Feedback: From correction to self-regulation

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Contribution by Georgeta Ion

What are the most influential factors contributing to successful teaching and learning? Are they all in our hands? In the biggest meta-meta-analysis performed yet in education, Hattie (2009) assessed 138 influences on student achievement, based on data from 83 million students. With an average effect-size of .79 (twice the average effect of all other schooling effects), feedback is placed in the top 10 influences on achievement.

This allows us to consider feedback as one of the most important aspects of the teaching and learning process. But, we can’t help to wonder:

  • Are all types of feedback equally effective?
  • What are the characteristics of a good feedback?
  • Can only teachers give feedback that is effective for learning?
  • Is only receiving feedback beneficial for student’s learning or can students also learn when they are actively giving feedback to other students?

These are only some of the issues addressed in the course Feedback und Feedforward: Das Lernen steuern.

What is feedback and why do we talk about it?

Frequently, feedback is defined as «actions taken by an external agent to provide information regarding some aspect(s) of one’s task performance» (e.g. Kluger and DeNisi, 1996). Thus, performance, achievement, or the attitudes about the topic being taught are emphasized.


Hattie & Timperley (2007), on the other hand, focus on the potentialities feedback implicates for the tackling of future tasks. Thus, they consider feedback to be information that aims to reduce the gap between what is now and what should or could be. Such feedback can be provided in many ways and forms such as

  • by providing students with insights into cognitive processes
  • restructuring understandings
  • confirming to students that they are (in)correct
  • indicating that more information is available or needed or
  • giving alternative strategies to solve a problem or tackle a task.

What is feedback good for?

As discussed, feedback is a catalyst for learning. However, in higher education, there are discontinuities between students’ and teachers’ perceptions of feedback (Boud and Molloy, 2013). According to students, feedback often arrives too late in order to be useful. Moreover, they often lack an opportunity to integrate feedback into future tasks. Because of these problems and other difficulties, both students and teachers often experience a certain amount of frustration during feedback processes.

Therefore, it is important to be aware that giving feedback is not an easy task. This also applies to organizing educational settings aimed at facilitating peer feedback. Both requires time and effort and a good knowledge of the students. For example, the following seven principles formulated by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) are helpful. According to them, «good feedback practice

  • helps clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards);
  • facilitates the development of self-assessment (reflection) in learning;
  • delivers high quality information to students about their learning;
  • encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning;
  • encourages positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem;
  • provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance;
  • provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching».

Self-regulation as ultimate purpose of feedback

Hattie (2011) distinguishes different levels that can be addressed by feedback:

  • Feedback oriented to the task – how well has the task been performed; is it correct or incorrect?
  • Feedback focused on the process – what are the strategies needed to perform the task; are there alternative strategies that can be used?
  • Feedback enhancing self-regulation – how can students monitor and direct their learning activities?

Feedback aimed at enhancing self-regulation is the most complex level. It is associated to the sustainability of the learning process (Hounsell, McCune, Hounsell, & Litjens, 2008), but it is neither easy to formulate nor easily understood or implemented.

Feedback: Dialogisches Lernen auf einer Lernplattform; dialogic learning on a learning platform
Dialogic learning supported by an online platform is one way to establish a high-quality feedback loop (cf. Zimmermann, Bucher & Hurtado 2010 for an English version of the graphic).


From action to proactivity

Peer-feedback appears to be especially beneficial for student’s self-regulation of their learning processes. It is provided by equal status learners and can be regarded not only as the counterpart of teacher feedback, but also as a type of formative assessment, and as a way of collaborative learning.

In addition, recent studies at universities also demonstrate that the proactive feedback called feedforward (Boud & Molloy, 2013) tends to be even more useful. It focuses on future possibilities (and less on past performance) in order to enhance students’ self-regulation and to stimulate the learning process.

As we can see feedback is not a straightforward process, but a complex one. Both teachers and students face some challenges in its implementation. Nevertheless, feedback stimulates dialog in classrooms, making interactions more alive, enhancing students’ participation, making them more aware about their learning and motivating them to be an active part of a process in which they are occupying the central role.

Georgeta Ion will give a course on Feedback with the title «Feedback und Feedforward: Das Lernen steuern» at the ZHE on 16 March 2018. There are still places available.

About the Author

Portrait Georgeta IonGeorgeta Ion is currently lecturer at the Department of Applied Pedagogy of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB).


Edited by TZM and ZBU

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