The positive effects of positive feedback

Blog / News | 08-06-21

Now we’re going to talk about feedback. Not the feedback you get from your manager or director at the end of the year, but the feedback that is used in (corporate) learning to give information to the student after completing exercises or courses. What was good? What was wrong? And why? It isn’t exactly rocket science, but there’s definitely science behind it. And that knowledge is important to ensure that people learn as effectively and efficiently as possible. In this blog we discuss learning goals, important differences between direct and indirect feedback, and the usefulness of positive feedback.

The learning objective and feedback

Before we dive into the feedback, it is important to mention that you should never lose sight of the learning goal. With learning, you want to close the gap between current and desired/expected performance or knowledge. Now we can immediately make it complicated by saying that there are multiple types of learning goals, but you can read more about that in this blog. For now, it suffices to know that you have a learning objective at the level of the course (i.e. someone needs to know all hygiene measures well, so we can all work safely and the continuity of the company is not endangered), a chapter or module (i.e. someone needs to know why hygiene in the kitchen is so important), and at the level of the exercise (i.e. someone needs to know that they have to wash his hands for at least 30 seconds). At the level of the exercise, this is called a ‘knowledge element’. By indicating the desired level of knowledge in advance, the participant will be more open to feedback and will therefore learn more from it. 

Provide Feedback

In the feedback you can give information to the student and guide them back to the learning objective. Feedback can be given after a complete course, after a module, or even after each exercise. Feedback is very important to achieve your goal, but … the student needs to be aware of the usefulness of the feedback. Without it, there is no motivation to read the feedback, let alone take it to heart. The usefulness of feedback starts with the expectation management beforehand and an importance of the final result. What’s in it for them? Why would somebody who received an “insufficient” for a test go to an inspection if there is no retake to get the grade? 

Direct feedback …

Now we will discuss the difference between direct and indirect feedback. Direct feedback can refer to a ‘straightforward  approach’ (i.e. this was wrong, and the correct answer is xyz) instead of remaining vague (i.e. this was wrong, and find out for yourself what the answer is). However, we are now talking about giving feedback in the right direction to reduce the time between an exercise and the feedback. 

In the case of questions based on learning or a test, you give direct feedback immediately after someone answers a question, or when someone completes a learning module or test. Preferably, the feedback would be ‘in your face’, so it stands out. Indirect feedback comes later, when someone has already completed the module or test over a longer period of time. Let’s not beat around the bush: we are fans of direct feedback right after every exercise or question. Through direct feedback after every exercise, someone immediately sees what they did right or wrong and above all else: how things can be improved next time. More about that in the paragraph ‘always stay positive’. So there is an immediate learning moment and you can go back to the learning goal. Feedback thus becomes part of the total learning process.

… versus indirect feedback

Indirect feedback is given afterwards which can take a long time and if it takes too long for someone to get feedback, they may have already forgotten why they chose a certain answer. The user has lost their ‘train of thought’, also, it is then easy to think ‘oh … I actually knew that’. In the case of direct feedback, someone still has their stream of thoughts fresh in their memory and has a better idea of why they gave the wrong answer. 

There is another major disadvantage to indirect feedback. If someone answers a question the wrong way, they often don’t know it themselves. After all, they think they have chosen the right answer (unless they really wanted an insufficient …). As long as the person does not receive feedback, they walk around thinking that this information is correct. The longer it takes, the more the wrong information nestles in the brain as being correct information. When they find out what the right answer should have been, they cannot simply replace their knowledge on their ‘hard disk’. They first have to break the current connection in the brain, and then learn the new information; a long and undesired process. That is why we plead for direct feedback, in which someone can immediately take in the right information.

Always stay positive

Positive feedback is a big concept in the learning world. It comes down to using the feedback to emphasize what the right answer is (or should be) and why. Try not to focus on the wrong answer, but on the right answer. Otherwise, you run the risk that people will remember information about the wrong answer. If someone told you something like: ‘don’t think of a pink elephant’, you immediately picture a pink elephant.. right? A similar effect occurs with negative feedback. Try to avoid that while repeating the information that should be remembered. I’m sure you’ll get away with saying why something is wrong, but keep it to a minimum.

Of course, it is also important that feedback comes in a positive way. Try to motivate the participant in your feedback. Try something like: ‘Good try! But the right answer was x, because y.’ Bringing positive feedback in a fun way is much more motivating than just telling someone that they are doing something wrong.

Elevate feedback  

So stay clear about the learning objective at all times, give positive feedback as soon as possible, and bring this in a motivating way. By doing this, you maximize the number of learning moments and people will remember the right information faster and longer. This needs to be mastered, but is something that you can do with these tips!