Every teacher knows that it’s important to provide students with regular feedback during their learning process. Without feedback, your learners simply don’t know how well they are doing. In self-paced online learning, how do you gauge the learners’ progress when there is no instructor to provide feedback and guide their learning?
Nicol and Macfarlane‐Dick (2006)1 identified seven principles of good feedback practice. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can incorporate feedback—in particular, how to apply these principles—in self-paced online learning.
Good feedback helps clarify what good performance is
What’s been done: An approach that has proved particularly effective in clarifying performance goals and standards is to model exemplary performance. Without concrete, worked examples, concepts are just abstract ideas. In self-paced online learning, this can be achieved with case studies in which learners can identify good performance in the presented scenario.
What you can do: When designing a case scenario, consider breaking it into multiple parts. After presenting a case, ask the learner what they would do in that scenario—this could be done with a multiple-choice question with possible reactions. Reveal the answer only after the learner has given it some thought. Your answer will be more meaningful if they interact with the material first.
WordPress Tips: Quiz tools in LearnDash and other LMS plugins can be disruptive to learning for short reflective assessments; try an H5P module instead, which can be embedded directly into the lesson page.
Good feedback facilitates the development of self-reflection in learning
What’s been done: Provide opportunities for learners to ask “where am I now?” In self-paced online learning, this is especially important if your course is broken down into many lessons, and the learner has the option to take them in any order.
What you can do: At the end of each lesson, consider providing the learner with a concept map showing them where they are in the course. If possible, tie it with the lessons that the learner has completed to show connections. This gives them an opportunity to do a self-check before they move on to a new lesson.
Good feedback delivers high quality information to students about their learning
What’s been done: Good feedback is personalized, specific to the individual learners. This can be done with a self-assessment, which may include multiple-choice, true/false, or short-answer questions with feedback tied to the lesson or topic that the learner just completed. This helps the learner self-evaluate whether they have a good grasp of the material.
What you can do: Consider including customized feedback that helps the learner adjust their learning. For example, you may suggest that they review the lesson (or certain sections of it) if they answer most of the self-assessment questions wrong. You may provide more feedback if a key question that is directly linked to a performance goal is answered incorrectly.
WordPress Tips: Conditional feedback can be difficult in WordPress, but most quiz tools support feedback or graduation text that can be used to provide insight and recommendations based on learner answers (or use something that supports conditional feedback, like Gravity Forms). For personalized feedback, we like using the shortcode on LearnDash platforms to address the learner by name wherever possible.
Good feedback encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning
What’s been done: One way of increasing the likelihood that your feedback will be taken in by the learners is to frame it more as dialogue rather than as instruction. This can be done with a few follow-up questions at the end of a lesson that ask the learner how they might apply what they learned in a context that’s directly relevant to them.
What you can do: In self-paced online learning, if there is a blog or forum associated with your course, consider encouraging the learner to discuss your follow-up questions with their peers. This can be very effective when the feedback is highly contextual. Using feedback to generate discussions also encourages communities of practice in which learners who share common interests can learn from and support one another.
WordPress Tips: bbPress is a great way to incorporate a simple forum and you can link to specific threads inside LearnDash lessons and topics. Be aware that taking users to a forum removes them from the course context, so make sure it’s easy for users to navigate back to where they were (like with the Resume button in our Toolkit, or easy access to a dashboard page).
Good feedback increases students’ motivation to learn
What’s been done: As mentioned above, feedback can be embedded in a series of “check your understanding” review questions. The bite-size evaluation allows your learners to grasp concepts in smaller, manageable chunks, leveraging each step of their learning as building blocks.
What you can do: “Drop-out” caused by low motivation is often considered the biggest challenge in online learning. Bite-size learning with self-assessment allows your learner to celebrate their progress. Success breeds success—the gradual approach helps to build up the learner’s confidence and increase their motivation to learn. You may also consider using badges to reward the learner’s milestone achievements.
WordPress Tips: For next-level automated engagement, one intervention we really like is hooking LearnDash activities into Active Campaign, a powerful but inexpensive Marketing Automation tool. It’s not just for marketing—it’s a very effective way of keeping learners engaged by sending communications based on their learning activities. (At the time of writing, our Active Campaign integration for LearnDash isn’t available to the public but can be added to client sites.)
Good feedback provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance
What’s been done: The end goal of providing feedback is to help learners achieve mastery and improve performance. Self-assessment at the end of a lesson can mimic the same ‘task-feedback-performance’ cycle.
What you can do: Your feedback should help the learner recognize the next steps in learning and how to take them. It can also show how the gap between their current and desired performance is shortened each step of the way.
Good feedback provides information to teachers that can be used to help shape teaching
What’s been done: Self-assessment is often not evaluated. However, there is significant learning data that can be extracted from these assessments to guide the student’s learning path. Their learning becomes more relevant and meaningful which, in turn, will further increase their motivation to learn.
What you can do: Take advantage of the user progress reports that your LMS generates to better understand where your learners are. The data can help you assess the average performance of the class, and identify who may need more attention. It can also help you make improvements to your course that will benefit future learners.
WordPress Tips: We know that progress over time can be difficult to track with WordPress LMS plugins. Running reports at defined periods and then comparing them can help; report customization is also an option.
In self-paced online learning, students are already assessing their own work and generating their own feedback. Well-designed feedback creates individualized learning experience that will result in more satisfied learners.
1 Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.