effective online feedback is an important skill for
educators to develop because it guides the learner’s
development. Since feedback is important to the learning
process, the art of giving effective online feedback is a
critical skill for an educator. Teacher skills for giving
online feedback to learners varies from giving feedback in
face to face courses because non-verbal communications (tone
of voice, facial expressions) are absent in written online
feedback. Moreover, students often complain that faculty do
not provide enough positive feedback (Zsohar & Smith,
2009). Learners have reported that inadequate feedback from
teachers is less than satisfactory in an online course
(Soon, Sook, Jung, & Im, 2000). Timely and frequent
feedback from the course instructor contributes to student
learning (Theile, 2003). These factors create the need for
well-crafted online feedback in the written, audio, video,
or in the live synchronous web-based conference format. An
estimated 5.5 to 7.1 million students take at least one
online course in the US according to the US Education
Department and Babson Survey Research Group as reported by
Kolowich (2014). An implication of providing effective
online feedback is the positive impact for online learner
performance (Goldsmith, 2014). This article explains
practical information about the best practices of how to
develop or refine the art of giving online feedback to
Concept of Feedback
definition of feedback is information from an agent, such as
a teacher, peer, or other about one’s performance (Hattie &
Timperley, 2007). Learners may also trade feedback with
each other about coursework. Effective feedback is
constructive, which means to improve performance by
correcting errors (Cole, 2006; Zsohar & Smith, 2009) using a
positive, future-focused, helpful manner. In addition,
feedback can be informational or it can be informational and
instructional (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). When feedback
takes on a corrective function, then it also becomes
instructional. Spink (1997) points out that feedback may be
verbal or non-verbal. In the online setting, feedback for
learners may be written, audio, video, or in the live
synchronous web-based conference format. The definition of
online feedback is information from an educator, peer, or
other in an online format, such as the written word, audio
file, video, pre-programmed automatic reply, or live
Purpose of Feedback
of giving feedback is to point out strengths and provide
comments on areas for improvement and development. Clear,
effective, meaningful feedback is a robust way to foster
learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007), especially when teamed
with personalization, such as addressing the receiver by
their name. In online courses, due to the lack of
face-to-face interactions, feedback may function to increase
a connection between the educator and learner (Bonnel,
Ludwig, & Smith, 2007). The authors recommend
individualized feedback for each learner that includes
addressing them by their name and comments specific to their
one of the seven principles for good teaching practice in
undergraduate education described by Chickering and Gamson
(1987). Later, Chickering and Gamson (1999) revised this
principle to include assessment in addition to prompt
feedback. Students are able to reflect on their knowledge
base after receiving feedback, and think about what they
need to learn after considering the feedback for improvement
(Chickering & Gamson, 1999). Yet, the feedback principle
was a less common principle met by online educators in a
meta-analysis of the seven principles for good practice (Mukawa,
2006). The lack of providing effective feedback to learners
in Mukawa’s study signals the necessity of faculty
development in this area.
of research findings regarding the purposes of feedback have
emerged. Edwards, Perry, and Janzen (2011) presented
qualitative data in their study of what makes an exemplary
online educator. Affirmed, challenged, and influenced are
common statements learners used in the verbatim examples
regarding the feedback they received. This represents a
consistent theme in the research literature that effective
feedback stimulates and motivates learners to acknowledge
areas of success and strive for improved performance.
Types of Feedback
published about the type of feedback that is the most
effective for learners related to writing in online courses
is increasing in volume. Alvarez, Espasa, and Guasch (2011)
studied types of feedback for writing assignments in an
online learning environment and identified four types:
corrective feedback, epistemic feedback, suggestive
feedback, and epistemic plus suggestive feedback.
Corrective feedback is the feedback that is specific to the
requirements of the assignment and content. For example,
“The instructions called for x, however x was not
included.” Epistemic feedback includes prompts or questions
for further thought and explanation or clarification. For
example, “Say more about how this concept relates to the
point you make.” Suggestive feedback contains advice,
expansion, or ideas to improve an idea. For example, “By
giving an example of courage after you describe the concept
would make the meaning of courage clearer.” Epistemic +
Suggestive Feedback combines the use of prompts/questions
for further development and making suggestions for
improvement. In a subsequent study, the quality of learner
writing performance improved the most with the use of
epistemic feedback and epistemic + suggestive feedback (Guasch,
Espasa, Alvarez, & Kirshner, 2013). This evidence supports
the intervention that asking a question to promote critical
thinking in learners is an effective feedback skill for
educators to incorporate in their practice.
