Positive Feedback – Lessons From A 2-Year-Old

My daughter is my biggest champion. She's in the later stages of toilet training and she's been quick to pick up on the benefits of positive reinforcement, which has worked well to shape her behavior. Now whenever I do something trivial that she finds impressive, she's quick to reward me with shouts of, "You did it, Daddy!" and "Good job". Cooking dinner might net me an, "I'm so proud of you, Daddy!" and handing her a toy might get a, "Thank you, Daddy; I'm so happy." The tasks may be menial, but the acknowledgement and praise still yield a positive outcome - I feel better about myself, I'm happier to help her, and I feel appreciated.

Despite the known benefits of recognition and positive feedback, companies are still doing a poor job of showing their employees appropriate appreciation. In a recent survey by Globoforce, 40% of employees report that they are not satisfied with their level of recognition. Although 82% of employees say recognition increases job satisfaction, lack of recognition is still the #2 reason for leaving a position - right behind compensation.

This lack of recognition and feedback is similarly evident in many corporate e-learning programs. Particularly in self-directed programs, it's often a matter of blasting content at the user and hoping some of it sticks. Feedback typically works like this: incorrect actions get corrective (or negative) feedback and correct actions get ignored. Maybe there's a "Good job!" and certificate at the end of a course, but opportunities for positive feedback often aren't considered - at the learner's peril.

Why Is Positive Feedback So Important?

Feedback is important in every learning situation. It facilitates self-assessment and reflection, it fosters dialogue (even internal dialogue promotes reflection), it reinforces good performance, and it encourages positive self-esteem. Long-term achievement occurs as students develop confidence in their abilities; positive feedback enables facilitators to encourage them about their progress and accomplishments.

Positive feedback is especially important in e-learning, particularly self-directed activities. Online learning often means the loss of visual cues, opportunities for interaction, and direct feedback from the course facilitator. Without appropriate interventions in place, the one-way flow of information and lack of progress updates can result in the loss of learner motivation and attention. It can even be demoralizing. eLearning still needs to provide learners with appropriate feedback that includes suggestions on how to improve performance, a chance to reflect on learning, and assistance with self-assessment.

7 Important Characteristics Of Effective Positive Feedback For Online Learners

A good eLearning program considers not only sound training strategies but an effective feedback system. This starts with a robust understanding of what type of feedback is appropriate for online learners. Here are some characteristics of effective positive feedback:

  1. It should be timely, meaning delivered soon after the associated activity or behavior but with consideration for not interrupting the flow of learning. It should allow time for internal reflection as learners construct knowledge but still invoke recent learning.
  2. It should be genuine and authentic, provided for tasks that challenge the learner and demonstrate progress and growth. The message should be serious and not overused.
  3. It should be reflective, commenting on the achievement and how the learner got there.
  4. It should be encouraging, supporting the learner's progress and offering motivation to go even further.
  5. It should be meaningful to the learner, so the learner finds value and feels the effort is appreciated. Personalized messaging, facilitator dialogue and even offline recognition may be worth considering.
  6. It should be consistent and provided at appropriate intervals.
  7. It should be specific, so learners know what they did well and where there might be opportunities to improve further. A congratulatory message at the end of a course isn't sufficient.

Giving consideration to these points when you develop feedback strategies will help to create more engaged learners. It's also important to consider both corrective feedback, where you identify weaker areas and give recommendations for improvement, and confirmatory feedback, where you advise students about what they did correctly. Robust positive feedback systems will result in improved transfer of skills and knowledge.

When you're next facilitating a course or designing eLearning materials, consider these lessons from my daughter. How can you make someone feel great about his or her accomplishments? How can you help learners to see how far they've come? How can you demonstrate appreciation?

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