How to Improve Learning Retention with Contextual Feedback

Successful eLearning outcomes require clear communication between instructional designers and the learners themselves. Providing relevant and timely feedback to students as they’re in the process of learning is a critical component of ensuring that students actually remember the lessons.

Or, as George Bernard Shaw once famously said:

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

Instructional designers must therefore be diligent in developing processes for delivering the feedback they provide to their students – both for correct and incorrect responses. Simply assigning a “pass” or “fail” response will result in the illusion that feedback has been provided, but the true objective of online learning — conveying lasting knowledge — will not be accomplished.

CourseArc allows course creators to include custom feedback in multiple choice and true / false questions. Here are some tips for phrasing your feedback in ways that truly help your students.

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How to Provide Valuable Context within Your eLearning Feedback

One potential drawback of distance learning is the absence of student-teacher “face time.” This means opportunities for direct feedback are scarce, which can make the accomplishment of learning objectives extremely challenging.

To mitigate this risk, instructional designers should have a formal decision-making plan in place to provide effective feedback to their students.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when developing a feedback process.

  • By nature, online learning often feels condensed or compressed, and not every topic or lesson is covered in as much depth as it would be in a classroom setting. Providing context feedback for both right and wrong answers can be used as a means to deliver important supplemental information to learners.

EXAMPLE: That’s correct! The 4 Levels of Evaluation are: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results. If you want to learn more about Donald Kirkpatrick and his training evaluation model,  visit http://www.kirkpatrickpartners.com/OurPhilosophy/TheKirkpatrickModel

  • When faced with multiple choice or true/false questions, some students may use “educated guesses.” While some of those guesses will be correct, their lack of a logical thought process means they may not be remembering those answers — and, therefore, not learning. To solve this problem, instructional designers can assign detailed contextual feedback to all answers that reinforces the underlying principles of the lesson regardless of whether the right or wrong answer was chosen.

EXAMPLE: The correct answer is B. Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation are: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results. While the answer you selected includes some of Kirkpatrick’s Levels of Evaluation, the aspect of Return-on-Investment was developed by Jack Phillips.

  • Incorrect responses may be rooted in a fundamental lack of understanding of the course topic. Instructional designers should therefore highlight why the answer is incorrect, while also illustrating the consequences of the selected incorrect option:

EXAMPLE: Sorry, but the response you selected is incorrect. The correct answer is B. Kirkpatrick’s 4 Levels of Evaluation are: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results. Option C is incorrect because (as discussed in Module 3 of the course) Donald Kirkpatrick focused mainly on how learners react to the training, what information they learned during the training, whether or not learners’ behavior changed as a result of completing the training course, and the final results of the training. Jack Phillips, on the other hand, took Kirkpatrick’s model to the next level and focused on Return-on-Investment.

Does Using Contextual Feedback Work?

There have been empirical studies conducted to show that good feedback does in fact contribute to  learning and retention.

While these studies are primarily related to work done on assessing the impact of feedback on learning in classroom settings, the general premise of how feedback works can be extrapolated and applied to eLearning environments as well. Researchers like Denton (2008, 487) argue that:

‘…in an era of sophisticated learning technologies, the criteria for effective feedback remain the same’.

In order for online learners to benefit the most from digital courses, instructional designers should include appropriate contextual and corrective feedback. By adding this step to your course creation process, you can help dispel Shaw’s illusion and deliver knowledge that your students will actually remember.

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