Best Practices for Giving
Online Feedback to Learners
collection of research studies on the topic of effective
teacher feedback is extensive. Hattie (1999) reported a
synthesis of over 500 meta-analyses related to effective
feedback, which reported over 100 variables that influence
student success. In this synthesis, receiving feedback and
comments about how to improve was a powerful teacher
intervention. Additionally, Hattie (1999) found that
feedback that addresses items done correctly, as opposed to
pointing out incorrect performance was more effective.
Feedback that builds upon previous knowledge is also
of evidence related to feedback and online teaching practice
is increasing. Online teacher practice research often
includes a focus on feedback and the crucial role it plays
in online courses. Providing feedback was a common response
in a study of 40 undergraduate and graduate faculty when
asked about effective practices for online educators (Lewis
& Abdul-Hamid, 2006). Effective online feedback from educators to
learners is able to guide learners toward positive learning
outcomes (Getzlaf, Perry, Toffner, Lamarche, & Edwards,
2009). Feedback is a necessary skill for online
an important intervention for the online educator because it
is an opportunity to develop the instructor-learner
relationship, improve academic performance, and enhance
learning. In an exploratory study about online teaching
behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs, Bigatel, Ragan, Kennan,
May, and Redmond (2012) identified 64 teaching competencies
for online teaching success. Feedback practices were
identified multiple times in relation to online teaching
success. Specific teaching competencies include
communicating expectations for learner performance, grading
that is visible to learners, providing prompt feedback,
giving feedback that is helpful and enhances learning, and
providing clear, detailed feedback on assignments (Bigatel
et al., 2012). Helpful feedback builds the
instructor-learner relationship through positive
interactions. Feedback is a critical aspect of online
educator practice (see Table 1) because it promotes the
Table 1. Best Practices for
Providing Online Feedback: Application Examples.
Address the learner by name
For example, “Sue, the font selected for the
PowerPoint presentation is easy to read. Good
feedback Set a pattern
for providing feedback to learners. For example,
every week by Wednesday for the previous week and
within 72 hours after an assignment deadline.
Provide immediate feedback
Within 72 hours of courseroom discussions and less
than one week for paper/project assignments.
feedback “Peggy, great
job with including APA source citation.
For APA format, place a comma after the author name
and before the year. The APA for the corresponding
reference on the reference page is correct! Good
feedback “The second
paragraph on page 4 includes helpful information
that is explained in clear terms. The information
in this paragraph should have a source citation and
reference on the reference page. Good job using
Times New Roman 12 point and double spacing the
entire APA document.”
Use a positive
Two-thirds of the feedback should be positive and
point out what is correct. Create a feedback tone
that inspires the learner to use the comments to
improve future work.
Ask questions to promote thinking
“Great job with the definition of the concept. What
are some examples of the concept you could describe
in the paper after the definition to help clarify
education about best practices for educators regarding
current recommendations for giving feedback is important. A
study by Jamison (2004) compared facilitators with feedback
education (treatment group) to facilitators in a control
group without feedback education at the university level.
The learners who received feedback from facilitators that
participated in education on how to give feedback had
significant differences from the control group. Learners of
trained feedback facilitators were more engaged in learning,
had higher levels of learner self-efficacy, and reported
learning enjoyment (Jamison, 2004). The skill of providing
online feedback is worthy of development in faculty.
descriptive exploratory, two phase study, Bonnel and Boehm
(2011) studied best practices for giving feedback to online
learners. Common themes emerged as 1) maximize technology,
2) use rubrics, templates, and automated responses, 3) have
a system, and 4) create a feedback-rich environment.
Experienced online educators provided their expert opinions
about the best practices for giving online feedback to
learners. Educators should maximize technology by using
email communication, courseroom messaging, announcement
section (when not confidential or private feedback),
synchronous web-bed conferences that can be recorded for
those who could not attend, audio messages, and post online
office hours. Related to the use of rubrics, templates, and
automated responses, participants recommended the use of
rubrics, and that educators refer to them in feedback. The
theme “have a system” refers to using consistent
interventions to provide feedback and information, such as
making expectations clear, clarifying expectations, and
scheduling feedback (for example, all grading and feedback
for assignments will be returned to learners within 72
hours). Other recommendations include the use of praise and
constructive feedback in private, and use of online
discussions for some feedback that would be appropriate for
all learners to view. In addition, the “system” should
include giving timely and regular feedback as stated in the
course syllabus, offer support, encouragement, and promote
critical thinking skills. The final theme: create a
feedback-rich environment includes tips such as promote
learner self-reflection, use peer review, vary feedback so
it fits the assignment, use group feedback, teacher
feedback, and automated feedback.
and Frequent Feedback
able to build on their previous experiences through receipt
of timely and effective feedback. Chickering and Gamson
(1987) describe prompt feedback as one of the seven
principles of effective teaching. Ritter and Lemmke (2000)
studied the seven principles for good teaching practice in
internet-enhanced courses and reported electronic mail as a
useful way to provide feedback to students. Most learning
management systems have feedback areas built into the
grading function that are also useful and immediate.
