Optimizing Feedback in Online Courses
As Jane Pollock points out, “we know that timely, individualized feedback based on explicit criteria is critical to boosting accomplishment.” So, how can one implement feedback in an online environment?
There are numerous studies that indicate the importance of feedback in an in-person environment and provide insights into what types of feedback are important and useful. For example, studies demonstrate that the best feedback is specific and insightful (Hattie and Timperley 2007), as well as quick (Opitz, Ferdinand, and Mecklinger 2011).
Improving the quality of feedback is valuable, but the biggest leap comes from ensuring some feedback is provided. In examining a sample of 4,685 learners across multiple courses on the NovoEd platform, I discovered that even just one piece of feedback (in comment-form) on the first submission increased the likelihood of completing an online course by 25%! Even though this feedback was usually given by fellow learners and of variable quality, its impact was clear: the more feedback comments per submission, the higher the completion rate.
There are a number of different implementation options to consider – including who provides the feedback – when deciding to use feedback in any environment. Although learners often expect that instructors or subject matter experts will provide feedback, peer-provided feedback can be even more powerful. Not only can peers offer more perspective, but the act of analyzing a submission and providing feedback is a higher-level learning activity itself.
Moreover, there are some types of submissions that do not require instructor or peer feedback. Quizzes that focus on multiple choice should include immediate feedback based on the answer, and assignments that are focused on convergent thinking (where learners are expected to arrive at the same answer) does not require the same level of in-depth analysis. Additionally, instructors should be aware that if the intention behind their assignment is to expose learners to many different types of answers and responses, other engagement options, such as a discussion thread, may be more beneficial.
NovoEd provides two different feedback options: one that is more informal and is public for the whole course to see; and the other, more structured and formal, which is only available to the recipient and the teaching team. When should each be used?
Think about using formal private feedback when:
- The success criteria are based on a rubric
- The feedback should be more quantitative
- When you want the learners to think in a deeper and more structured manner while providing their feedback
Informal public feedback is used optimally when:
- There is interest in greater discussion around the submission
- The feedback only needs to be qualitative in nature
- There is benefit in the feedback being public, adding an additional layer of accountability to the learner providing the feedback
Despite all of the different options with online feedback, do remember that even the most basic feedback provides clear gains in learner outcomes, and should be considered for any online learning experience.