Why Meaningful Online Feedback Is Important

The Theory Behind Meaningful Online Feedback

Immediacy theory is grounded in Mehrabian’s Implicit Communication Theory and postulates that both verbal and nonverbal behaviors are used during the communication process. Mehrabian (1967) defined immediacy as the extent to which communicative behaviors enhance interpersonal communication through interactivity and participation. In other words, immediacy can be understood as communication behaviors that reduce perceived online presence, a necessary component of effective online learning environments. According to Mehrabian and Weiner (1964), verbal behaviors include the spoken word accompanied by tone of voice, whereas nonverbal behaviors deliver information about feelings and attitudes. In addition to accompanying the spoken word, tone is closely related to persons’ feelings and attitudes, and has a greater overall effect than the content being communicated. Meaningful online feedback immediacy is an important component of effective online communication. Communicating online requires computer-mediated communication systems such as computer conferencing systems, audio recording software, email, and video recording devices to name a few. In an online learning environment, even with audio recordings, there is a potential for non-verbal cues to be missing or misconstrued. Video can potentially capture non-verbal cues, though the benefits of face-to-face communication are still absent from the online experience.

The Importance Of Meaningful Online Feedback

Feedback is essential, given motivation is increased when instructors are interested in learner success in the program or course. Meaningful online feedback is necessary in an online learning environment because it provides constructive academic feedback learners use during course work reflection. Constructive feedback can be provided to the learner from both the instructor and peers.  Positive feedback from the instructor encourages and motivates students to be active participants. Therefore, instructors who provide online learners with constructive feedback help learning participants process new ideas and information while improving self-efficacy.

Meaningful feedback allows the online learner to assess their progress and determine areas needed for self-improvement. Instructor feedback impacts learners in meeting course goals and has a great deal of impact on overall learner performance outcomes. Learner self-reflection is beneficial for determining academic goals, performance outcomes, and helps with an overall understanding of course objectives.

  • Instructor Feedback.
    Meaningful online feedback requires a partnership and trust between learner and instructor. This partnership requires the instructor to provide learners with meaningful and constructive feedback. The ability to provide effective online feedback where learners think about the work he or she has produced, must be taught and encouraged by the instructor. Instructors can provide effective feedback by maintaining an encouraging tone and delivering feedback in a reasonable amount of time. Being responsive to student inquiries and posting grades in a timely fashion are examples of timely and responsive feedback. Instructors who provide thoughtful online feedback provide learners with explicit expectations for the performance outcomes for their work and an opportunity to understand areas where academic improvement is needed. Additionally, feedback in not limited to the learner; teachers also benefit from the feedback learners provide. Learner feedback allows instructors to assess course content, pedagogy, and feedback for professional reflection about instructor presence in the online environment. Therefore, online feedback should serve as a learning opportunity for both the instructor and learner.
  • Learner-Learner Feedback.
    Instructor feedback provides learners with critical information, which impacts learning assumptions.  In collaborative learning communities some students will assume mentoring roles providing other learners with important peer feedback. The use of peer feedback within an online course places the learner in the role of instructor as learners review, analyze, and synthesize peer work. The key to peer feedback is that it is constructive, academically sound, and encouraging. Learners are likely not to be “reticent” about the participation of their peers within collaborative group assignments. Therefore, it is important that instructors provide learners with clear feedback expectations, which includes that learners provide peers with quality, timely, and academically focused feedback.  Rubrics can be developed to help guide peer feedback by providing necessary assignment or course expectations. Providing specific assignment rubrics encourage learners to be honest and constructive in the feedback they deliver to one another. Requiring learners to provide significantly relevant learner-to-learner feedback increases their own self-reflective skills and knowledge. The process of reflective feedback forces learners to compare their standard for learning to the learning standards of other group members. Additionally, learners who participate in learner-to-learner feedback activities are better prepared for real-world situations.


Online feedback immediacy is an important component of effective online communication. An online presence that includes feedback is easily established within an online learning environment. Feedback can be given and received through instructor-to-learner, learner-to-instructor, and learner-to-lfeedback-strategies-online-logo__11417.1434659637.1280.1280earner. Meaningful feedback is necessary because it provides learners with constructive academic feedback in which to reflect, inform, and adjust learning.  In order for meaningful feedback to be used effectively a trust between learner and instructor must be developed, supported, and communicated.