and prior knowledge a person brings to instruction greatly affect how we should offer feedback. Table 3.2 lists major feedback issues in the left column and shows how we should handle them differently at the different ends of the skill and expertise continuum.

Table 3.2 How skill and prior knowledge of the topic impact feedback

Issues Lower skill, less expertise in the topic Higher skill, more expertise in the topic
Type of feedback More directive More facilitative
Amount of information Specific Deeper understanding
Level Task specific Cues, hints, details
Support More support Less support
Timing Immediate Time for mental processing

One conclusion from Table 3.2 is that we need to understand the types of people we are training. Another is that we need to tailor feedback to the situation. That’s why the first strategy in my book is analysis. And Tactic 1 is Connect Learning Objectives to Job Tasks. Job tasks are likely to be somewhat (or very) different for people just learning those tasks than for those who are more expert.

Five Strategies And 26 Tactics

Table 3.3 lists the 5 strategies and 26 tactics discussed in Practice And Feedback For Deeper Learning.

Table 3.3 Practice and feedback strategies and tactics

Strategy 1: Analyze the Job Context Tactic 1: Connect Learning Objectives to Job Tasks

Tactic 2: Analyze Conditions Under Which People Perform the Tasks

Tactic 3: Evaluate What Must Be Remembered and What Can Be Looked Up

Tactic 4: Analyze Social Processes

Tactic 5: Find the Typical Misconceptions

Tactic 6: Find Out What Gets in the Way

Tactic 7: Assess Support for Skills

Chapter 5 Strategy 2: Practice for Self-direction Tactic 8: Work Toward Specific, Difficult, and Attainable Goals

Tactic 9: Use Self-directed Learning Strategies

Chapter 6  Strategy 3: Practice for Transfer Tactic 10: Make Training Relevant

Tactic 11: Build Practice that Mirrors Work

Tactic 12: Show the Right and Wrong Ways

Tactic 13: Train How to Handle Errors

Tactic 14: Include Whole-skill Practice

Tactic 15: Help with Post-training Support

Chapter 7 Strategy 4: Practice for Remembering Tactic 16: Use Real Context(s)

Tactic 17: Use Self-explanations

Tactic 18: Space Learning and Remembering

Tactic 19: Support Memory with Memory Aids

Tactic 20: Support Essential Skill Upkeep

Chapter 8  Strategy 5: Give Effective Feedback Tactic 21: Keep the Focus on Learning

Tactic 22: Tie Feedback to the Learning Objectives

Tactic 23: Offer the Right Level of Information

Tactic 24: Fix Misconceptions

Tactic 25: Give Feedback at the Right Time

Tactic 26: Structure Feedback for Ease of Use