I’ve found feedback to be something of a unifier between teachers of diverse persuasions. Whether you’re tech-savvy or tech-averse, traditional or progressive, elementary or secondary, everyone seems able to agree that a feedback-rich learning environment is something to strive for. But what sorts of feedback are most likely to yield the best results?

My epiphany with feedback came from attending Paul Kirschner’s ResearchED US 2020 presentation just a few months ago. As the fourth author on a research article for Distance Education (2013), he described a useful Triple Loop Feedback model that assigns categories to the moves a teacher can make to deliver feedback, classifying feedback as Single-loop (Corrective), Double-loop (Suggestive/Directive), and Triple-loop (Epistemic). Due to its simplicity and “sticking power” I’ve found it to have immediate practical implications for the classroom.

feedback 5
Triple Loop Feedback Model
Source, reprinted with permission.

Corrective Feedback

Corrective (single-loop) feedback is simple yes/no, right/wrong, pass/fail forms of feedback from the teacher. Low-level feedback like this can easily be provided from a distance through the use of complete/incomplete marks, points, or traditional grades in an online gradebook. As Director of Educational Technology during remote learning, I recently oversaw an overhaul of our grading system so that points and grades, along with missing assignments and zeroes, are all retrievable by students in one place, and arrive at the fingertips of more adults, so that we can prevent students from falling through the cracks. While a clear advantage of corrective, single-loop feedback is that it requires minimal time and effort on the part of the teacher, when it comes to complex tasks, a yes/no correction is probably not very useful to the student because it doesn’t tell them much about what they should do to reach their learning goal.

Suggestive Feedback

Suggestive (double-loop) feedback is when a teacher describes how something – a procedure, for example – can be changed or modified so that it mirrors expert performance. In an online learning environment, teaching faculty at my school are encouraged to use the commenting and annotating features in the LMS to give suggestions and directions so that students can improve their products. It’s also possible to use the automatic feedback features of online tools, such as quizzes, to give useful suggestions automatically after a student submits a response. Suggestive, double loop feedback is a more effective form of feedback than corrective, single loop feedback, and I imagine that it accounts for the majority of the feedback that teachers input into an LMS. Suggestive feedback focuses on the “how” of learning to do something, but it is lacking the crucial element of “why.”

Epistemic Feedback

The ultimate form of feedback, epistemic or triple-loop feedback, includes the teacher describing “the why” (not just the how or the what) behind a student making a change. It requires, often in combination with suggestive feedback, that the teacher enter into a dialogue with the student so that they may elaborate on the choices they’ve made when carrying out their task. Guasch et al. (2013) hypothesized that combining suggestive + epistemic feedback would lead to higher gains in performance on a writing task, and the hypothesis (H1) was confirmed. While all three forms of feedback improved scores in their study, suggestive and corrective feedback posted similarly small effect sizes (p=.23), and epistemic and epistemic + suggestive generated similarly medium-sized effects (p=.42). According to the authors:

Students wrote texts of higher quality not only after receiving epistemic or epistemic + suggestive feedback than after corrective feedback, but also after receiving only suggestive feedback. In other words, reflecting on what they had written as induced by epistemic questions in the epistemic or epistemic + suggestive feedback affected the quality of the writing product more than either being instructed on what could be done better (i.e., corrective feedback) or, more importantly, only receiving suggestions as to how to proceed (i.e., suggestive feedback).

Guasch et al. (2013, p. 333)

At my school, we’ve explored ways to leverage the power of technology to initiate dialogue of an elaborative, epistemic nature during remote learning. Epistemic-level recommendations have included upgrading assignments by attaching descriptive rubrics and facilitating back-and-forth exchanges in discussion forums. Screencasting can be used to create individualized feedback videos in the first-person perspective, often with dynamic drawing (Mayer, Fiorella, & Stull, 2020), that are link-shareable for anywhere, anytime viewing. In order to ensure that epistemic, triple-loop feedback is being maximized, we’ve made changes to the schedule to enable office hours and study hall time so that students can meet with teachers in small groups, either by booking appointments with teachers or simply entering into their teachers’ office hours via an open Zoom link. And, finally, we’re working to push ourselves to include all three forms of feedback; a correction (i.e. a grade), a suggestion (i.e. a text or audio comment), and an elaborative, epistemic interaction; for every student, at least once every two weeks.

Zach Groshell @mrzachg

I recently presented this model at one of my workshops. As always, readers are free to download the slides and see if they’re useful to you. While the PowerPoint file of the workshop includes “Canvas”, my school’s LMS, I’m sure it can be can be applied to any LMS, and it is certainly applicable to in-person instruction as well:

References

Guasch, T., Espasa, A., Alvarez, I. M., & Kirschner, P. A. (2013). Effects of feedback on collaborative writing in an online learning environment. Distance Education34(3), 324–338. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2013.835772

Mayer, R. E., Fiorella, L., & Stull, A. (2020). Five ways to increase the effectiveness of instructional video. Educational Technology Research and Development, 68(3), 837–852. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-020-09749-6

Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The Power of Feedback Revisited: A Meta-Analysis of Educational Feedback Research. Frontiers in Psychology10(January), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03087

9 thoughts on “Effective Feedback with Online Learners: Corrective vs. Suggestive vs. Epistemic Feedback

  1. A very exhaustive, well researched article. Your heart and mind are so much in sync. Though many of us think of doing things but of us fail to reach the application stage.
    Feedback is a must to complete the communication and the learning loop. Understanding the why is what matters most. It is the why which should naturally lead to the what and how of doing.
    Stay blessed 🙏😇

    Liked by 1 person

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