4 Dos And Don'ts When Providing Feedback

4 Dos And Don'ts When Providing Feedback
Summary: Effective feedback can bring about positive changes in learners' performance and achievement. In this article, I will share some very important questions and issues every instructional Designer should consider when designing feedback.

Things To Do And Things Not To Do When Providing Feedback

Is feedback always effective? Are all types of feedback equally effective for different types of tasks, for instance retention tasks and transfer tasks? Is immediate feedback more effective or delayed feedback?

One of the most powerful features in Instructional design is providing constructive and formative feedback. Not only does it improve the acquisition of knowledge and accomplishment of goals, it also motivates the learners by helping them have access to just enough information when they need it. But how much information is enough and how would you know when is the best time to give feedback?

When providing feedback that will have a positive effect on learning, retention, transfer, and motivation, you may want to consider these questions:

  1. Is the feedback provided too early? Do the learners have enough time to process the information and search their memory for the answer?
  2. Does the feedback match the learners’ cognitive needs or is it too easy or too difficult?
  3. Is the feedback creating cognitive load by providing too much information?
  4. Does the feedback match the performance goal?
  5. Is the feedback effectively reducing uncertainty or adversely increasing uncertainty by not providing sufficient information or the relevant information? In other words, will the learners have to decode a secret message and speculate about what they are expected to do?

Valerie Shute (2008) in her Focus of formative feedback—a review of research on formative feedback—provides some recommendations and guidelines (supported by research findings). What follows is a summary of her recommendations.

1. Focus Feedback On The Task, Not On The Learner

Give specific and clear suggestions on how to improve the task or how to achieve the goal. Don’t give feedback that draws the learner’s attention to ‘self’—either by criticising or praising them—and away from the task at hand. Focusing feedback on the learner can negatively affect the learning outcome by drawing the learner’s attention to ‘self’, creating an unhelpful competitive environment, threatening their self-esteem and discouraging them.

2. Elaborate, Don’t Just Verify

Provide elaborative feedback by giving enough information to clarify a point. While learners should know whether their answers are correct or incorrect, limiting feedback to verification only is not as effective as providing an explanatory feedback. You can provide elaborative feedback in different ways. These ways include the following:

  • Describe what the issue or problem is
  • Describe how the problem can be solved
  • Describe why the particular answer is wrong
  • Provide worked examples
  • Provide guidance.

That said, verification only feedback can benefit high achieving learners who prefer to learn and discover issues at their own pace. Therefore, the decision to provide elaborative feedback or verification feedback depends on the level of competency of the learners.

3. Keep It Short And Simple

It’s important to provide enough information without overwhelming the learner and invoking cognitive overload. The key is not to overwhelm the learners by keeping feedback clear, specific and simple. Long and complicated feedback that requires extra information processing will make the learners tired, demotivated, and perhaps confused. Formative feedback can also be used as goal-oriented scaffolding to enable learners to complete more complex tasks that require higher levels of cognitive engagement. The learners can eventually accomplish the higher level tasks on their own as the support and scaffolding gradually fade as they gain more competence.

4. Do Not Interrupt

Encourage learners to solve the problem on their own before providing feedback. Don’t interrupt learners who are actively engaged in learning and are in the state of flow, but don’t wait too long to provide feedback all the same. One of the conditions to achieve a state of flow and maintain it is timely feedback: it helps learners to experience full involvement and adjust their performance to achieve the goal.

Timing Issues

With regard to the timing of feedback, there are various arguments for and against both types of feedback; that is immediate and delayed. Advocates of delayed feedback argue that feedback that is provided later allows enough time for the leaner to forget the errors and hence they won’t interfere with retention. But it may as well discourage the less motivated or low achieving learners who benefit from immediate support.

Different types of feedback can be beneficial for different learners depending on the level of the difficulty of the task and the learners’ characteristics and skill levels. Immediate feedback can be more effective for the more difficult tasks and lower achievers while delayed feedback may serve better for easier tasks and high achievers.

Consider the following issues when deciding whether to give immediate feedback or delayed feedback.

Provide immediate feedback when:

  • Immediate gain is desired
  • The task is complicated
  • The task requires motor skills
  • The task requires retention of procedural or conceptual knowledge
  • Learners are low achievers.

Provide delayed feedback when:

  • When the aim is better transfer of learning
  • The task is relatively simple
  • Learners are high achievers.



  • Shute, V. J. (2008). Focus on formative feedback. Review of Educational Research, 78(1), 153-189.