• Feedback should be considered as part of an ongoing process of development and learning.
  • It is important to recognise that there is no guarantee that a student will be able to understand and interpret the feedback they are given. Feedback needs to be understood to be effective.
  • Effective feedback should aim to facilitate dialogue between the students and the teacher around learning.

On this page

What is feedback? Effective Feedback Elements of good feedback

What is feedback?

While feedback is inextricably linked to assessment, a broader view allows us to consider the concept of feedback in all learning contexts, and not just assessment tasks. Thus, feedback should not simply be thought of as something you give to students, or that they receive, but rather as a process integral to learning.

Feedback is a process in which learners make sense of information about their performance and use it to enhance
the quality of their work or learning strategies (Henderson et al, 2018, p.2)

In this definition feedback provides the student with ‘information about their performance’ and an understanding of how they can ‘enhance the quality of their work or learning strategies’. This conceptualisation of feedback presents it as not exclusively summative, but more fundamentally as formative, where any learning activity, task or event offers an opportunity to provide feedback on progress (Naylor et al, 2014).

 Summartive retrospective and Formative Feedback feeds forward

Summative feedback entails judgement of the student’s level of achievement up to a given point (Taras, 2005). And is associated with summative assessment activities; tasks associated with a mark or grade (The Higher Education Academy, 2014, p. 7). While formative feedback (or feedforward) is “any information, process or activity which affords or accelerates student learning based on comments relating to either formative assessment or summative assessment activities'” (The Higher Education Academy, 2014, p. 7).

A play on words can help you to remember this: ‘summative feedback sums-up, formative feedback helps people to form’.

Effective feedback

Traditionally in higher education, feedback was understood primarily to be a one-way process (transmissionist) from lecturer to student. Recent thinking now encourages us to think about feedback as being a bilateral (involving two people) and multilateral (involving many people) process, “which positions students as active learners seeking to inform their own judgements through resort to [sic] information from various others” (Boud & Molloy, 2012). This way of thinking re-affirms the conceptualisation of feedback as a transactional process.

However, as the GIHE Good Practice Guide on Developing Effective Feedback (Sadler, Davies & Buckridge, nd) highlights, it is important to recognise that there is no guarantee that a student will be able to understand and interpret the feedback they are given. If students do not understand the message or cannot implement it, then the feedback will be ineffective. Effective feedback needs to be specific and targeted so that the student can see how the message applies to their work (Sadler, Davies & Buckridge, nd).

Effective feedback should enable and inform the overall development of the student’s learning. The feedback, while related to a specific piece of work, should also guide the student in how to improve for future tasks: feed forward (Sadler, Davies & Buckridge, nd). In this regard it is important to think about the different kinds of learning that comprise the students’ learning journey, and the order these kinds of learning occur in. For example, a student may begin with acquiring content knowledge, progress to assimilating this knowledge in the form of concepts, principles, and theory (conceptual knowledge), before finally applying this through both cognitive and procedural skills (functioning knowledge).

 Acquire Assimilate Apply

Knowing this acts as a guide to you when formulating feedback (feedforward) that can be most useful to the students. Effective feedback should aim to facilitate dialogue between the students and the teacher around learning. Independence, self-monitoring and the ability to judge one’s own work should be part of student learning and incorporated into this dialogue (Sadler, Davies & Buckridge, nd). This dialogue should also provide the teacher with insight into how to improve learning and teaching practice (Linskens, 2012; Cope & Kalantzis 2014; Jones & Blankenship, 2014).

Elements of good feedback

There are several guides available on what constitutes good feedback, including Feedback for Learning and the HEA Feedback Toolkit. The following table overviews some key elements.

TIMELY Feedback is offered soon after the learning event, at the mutually agreed time.
SUPPORTIVE Feedback is encouraging, builds motivation and self-esteem, and is provided “in a way that does not demean the effort of learning” (Getzlaf et al, 2009)
REGULAR Feedback is provided frequently and ideally on every learning activity.
CONSTRUCTIVE Feedback helps students learning to progress from lower to higher forms of knowledge.
SPECIFIC The feedback provides information about how the student has addressed the task.
MEANINGFUL The students can understand the feedback and make sense of it.
CREATIVE The feedback is offered via different mediums of communication as well as from different perspectives (peer-feedback).
FUTURE-ORIENTED The feedback is applicable to future situations.
PERSONALISED The feedback aims to address the student as an individual and is cognisant of their specific needs and where they are in their learning journey.
SUSTAINABLE While technology has made it easier for us to provide students with more feedback more often, some suggest that in order for the feedback process to be sustainable, our ultimate aim should be to help students become self-regulated, self-determined and active learners (Boud & Molloy, 2012; Carless et al, 2011). Sustainable feedback centres on students becoming self-determined and active learners who are less reliant on external feedback to achieve their learning goals. Phil Race suggests academics “consider the balance or payoff between feedback efficiency for us and learning payoff for students” (The Higher Education Academy, 2014).

