Feedback is often perceived as a chore at the end of an event.
Teachers receive final feedback on their training, learners on what they have learned.
But feedback can do much more.
It offers an excellent opportunity to improve the quality of continuing education, individual learning success, and the learners' motivation.
But what is feedback? What forms and requirements are there, and how can they be used meaningfully in adult education?
Definition of Feedback
The Oxford Learners Dictionary defines monitoring as "advice, criticism or information about how good or useful something or somebody's work is". This communicated perception or assessment can be used in a further step for change or improvement. In further education, feedback describes the communication between people in which one gives the other information about what they have perceived or understood. This enables the receiver to respond to the feedback by correcting their behaviour or thinking.
There are two types of feedback, formative and summative. Whereas summative feedback is a final, summarising feedback on the sum of the acquired knowledge and skills, formative feedback explores the learning status and the approach to learning goals at a certain point in time. It shows any gaps in knowledge, types of errors and lack of or wrong understanding.
Formative feedback strongly influences individual learning and is an essential prerequisite for further course planning.
The Australian professors Boud and Molloy define formative feedback as follows:
"Feedback is a process whereby learners receive information about their work. This allows them to self-assess the similarities and differences to the appropriate standards as well as the value of their work, thereby improving their work."
In adult education, teachers are the ones who give formative feedback, but they can also receive feedback, for example, from learners.
The Research Behind Feedback
Feedback has long been recognized as a powerful means for promoting learning and growth in students. Recent research supports the notion that providing students with meaningful feedback can significantly enhance their knowledge and achievement.
Not all forms of feedback are considered to be equally effective, and some feedback can even be counterproductive — primarily if it is delivered in a solely negative or corrective way.
Several studies within the past decade have explored strategies for giving feedback in educational settings, resulting in a variety of research-backed tips for effective feedback to increase students' motivation, performance, and self-esteem.
The more personalised feedback is, the better it will be received. Specific, student-centred feedback should be: delivered to learners individually, about their performance and presented in a motivation-building way.
Our ability to provide meaningful, accurate feedback erodes as time elapses. Numerous studies indicate that feedback is most effective when delivered immediately versus a few days, weeks, or months down the line.
A review of 131 studies on feedback found that over a third of feedback interventions decreased student performance. Well-intentioned educators might regularly provide comments to students that reduce their intrinsic motivation and discourage them from learning.
Involving learners in the feedback process helps them develop self-awareness while equipping them with the decision-making skills to better recognize mistakes and identify weak points to address.
The Benefits of Feedback
A central task of feedback is to point out mistakes, misconceptions and gaps in knowledge and to give hints on possibly necessary further knowledge acquisition or further knowledge change. Especially in adult education, feedback offers an excellent opportunity to improve the quality of the lessons, individual learning success, and learners' motivation.
Learners come to the training with different expectations and have a more or less clear goal of what they want to have achieved or learned at the end. Knowing these different learning goals is essential to meet the different expectations and create a learning-promoting and motivating climate.
Regular, individual feedback enables the participants to better perceive their progress and work self-directed on their goals and sub-goals. In this way, the teacher can better adapt his further training, the contents and methods to the prerequisites and expectations of the participants.
Feedback can fulfil very different objectives in a training course:
• It helps teachers and learners reduce the discrepancy between self-assessment and external assessment and develop personally.
• Feedback promotes exchange between teachers and learners about learning.
• It supports teachers to improve their teaching style.
• It helps in assessing where the learner is in relation to their learning goal, and which sub-goals have already been achieved. Feedback thus helps to make (learning) successes visible.
• Feedback promotes the learning process of the learners. It becomes clear which (learning) paths are successful and which are less suitable, and new solutions and strategies can be developed.
• Feedback motivates learning and encourages students to find new ways of learning and to engage with their own learning.
How to Receive Feedback Effectively
Listen to the feedback given:
This means not interrupting. Hear the person out, and listen to what they are saying, not what you assume they will say. You can absorb more information if you concentrate on listening and understanding rather than being defensive and focusing on your response.
Be aware of your responses:
Your body language and tone of voice often speak louder than words. Try to avoid putting up barriers. If you look distracted and bored, that sends a negative message as well. Attentiveness, on the other hand, indicates that you value what someone has to say and puts both of you at ease.
This means being receptive to new ideas and different opinions. Often, there is more than one way of doing something, and others may have a completely different viewpoint on a given topic. You may learn something worthwhile.
Understand the message:
Make sure you understand what is being said to you, especially before responding to the feedback. Ask questions for clarification if necessary. Listen actively by repeating critical points so that you know you have interpreted the input correctly. In a group environment, ask for others' feedback before responding. When possible, be explicit as to what kind of feedback you are seeking beforehand, so you are not taken by surprise.
Reflect and decide what to do:
Assess the value of the feedback, the consequences of using it or ignoring it, and then decide what to do because of it. Your response is your choice. If you disagree with the feedback, consider asking for a second opinion from someone else.
There are many ways to follow up on feedback. Sometimes, your follow-up will simply involve implementing the suggestions given to you. In other situations, you might want to set up another meeting to discuss the feedback or re-submit the revised work.
How to Give Feedback Effectively
Concentrate on the behaviour, not the person One strategy is to open by stating the behaviour in question, then describing how you feel about it, and ending with what you want. This model enables you to avoid sounding accusatory by using "I" and focusing on behaviours instead of assumed interpretations.
Example: "I haven't seen you in class for a week. I'm worried that you are missing important information. Can we meet soon to discuss it?", instead of: "You obviously don't care about this course!"
Balance the content:
Use the "sandwich approach." Begin by providing comments on specific strengths. This provides reinforcement and identifies the things the recipient should keep doing. Then identify particular areas of improvement and ways to make changes. Conclude with a positive comment.
This model helps to bolster confidence and keep the weak areas in perspective. Example: "Your presentation was great. You made good eye contact and were well prepared. You were a little hard to hear at the back of the room, but you can overcome this with some practice. Keep up the good work!" Instead of: "You didn't speak loudly enough. However, the presentation went well."
Avoid general comments that may be of limited use to the receiver. Try to include examples to illustrate your statement. Offering alternatives rather than just giving advice allows the receiver to decide what to do with your feedback.
Feedback should focus on what can be changed. It is useless and frustrating for recipients to get comments on something they have no control over. Also, remember to avoid using the words "always" and "never." People's behaviour is rarely that consistent.
Own the feedback:
When offering evaluative comments, use the pronoun "I" rather than "they" or "one," which would imply that your opinion is universally agreed on. Remember that feedback is merely your opinion.
Seek an appropriate time to communicate your feedback. Being prompt is key since feedback loses its impact if delayed too long. Delayed feedback can also cause feelings of guilt and resentment in the recipient if the opportunity for improvement has passed. If your feedback is primarily negative, take time to prepare what you will say or write.
Offer continuing support:
Feedback should be a continuous process, not a one-time event. After offering feedback, make a conscious effort to follow up. Let recipients know you are available if they have questions and, if appropriate, ask for another opportunity to provide more feedback in the future.