Student feedback

The influence of feedback on learners

  • Education

Feedback has long been considered as key in effecting transformational change in learners. However, less is known about how learners interact with feedback to effect changes in performance.

Published in Medical Teacher, a new BEME review from RCSI’s Health Professions Education Centre explores evidence concerning how learners respond to feedback to understand how feedback can influence the learner, both positively and negatively.

The review used the self-regulatory learning theory as a framework for the analysis. Self-regulated learning is a learning style in which students set goals for a task, monitor their performance and then reflect on the outcome. The aim of the research was to inform educators on how feedback influences the self-regulated learning process.

Over 230 studies were analysed to assess the impact of feedback on learners. Inclusion criteria comprised: learners who regularly receive feedback, including undergraduate, postgraduate and those in continuing education and studies that associated feedback with subsequent learner reaction.

The research found that distinct learner responses to feedback could be categorised as:

  • cognitive – how the feedback influenced the learners’ thought processes
  • behavioural – how the feedback resulted in a change in behaviour or practice
  • affective – how motivation and confidence were influenced by feedback
  • context – how the response to feedback was affected by context factors external to the learner

In conclusion it was found that there are many factors involved in how feedback influences the learner, including the supervisor, the message, the delivery method, the supervisor-learner relationship and varying interpretations of what feedback means.

The review found that overall feedback benefits learners most when focused on learner needs via engagement in two-way directional conversation. Emotional responses to feedback were found to be commonplace and it was recommended that educators need to be mindful of vulnerability and develop sympathetic feedback environments and foster constructive learner-supervisor relationships.

A developmental agenda was found to be key to the learner’s acceptance of feedback and the enhancement of future learning.

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