5/17/22 · Institutional

Some of the keys to improving learning through feedback

A study by the UOC's Feed2Learn group considers aspects such as when and how feedback should take place in order to be useful
One of the aspects that must be taken into account in order to understand students' engagement or otherwise with feedback is the way in which they perceive that feedback (Photo: Amel Majanovic, Unsplash)

One of the aspects that must be taken into account in order to understand students' engagement or otherwise with feedback is the way in which they perceive that feedback (Photo: Amel Majanovic, Unsplash)

It is something almost all students have experienced: the teacher of a course sets a date for a task to be handed in, the student does it, hands it in, and after a while, they receive a specific grade together with the corrections. Is that enough for the student to learn? Or are there ways that the process can be improved? The experts say that there are. According to a study by the Feed2Learn group at the UOC, one of the key factors is the feedback between students and teachers, but with some specific features. 

"We started from the assumption that feedback is important for learning, which is something that both teachers and students agree on. However, it often doesn't do what it should," said Rosa M. Mayordomo, a member of the Faculty of Psychology and Education Sciences at the UOC and the author, with researchers in the Feed2Learn group, of the article published in open access, entitled "Perception of online feedback and its impact on cognitive and emotional engagement with feedback".

Although teachers usually invest a great deal of time and effort in giving students feedback, the students do not use that feedback because they have the impression that they only receive it at the end of the process, with the grade, and as such they sometimes do not understand its value or usefulness. "That's why we decided to study the characteristics that feedback needs to have in order to foster learning with the aim of designing better strategies," said Mayordomo.

As she explained, if feedback is to be truly useful, it must go beyond merely correcting what the student has done. It also has to help the student bridge the gap between what they know when the feedback is given and what they should know, or how they are doing the activity when it is given and how they should ultimately be doing it. For this reason, they not only need to be told how they are doing at that specific point in time, but must also be provided with instruments and resources to help them improve, and the student must understand the direction in which they need to go if this is to happen. It is vital to overcome a major difficulty in order to achieve this: feedback has traditionally been considered a one-way process – from the teacher to the student. However, it is essential that a dialogue takes place between the two parties involved, and that it happens while the activity is ongoing and not only at the end (e.g., by asking students to hand in a draft of the activity they are doing and providing them with feedback related to it).

Feedback and emotions

Following this recommendation makes it easier for students to become more involved in understanding and using feedback, according to the UOC study. Nevertheless, the student may choose to ignore it even in these circumstances. One of the aspects that must be taken into account in order to understand students' engagement or otherwise with feedback is the way in which they perceive that feedback.

"Within the research group, we're currently focused on achievement-related emotions, which are the emotions which students experience when they interpret a result as being a success or a failure, such as hope, optimism, pride, anger, relief, nervousness, and despair," explained Mayordomo. At present, the results of the study confirm that when students perceive feedback as positive, or as more positive than negative, they experience emotions such as confidence and the hope that they can improve to a greater extent. Experiencing these emotions is related to greater efforts to use feedback to regulate their learning process, "which can have a long-term effect on students' expectations of success and how they see things as a learner," she said. 

However, when students experience negative emotions, such as nervousness or anger, the level of cognitive engagement with the feedback is lower, there are fewer attempts to understand it, and they may even ignore it. "Helping students to become aware of these emotions and to regulate them can promote students' engagement with feedback. In this process of regulation, providing feedback that is not only corrective but also helps them to improve, can give students a greater sense of control over their future results," she said. Being aware of this situation could improve students' progress, and even help reduce the dropout rate. According to Spain's National Institute of Statistics, the current rate of early dropout from education and training is 20.2% for men – the highest rate in the European Union – and 11.6% for women.

Only in online environments?

Understanding feedback in terms of a process of dialogue rather than a one-way process is not only important in online environments. According to the experts, it also applies in face-to-face environments. However, there are some indicators in face-to-face contexts (paralinguistic features of communication and non-verbal behaviours) that can provide teachers with clues as to whether or not students are understanding the feedback, and these clues can lead to further joint work. Meanwhile, teachers in online contexts do not have this help. That is why it is even more important that teachers foster and create situations to be able to share this degree of understanding with students. 

"The teacher will only be able to know how the student interprets the feedback, how they feel after they have received it and the extent to which they have understood it if there is a subsequent task or activity in which the student has to use that feedback, or in which the teacher and students work with a view to understanding it," said Mayordomo.

This task entails a high workload for teaching staff if feedback is really to perform its role of helping learning in online environments. For this reason, the researcher emphasizes the importance at the institutional level of sharing "a culture of continuous assessment and feedback, within the framework of this assessment, which at the level of technological and pedagogical design supports, promotes and facilitates dialogue-based feedback processes between teachers and students and among students, and which promotes and facilitates teacher training related to dialogue-based feedback processes," she said.

Likewise, the researcher argued that it is important that institutions facilitate the development of studies based on learning analytics that gather data to support teachers in their decisions, and help them determine how and when to provide certain types of feedback based on the students' characteristics. "It's a question of putting technology at the service of teachers' decision-making in order to promote increasingly personalized learning," said Mayordomo.

This UOC research supports Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4, Quality Education, and 10, Reduced Inequalities.


Reference article:

Mayordomo, Rosa. M., Espasa, Anna, Guasch, Teresa and Martínez-Melo, Montserrat. Perception of online feedback and its impact on cognitive and emotional engagement with feedback. In: Education and Information Technologies [online]. 2022. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-022-10948-2


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