By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

In online education, effective feedback is an essential part of the learning process for students. If students receive feedback that is vague, not actionable or non-specific regarding their performance on assignments, they will feel discouraged.

Non-traditional learners, such as the students at our University, are often working adults with multiple responsibilities and busy lives. When those students prioritize their coursework and take the time necessary to complete their assignments to the best of their ability, the instructor’s approach to providing feedback is vital to students’ academic success.

Related link: Podcast: Student Retention Strategies in Online Education

How Online Instructors Can Provide Effective Feedback to Their Students

To provide effective feedback, it is necessary to recognize both a student’s strengths and areas for improvement. Only focusing on one quality or the other does not help students to strengthen their coursework.

In online instruction, professors take the role of an academic coach and that role is reflected in their feedback. Effective instructors provide actionable feedback, so that students clearly understand what they should do to improve their performance in class.

For example, imagine that an instructor provides the feedback that a reference list is not in American Psychological Association (APA) format, a writing style commonly used in the academic world. For a student, this information would be more effective if the instructor provided examples of incorrect citations alongside examples of the correct citations to enhance the student’s learning.

Instructors Should Get to Know Their Students and How They Learn

Providing effective feedback requires a holistic approach that starts even before grades and other information are provided to online students. Ideally, instructors should take the time to create an engaging learning experience by getting to know students in the online classroom.

In our online classrooms, becoming acquainted with students typically occurs in Week 1 of the forum discussions, where students introduce themselves and describe why they have chosen to take that course. Learning the biographical details of students enables professors to tailor their feedback around those students’ interests and strengths.

Offering feedback through different approaches can be useful for students’ different learning styles. For example, some students may be audio learners, and others might be visual learners. Audio learners are more receptive to feedback provided in an audio recording, while video and written feedback are very helpful for students who are visual learners.  

Related link: How to Develop Your Instructor Presence in the Online Classroom

Instructors Should Also Determine How Well Students Understand Their Feedback

Another important component of providing effective feedback is gauging how well students receive and interpret it. After offering feedback to students, instructors should carefully monitor students’ future assignments to ensure that their advice has been understood and if students’ performance in the course has subsequently improved.

However, if students continue to make the same mistakes in the class, they may not have understood the feedback or failed to read it. In this situation, setting up a quick meeting with a student will ensure that students will get the most out of the online learning experience.

In the classes I teach, I ask my students what elements of their assignment feedback are most helpful. This strategy has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of which approaches work better than others.

Timely Feedback Is Critical

Another important aspect of effective feedback is timeliness. Providing feedback as soon as possible is useful for online learners. Otherwise, students may repeat the same mistakes on the next assignment if they are working on it while waiting on an instructor’s comments from the previous assignment.

Instructors Can Also Offer Advice on How to Learn More Effectively

An instructor can also offer suggestions for how students can improve their learning, not just the quality of their assignments. For instance, instructors can provide students with information on ways to strengthen their studying, reading and research habits.

Instructor Feedback Makes a Difference to Online Students

Effective, specific, and detailed feedback from an instructor motivates online students and builds on their strengths. When instructors provide their students with a clear understanding of how they can improve their coursework and learning capabilities, especially if those students are new to the academic world, those students are more likely to perform better in online classes.

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