Practice tests and exercises in the online courseroom can
also be set to provide immediate, automated feedback about
their comprehension of course content (Ritter & Lemke,
2000). The Net Generation learners prefer and even expect
immediate feedback (Groome, 2011). Online learners define
immediate feedback as ranging from 24 to 48 hours and up to
one to two weeks (Getzlaf et al., 2009). A study by Arbaugh
and Hornik (2006) tested Chickering and Gamson’s seven
principles to online learning and found that prompt feedback
was important to learners. Learners receiving immediate
feedback perform better than learners who receive delayed
feedback (Johnson, 2014; Lemley, Sudweeks, Howell, Laws, &
Sawyer, 2007). Online discussion feedback is best returned
to learners within 72 hours of the due date and time.
Assignment feedback is best when returned to learners in
less than one week from the due date. This allows the
learner to have rapid acknowledgement of strengths and areas
to improve before the next course assignment. Feedback is
best when immediate (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006), because it
is a critical aspect of quality instruction, so learners
know what areas they have exceled in and what areas to focus
on for improvement.
to timely feedback, online educators should have a feedback
frequency practice established for consistent use. The
practice of frequent feedback promotes online success (Junk,
Deringer, & Junk, 2011) and is best when communicated to
learners in the online courseroom or course syllabus. For
example, the instructor may provide a statement in the
course syllabus that reads, “Feedback for weekly discussions
is available to learners each week by Wednesday at 11:59
pm. Feedback for assignments is available to learners
within 7 days of the due date.” This transparent statement
communicates to learners what and when to expect feedback.
In a comparison study of individualized and frequent
feedback versus collective feedback in online courses,
learners in the individualized, frequent feedback group had
better academic performance, and increased student
satisfaction (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008). Frequent
feedback is a best practice of online educators to promote
The tone of
the feedback is as important as the content of the
feedback. Praise the learner by pointing out skills done
well. For example, consider the difference in feedback
phrased in a positive, encouraging way, and feedback that is
not positive and encouraging (see Table 2). In a study of
online exemplary faculty, the use of encouraging feedback
with learners was identified (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006).
Praise and encouragement can serve to both reward and
motivate the learner to continue their hard work and strive
to continue to develop and improve.
Table 2. Positive and Negative
Examples of Feedback.
Tone Excellent job
with writing in the active tense throughout your
paper! One area to make your writing even stronger
is to add examples of the concepts throughout the
paper. For example, when describing the concept of
caring, give a few examples of when caring was
present. This will clarify your meaning of caring
to the reader. See sample paper AB in the
courseroom resources area to see an example. You
did a good job with proofreading in your paper (no
spelling, grammar, or punctuation errors present)!
implications for practice section needs work. Blah,
blah, blah. Not enough detail.”
feedback that communicates specific information to the
learner is another best practice for giving effective online
feedback. A message that includes enough detail so the
learner is able to understand the meaning is preferred (Bigatel
et al., 2012; Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). Vague comments
such as “this is vague,” “good paper,” and “there are
grammar errors” (see Table 3) do not provide the learner
with enough information to be able to take action to improve
performance. Clear communications in the online environment
are important for the instructor to use so that the message
to the learner is clear (Bailey & Card, 2009). Eren (2003)
studied learners’ perceptions on the effectiveness of
feedback in online courses and found that detailed feedback
is preferred. One tip for use when an assignment lacks
clarity and is vague is to respond with a question to
promote critical thinking in the learner. For example,
“What could you add to this section to provide more detail
for the reader?” Another example is to comment, “Say more
about this idea by explaining it more for the reader. Add
three or four more sentences describing this in more
detail.” These comments promote critical thinking in the
Blankenship (2014) studied 70 online learners regarding
their perceptions of instructor feedback on course work and
the incorporation of feedback in future course work.
Students reported the two most helpful types of feedback as
the numerical grade and a grading rubric with comments at
the end of the assignment. Ninety-three percent of students
reported they read the feedback, while 86 percent reported
the feedback was helpful for future course work. The study
was a convenience sample with 70 participants (Jones &
Blankenship, 2014). Replication of the study is
Table 3. Specific Feedback versus
Note: A specific feedback
comment is of higher quality because it provides
more information to the receiver.
“Good job with using proper citations for
“There are some split infinitives in the paper.
information about split infinitives in the
courseroom folder titled Writing Resources.”
