Why is feedback different in an online learning environment?

Nathalie Guesry

Whether you work in a tertiary or secondary school setting, all educators understand that the most “powerful influence on student achievement” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p.81) is regular, timely and meaningful feedback. Effective feedback must explain both what the student did well and what improvements can be made. This is because without such information, learners simply don’t know how well they are performing.  

In my previous job as a high school teacher, I often found myself assessing student learning and providing appropriate feedback through judgments made on general classroom observations. I could determine the level of understanding through class discussions and individual conversations with students. Additionally, I knew that a sea of blank and confused faces meant that I needed to quickly change my strategy to explain a particular concept. 

However, as education moves further into the e-learning sector, the ability to delve into student misconceptions based on ad hoc classroom observations becomes more difficult. All students still require feedback and encouragement, yet it now becomes the responsibility of the e-learning platform to provide an effective feedback loop to “move learning forward” (Wylie et al, 2012, p.15). So, a key question for educators remains:  how do we create a learning environment where students are given effective feedback in a remote setting?  

When designing written online feedback, it is crucial to consider what would normally happen in the classroom and then make deliberate and intentional interventions in a virtual setting. 

One way to do this is to provide feedback that explains why a specific response is right or wrong in order to assist in developing a student’s knowledge gap.  As opposed to just a tick or cross, it is important to reflect on how learning outcomes are achieved in the classroom and provide feedback for both correct and incorrect answers. Key questions to consider when developing online feedback include: 

  • What concepts do students normally struggle with?
  • What are the common classroom discussions? 

We have to also consider choosing the language we use in the written feedback to motivate students. If you were in a classroom, your tone of voice and body language would reflect empathy to connect with students and support their learning. Whilst in e-learning, tone is conveyed through the words used. Although this may seem obvious, we need to intentionally and thoughtfully recreate these learning moments that would naturally occur in the classroom within an online context.

Another way to provide effective online feedback is to use a range of multimedia options such as video, audio and images. This will allow you to cater for differentiated learning styles and also provide options to explain complex concepts in an engaging manner. 

Ultimately, there’s no one-size-fits-all way of developing effective online feedback, yet it is important to reflect on these key issues to help create an authentic online learning experience for students. 

About the Author:

Nathalie is a Learning Experience Designer for Insendi. She has a Bachelor of Commerce and Languages from the University of New South Wales and a Masters of Teaching from Sydney University. She has worked in several positions in the education sector e.g. as a high school business studies teacher and an online course facilitator and course content writer for both the University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney. Her academic training is also accompanied by several years of corporate experience in human resources. Nathalie is passionate about education and uses her practical classroom experience to develop engaging online learning sequences for students.

References 

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.

Wylie, E., Gullickson, A., Cummings, K., Egelson, P., Noakes, L., Norman, K., & Veeder, S. (2012). Examining formative assessment. In Improving formative assessment practice to empower student learning (pp. 11-30). Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press