Sources: Swan, 2003; Getzlaf et al, 2009; Douglas et al, 2006; Naylor et al, 2016, Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Cope and Kalantzis, 2014; Carless et al 2011; Sadler, Davies & Buckridge, nd.

Boud, D., Molloy, E. (2012). Rethinking models of feedback for learning: the challenge of design. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 38, 2013:6. Retrieved http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02602938.2012.691462

Carless, D., Salter, D., Yang, M., & Lam, J. (2011). Developing sustainable feedback practices. Studies in Higher Education, 36:4. Retrieved http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075071003642449

Cope, B. & Kalantzis, M. College of Education at Illinois. (2014). E-Learning Affordance 4a: Recursive Feedback [video]. Retrieved e-Learning Affordance 4a: Recursive Feedback

Douglas, T., Salter, S., Iglesias, M., Dowlman, M. & Eri, R. (2016). The feedback process: Perspectives of first and second-year undergraduate students in the disciplines of education, health science and nursing. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13:1. Retrieved http://ro.uow.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1541&context=jutlp

Getzlaf, B., Perry, B., Toffner, G., Lamarche, K. & Edwards, M. (2009). Effective Instructor Feedback: Perceptions of Online Graduate Students. Journal of Educators Online, 6:2:July 2009. Retrieved http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ904070.pdf

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, March 2007, 77,1. Retrieved http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3102/003465430298487

Henderson, M., Boud, D., Molloy, E., Dawson, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T. & Mahoney, P. (2018). Framework for effective feedback. Feedback for learning.org. Retrieved https://feedbackforlearning.org/wp-content/uploads/ID16-5366_Henderson_Report_2018.pdf

Jones, I. S., Blankenship, D. (2014). What do you mean you never got any feedback? Research in Higher Education Journal, 24: August 2014. Retrieved http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/141875.pdf

Linskens, J. (2012). Meaningful Feedback in the Online Learning Environment [presentation]. Northcentral University, Arizona. Retrieved Meaningful Feedback in the Online Learning Environment

Naylor, R., Baik, C., Watty, K., & Asmar, C. (2014). Good Feedback Practices: Prompts and guidelines for reviewing and enhancing feedback for students. The Centre for the Study of Higher Education, University of Melbourne. Retrieved http://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/1761164/Good_Feedback_Practices_2014.pdf

Sadler, R., Davies, L. & Buckridge, M. (nd). GIHE Good Practice Guide on Developing Effective Feedback for Learning. Griffith Institute for Higher Education, Griffith University.

Swan, K. (2003). Learning effectiveness: what the research tells us. In J. Bourne & J. C. Moore (Eds) Elements of Quality Online Education, Practice and Direction. Needham, MA: Sloan Center for Online Education, 13-45. https://cguevara.commons.gc.cuny.edu/files/2009/09/learning-effectiveness.pdf

Taras, M. (2005). Assessment, Summative and Formative, some theoretical reflections. British Journal of Educational Studies. 53:4, 466-478, DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8527.2005.00307.x

The Australasian Society for Evidence-Based Teaching. (2017). Feedback: The First Secret John Hattie revealed. Retrieved https://beatrizsolinoelt.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/feedback-john-hattie.pdf

The Higher Education Academy. (2014). HEA Feedback Toolkit: March 2013. The Higher Education Academy. Retrieved https://www.advance-he.ac.uk/knowledge-hub/hea-feedback-toolkit
Page last updated on 26/04/2023

Service Central

Visit Service Central to access Corporate Services.

Other service contacts

Learning and Teaching
Request Something

Make a request for services provided by Corporate Services.

Request something
Knowledge base

Find answers to frequently asked questions 24/7.

See Knowledge Base