Meaningful Feedback: A Critical (Sometimes Missing) Component in e-Learning

The provision of feedback plays a very crucial role in ensuring students’ wellbeing and thus, their successful learning. However, such action is sometimes being neglected by educators and trainers, particularly during this Covid-19 situation and the emergency remote teaching. With that, is feedback really that important? Should the educators just focus on delivering the materials? Should it be neglected altogether?

FeedbackFeedback: Not Just a Grade

The human brain consists of billions of active neurons, forming a network of information. What is more fascinating is that humans – yes, it means you – are capable of reorganizing those neurons (i.e. turning up, shutting down, making new connections) through life experience1; this is the essence of learning.

Yet, to establish accurate connections of those neurons (i.e. effective learning), humans need external inputs. One of those inputs is feedback. As highlighted by Eric Jensen in his book titled ‘Teaching with the Brain in Mind’, a stream of effective feedback is of paramount importance in improving one’s learning. Many experts in education (e.g. Judith Ireson, Martyn Long) support this notion. Feedback is seen to have a fundamental effect in learning as it allows learners to compare their performance with the standard; allowing them to adapt and correct their response3.

Thus, feedback is more in-depth than just a grade. While it is important to reinforce the correct responses, feedback should also illuminate the learners’ errors and give them the necessary information to correct their errors and develop themselves2. This information is useful not just for the learners. Educators are also benefited from this information as through frequent feedback, they can adapt their teaching to be better suited for the learners.

In addition to reinforcing proper responses and correcting errors, feedback can and should also be used to touch on the learners’ emotions. It has been acknowledged that cognitive and emotion are intertwined. Learners will not achieve their highest learning capability if their emotions are convoluted1. For that reason, educators must be able to facilitate the necessary learners’ emotional condition through feedback such as encouragement.

The Missing Element

It must be noted that everyone is experiencing ‘emergency’ in this particular time, educators included. During this ‘emergency remote teaching’, educators are scrambling to adapt their teaching to the current condition. On the other hand, they are also flanked by bleak news and uncertainties. It is not an overstatement that this crisis takes a toll on everyone. Yet, the educators must stand tall; they must deliver the materials and assess through online platforms, the show must go on even in this crisis. Though, considering some news about hijacking one’s video conference and kicking the educators out of their own class, it is a bumpy show.

Amidst that chaos, some educators are starting to forget about feedback. Some are laser-focused on delivering the required materials1. Quantity, therefore, becomes the main focus instead of quality. This is aggravated by the policy requiring them to do so2. It is, therefore, a classic dilemma that many educators face.

Furthermore, while it is easy to say words of encouragement in a classroom as there is direct communication between educators and learners, it is a different matter in asynchronous learning. It is difficult to have a face-to-face interaction with all of the learners. Also, educators cannot know for certain the level of students’ understanding as they cannot just look into the learners’ confused faces like in-classroom teaching. It is also hard for learners to directly ask questions[3]. This limits the capability to adapt the teaching and learning processes.

As educators are getting their hands full, they are starting to forget the importance of maintaining communication with the learners[3]. What was once taken-for-granted, easily done in-person communication now requires a deliberate effort to be done online. This further reduces the chance of giving feedback.

Nevertheless, educators must not neglect giving feedback to the learners. Especially in L&D, feedback is important to help the learners (i.e. employees) cope with their tasks and keep their morale high. For that, educators must deliberately seek chances to give feedback. In those chances, they must also ensure that the feedback given is meaningful. With that, there are three practical reminders for educators to refocus their attention to giving feedback.

1. Construct meaningful (i.e. educative, specific) feedback

Feedback is not merely about grades. In giving feedback, educators should focus on praising what the learners got right while also pointing out their errors and giving them explanations and strategies to cope with those errors. With both compliment and correction work in tandem, the learners are enabled to be self-regulated and lifelong learners. Furthermore, as each learner is unique, the educators should put an effort to make specific feedback to cater to each individual’s needs.

2. Use available resources effectively

The focal point is not on the resources themselves. It is more on the way educators use those resources. If the educators have access to an LMS, then they can have a streamlined way of giving feedback to the learners. If a video conference is a viable option for both the educators and the learners, it can present a unique opportunity to have one-on-one communication to give feedback. Yet, if the resources are limited, the educators must adjust their way of giving feedback instead of ignoring it altogether. One of the simplest examples is that educators can give a quick phone call to each learner; asking the learners how they are doing and figuring out what is best for them. This requires deliberation.

3. Deliberate focus on giving feedback

Unlike in the physical world where interaction can happen naturally (e.g. meeting learners in the cafeteria), educators must enact a deliberate action to contact the learners, especially to the individual learners, in the digital world setting. While it seems trivial, this does lower the rate of the feedback given to the learners in e-learning. With this acknowledged, educators must shift their attention and make a deliberate effort to use every possible opportunity to give feedback to learners.

In the end, it is only when feedback becomes educators’ top priority that effective learning will be achieved and learners will be nurtured into lifelong learners.

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1 Cobo, C., & Ciarrusta, I. S. (2020, April 22). Successful examples of scaling up teaching and learning in response to COVID-19. Retrieved May 27, 2020, from

2 DeWitt, P. (2020, May 12). This Is What Teachers Want Us to Know About Pandemic Learning. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from

3 Innes, R. (2020, April 7). The Corona Virus and ‘Emergency Remote Teaching’ – The Data. Retrieved May 28, 2020, from

4 Ireson, J. (2008). Learners, learning and educational activity. Abingdon: Routledge.

5 Jensen, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

6 Long, M. (2000). The psychology of education. London: RoutledgeFalmer.