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Why Feedback is the Key to Effective Learning

  • 6 Min Read

If your learner doesn’t know how good (or bad) they are at a specific skill or task - how will they improve?

Receiving or giving feedback in learning is usually associated with a whole host of uncomfortable feelings for both parties. Managers often struggle to articulate feedback without negative emotions and often delay the process, believing that buying themselves some time will help. Receivers of feedback often shudder at the thought and become immediately defensive of their actions. But feedback should be seen as a positive process. It allows us to reflect, alter and improve our actions – becoming a better learner, employee or team-player in the long run.  

However, feedback is often overlooked in the learning design process. Instead of viewing it as a critical component of effective learning, it is often an afterthought. But, the most successful learning in the modern age is programmatic or programme-based, in which feedback plays an integral role. Programmatic learning is a long-term, blended approach to training, which combines personalised learning, data-driven interventions and practice with feedback to create real behavioural change.  

In this fourth installment of our programmatic learning blog series, we’re going to explore why feedback is such an important element in learning programmes and how you can effectively implement it into yours.  

A shift in L&D mindset 

Until recently, L&D assessment methods were often designed to track one thing: completion rates. Those that branched out and looked for more than completion rates often fell into the ‘smile sheet’ trap: reporting that learners “enjoyed the course”. Neither of these promote mastery or long-term retention, thus completely overlooking the primary aim of any learning intervention.  

It’s time for L&D to change their mindset. Now’s the time to put the learner first and ensure they are gaining the skills or knowledge they need from our learning interventions. And in order to ensure that, we must provide clear, meaningful and actionable feedback.  

Overcoming assumptions about feedback 

The biggest challenge with feedback is the automatic assumption that it is bad. At some point in our lives, we’ve all received feedback. Whether it’s from a boss, mentor, friend or peer. While the person points out what we can do better or how to improve next time, it’s hard to not feel personally attacked. However, often this dialogue comes from a good place. The giver is providing you an opportunity to improve and become more efficient in the future. Without this guidance we’d never grow, learn new skills or advance in our careers.  

However the correlation between feedback and bad news can be explained by two things: its infrequency and how it’s given. Good feedback is timely and constructive. But often feedback is given after frustrations have built up over a period of time, and thus resulting in a list of “things you’ve done wrong”, or in the best case “things you could do better in future”. This isn’t effective. It leads to overwhelmed individuals, struggling to improve numerous things at once. And this is why feedback should be included regularly in your organisation, not least in your learning programmes.  

Why is feedback important? 

Feedback is essential to effective learning. Without feedback your employees could continue to make the same mistake time and time again, without any awareness of the issues or problems they’re causing. But feedback also provides other benefits to organisations. In fact, one study showed that feedback influences and improves employee engagement. Which in turn, improves their willingness to learn, making the feedback process much easier and more effective in the long run.  

Feedback is especially important when it comes to developing new leaders 

Feedback loops are critical to personal development, especially for those developing leadership or managerial skills. In these circumstances, the individual can learn how to both give and receive feedback. In these circumstances a closed feedback loop is ideal. This is when someone responds or takes action on feedback in a timely nature. This helps new leaders learn the skills that are critical to their success, such as listening to learn and giving feedback at the right time 

So, who should give feedback? 

The simple answer is: everyone.  

A huge challenge with feedback is that it often comes from one source: the manager. Although management feedback is crucial in an employees growth, it can become overwhelming. And for that reason it is critical that you ensure a wide range of feedback sources are used.  

Within learning programmes you should empower your people to give feedback to one another. There is a real sense of camaraderie when your colleague says “I like how you did XYZ”. Which will give your learners a real boost, motivating them to continue learning. You should also utilise subject matter experts (SMEs). If the manager is not an expert in the field, it may not be appropriate that feedback comes from them. Instead, bring in SMEs from elsewhere in your business – and let your learners gain direct feedback from them.  

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, is meta feedback. Meta feedback is used to help those who are responsible for providing feedback to improve their own feedback-giving skills. Which fuels and improves the continuous feedback loop within your learning programme. A win-win for all involved.  

Technology enabled feedback 

Like many things, technology has made giving feedback much easier. It allows effective, timely feedback to learners when they need it – and also creates a log of given feedback, for the learner to reflect upon. This means that the learner is getting higher quality feedback, more consistently, from a range of sources. Notably, it allows learners to get: 

Feedback from SMEs 

Now more than ever before, our learners are unlikely to be in the same room, office, or even country. Our dispersed teams mean that the internal SME on a particular subject may not be available to give feedback in the flow-of-work to our learners. Therefore, technology enabled feedback means that learners can still get this business-critical feedback from SMEs, despite time zone constraints or availability conflicts. Without technology, your learners would have been unlikely to receive this feedback, and thus technology not only improves and facilitates feedback, but the learner journey and effectiveness of learning outcomes.  

Asynchronous feedback 

Effective feedback does not come from impulse. It should be well thought through and have the learners best interest in mind. Therefore, the asynchronous nature of technology enabled feedback is a huge benefit. It allows the feedback giver the time to: 

  • Think about the feedback they’re going to give, and why. 
  • Formulate feedback in an effective, digestible way.  
  • Provide clear pointers and next steps for the learner. 

Putting this time and consideration into feedback ultimately improves its quality, thus helping the learner in the long term.  

Feedback is a crucial component of programmatic learning. It works directly with practice and motivates learners to continue to enhance their skills. Therefore it is critical that you include feedback stages in your learning programme, holding feedback givers accountable and ensuring all your learners provide the insights they need to improve and learn effectively. To learn more about programmatic learning and its benefits, download our free ebook now.  

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