Effective feedback

The provision of clear, accessible feedback is at the heart of the student experience. The power of written feedback to influence learning was demonstrated by Black and Wiliam (1998). They found evidence, from a large scale review which sampled a variety of educational settings, that providing feedback only encouraged in students a deep approach to learning – in contrast to what happened when only marks (or marks with comments) were provided.

So what does good feedback look like and what is its purpose?

The purpose of feedback is to:

  • Stimulate students to improve their own learning
  • Motivate continued student engagement
  • Diagnose student strengths and weaknesses
  • Support students in developing their skills of self-assessment
  • Provide a profile of what a student has learnt

The resources below provide an evidence base for improving the quality of feedback that students receive; a range of useful activities that can be introduced to improve student engagement with feedback; and links to further resources from the sector.

Feedback as a conversation

Feedback should be seen as part of an ongoing conversation with a student about their progress. Nicol (2010) argues that “the many diverse expressions of dissatisfaction with written feedback, both from students and teachers, are all symptoms of impoverished dialogue. Mass higher education is squeezing out dialogue with the result that written feedback, which is essentially a one-way communication, often has to carry almost all the burden of teacher–student interaction”.

Research suggests there are 10 principles of giving effective feedback:

Effective feedback graphic

Read the full article here.

Closing the gap

The feedback process is successful when students are given the tools to meet the following three conditions, which are necessary to improve their learning:

  1. They know what a good performance looks like
  2. They can relate their current performance to a good performance
  3. They have an idea of how to “close the gap” (Royce Sadler, 1989)

This can be achieved by ensuring the feedback is set in the context of the relevant learning outcomes of the assessment and what the students are expected to evidence for the assessment. Go to our Increasing Assessment Literacy page to find out how to put this into practice.

In summary

Feedback is most effective when it is:

  • Timely
  • Perceived to be relevant
  • Meaningful
  • Encouraging
  • Offers suggestions for improvement

Feedback is ineffective when it is:

  • Unspecific
  • Assuming an understanding that the students do not have
  • Discouraging
  • Too generalised

Black, P. and Wiliam, D. (1998) Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice. 5 7–74
Nicol, D. (2010) From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 35 501–517
Royce Sadler, D. (1989) Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science 18 119–144