How To Use Feedback in Your Online Learning Program

When was the last time your supervisor dropped by and told you what an excellent job you were doing? And when was the last time you did the same for your subordinate?

If you’re like most employees, we’re willing to bet it’s been a while. 

But feedback is an essential element of any professional development process. It helps people learn, grow, and improve. Feedback is so beneficial it’s proven to increase engagement and improve retention, as employees feel valued and like their organization is paying attention and invested in their development.

And when it comes to online learning, feedback is priceless. After all, online learning removes much of the face-to-face interaction that humans thrive on. So it’s important for administrators and instructors to go out of their way to give feedback to learners as this helps both with participation and performance.

In this article, we’ll show you how to give effective feedback in your online courses to improve learning outcomes in your organization.

How To Give Feedback to Learners To Improve Their Professional Development

Be Timely

The best time to provide feedback is the moment you notice something you want to address. 

Especially in online learning, where interactions may be short and you get little (if any) real-time engagement, you want to connect with learners as soon as you’re able to. 

The timing will depend on the context. For example, if you notice that someone has trouble understanding a concept, you could offer some guidance before they get too far into the assignment. Or, if you see that someone is struggling with a particular skill, you could suggest ways to practice that skill.

Be Specific

It can be uncomfortable to give feedback, especially if it’s negative, but it’s necessary. Otherwise, learners don’t know what they’ve done incorrectly or how to improve. 

The thing is that many times, this discomfort makes us ramble and end up saying nothing substantial. You want to avoid this and provide succinct and thoughtful feedback.

If you don’t know where to start, use the “sandwich” technique, where you put the constructive criticism between two pieces of good feedback: praise, suggest and encourage. This makes negative feedback easier to take.

Here’s an example of the sandwich technique in action:

(Praise) “Well done, Angelina! I can see that you worked hard this week to understand the new concepts learned in the module.” (Suggestion) “Next week, I’d love to see you apply those concepts to the reading. How does the concept change your perception of the text?” (Encourage) “I’m really impressed with the improvement I’ve seen since Module 1 and I’m looking forward to seeing more great work from you next week!”

Focus on Strengths

On the flip side, if you notice someone excelling in a project, tell them so! You want to give positive feedback as it’s just as important as its corrective counterpart. Your positive comments will help keep them motivated and excited to work through the program.

Students who work exceptionally hard and deliver great work deserve time and attention as well. Here are two ways you can highlight good work in comments or forums:

First, point out specific elements of success: “Excellent job identifying, applying and analyzing the new concept!”

Second, mention that their work is so well done that they serve as an excellent model for the class to follow. This type of encouragement and recognition will further boost their confidence and drive them to continue to do well on future assignments.

Talk About Behaviors

You may notice in the examples above that the feedback is laser-focused on actions and results.

The reason to give feedback that focuses on behaviors is that you don’t want to criticize the person. The feedback you give should address a conduct and a result — not the character of the person.

For example, if someone is late to your live training sessions, you could approach it two ways:

First, you can set them aside and say, “Charles, you’re inconsiderate and wasting our time.” Here, you’re speaking of their character and pointing out a flaw — but you don’t have the context for this behavior.

Second, you can set them aside and say, “Charles, I noticed that you’ve been showing up late for the live sessions. This is distracting to other learners and many times, you miss out on the first part of the lesson. Is there a way we can address this tardiness in the future?” In this scenario, you’re pointing out the behavior (their late arrival), pointing out the consequences (distracting the session and missing out on key information), and proposing a way to move forward.

While the first approach is most instinctive and can be the result of frustration, the second one will prevent the situation from getting out of hand and provide a solution.

Ask Questions

Approaching feedback from a place of curiosity allows you to understand why learners are struggling or succeeding. It shows you their thought process and experiences outside of your preconceived notions.

For example, there could be countless reasons why a learner is struggling with one of the modules. It could be related to the course design (format, delivery, and supporting materials are essential for online training success). Or it could be due to the content itself. Instead of making assumptions, ask questions and give your learner the opportunity to share feedback to get to the root cause of this struggle.

On the contrary, if you see a particularly successful cohort, get curious about why they excelled. Did they collaborate in a new way? Were they able to get hands-on experience throughout the program?

You can use surveys, quizzes, or other tools to gather student feedback, but asking them directly gives you the most accurate results. The right question can change your perspective and unlock huge improvement opportunities for your program and your participants.

Feedback Can Transform Your Online Training. Especially if It Goes Both Ways

Whether positive or negative, feedback is a priceless tool for professional development. It can be the difference between an engaged, motivated cohort and a barely-there group of participants.

When you give timely feedback, you help your learners succeed in your online learning — and it helps you improve your next iterations and address any shortcomings before they escalate.

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