Vague “There are some
feedback is the use of positive, negative, and positive
feedback. Also known as the sandwich method of feedback,
which is a three-part technique. First, sandwiched feedback
starts with a positive comment, then a comment about an area
for improvement, and then a positive comment. Feedback
sandwiches serve the purpose of making constructive
criticism more palatable (Toledo, 2013). Comments should be
specific and appropriate to the level of the student (see
Table 4 for example). That is, the comments would vary for
a student in a 100 level writing intensive course versus a
graduate student. Feedback that focuses on areas for
improvement should include what needs correction in terms of
meeting the assignment instructions. Helpful resources may
also be instructive for the learner. For example, in a
paper with multiple split infinitives, a resource about
split infinitives may help the learner to understand and
consequently improve performance.
Table 4. Example of Balanced or
Top Bun A
positive comment that focuses on an item done
Middle Focuses on a comment
about something that needs improvement.
corrective feedback, such as a resource with
or ask a probing question to facilitate
learner thinking on the area.
Foundation Bun Includes a positive comment about something done
numerous articles exist in publication about the technique
of feedback sandwiches, there is a gap in the research
literature on the topic. One article that included two
studies on the topic of feedback sandwiches was present upon
an extensive literature search. Parkes, Abercrombie, and
McCarty published a research article in 2013 that describes
two research studies they did on the use of feedback
sandwiches. The first study had 21 participants and the
second study had 350 participants. The researchers used a
multi-method approach and quasi-experimental design.
Students were surveyed their opinions about feedback
sandwiches and this was compared to researcher measures of
improved performance. The students reported the feedback
sandwiches improved their future performance because as they
did the next assignment, they would think about the feedback
that they had done an area correctly and what they needed to
improve on. They reported using this feedback to improve
their performance. However, the researchers reported the
students did not improve their performance. In another
study of online feedback, Getzlaff et al. (2009) reported
that using feedback sandwiches was a helpful instructor
behavior. The topic of feedback sandwiches needs more
research to study if it is effective or not.
Does Online Feedback
Really Make a Difference?
to negative outcomes related to online feedback, studies are
less common in publication. However, two themes are present
in the literature. One theme relates to student perception
and the other is about effects of feedback on learner
In a study
by Jones and Blankenship (2014) of student perceptions about
online instructor feedback, 56 percent of students indicated
that positive comments with the feedback were not as useful
as comments about how to improve course work. An
examination of online student satisfaction by Palmer and
Holt (2008) identified instructor feedback for online
assignments of high importance to their course experience.
Yet, participants reported low satisfaction with the
instructor’s feedback performance. This data strengthens
the need for instructor knowledge, and faculty development
of best practices related to providing online feedback.
Effects of Feedback on Learner Performance
in this article a description of two studies by Parkes,
Abercrombie, and McCarty (2013) was given. Although
students report the instructor feedback was incorporated to
improve their performance, instructors report that the
student performance did not improve after receiving detailed
feedback. In another study by Espasa and Meneses (2010),
186 graduate students participated to analyze online
feedback by instructors to students. Online assignment
feedback from the instructor has no relationship to the
final course grade (Espasa & Meneses, 2010). Student
satisfaction with the feedback received was high. It is
noteworthy that the courses in this study do not require
students to do assignments within the courses. Students are
only required to complete a final assignment; however have
the option to complete assignments during the course. In
this study, the researchers stress that not all students
completed assignments during the course (Espasa & Meneses,
2010). The authors stress that faculty development related
to giving feedback in online courses is worthy, despite
Feedback Timesaving Tips
online feedback for learners is a time-consuming task that
is concerning for online faculty (Bonnel, 2008; Lewis &
Abdul-Hamid, 2006). This section includes a description of
a variety of tips to save time when giving online feedback.
Feedback banks in word processing documents that include
frequently used feedback comments are one technique to save
time. Cut and paste the remarks from a word processing
document into the learner’s paper or online feedback area
(Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006). This allows the educator to
construct carefully worded, specific, helpful feedback
phrases with a positive tone for use.
educators use voice technology to provide audio feedback for
learners as a timesaver (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid, 2006;
Portolese Dias & Trumpy, 2014). The Desire to Learn (D2L)
learning platform has audio feedback built in to the
assignment dropbox and grading functions. Some educators
use MP3 files to provide audio feedback that provides
learner and teacher benefit (Todd, 2012). Todd (2012)
reports the teacher’s tone of voice can be motivating for
learners to make revisions in work for improvement and saves
the teacher time. In a study by Wood, Moskovitz, and Valiga
(2011), audio feedback was favored to written feedback by
baccalaureate and graduate nursing learners in online
courses. Participants reported the audio feedback from the
instructor had better clarity, was more personal,
motivating, and easier to retain than written feedback. In
a related study comparing audio and written feedback to
written feedback, doctoral learners that received audio and
text feedback reported better cognitive development and
satisfaction with the instructor (Rockinson-Szapkiw, 2012).
Lunt and Curran (2010) reported that learners were ten times
more likely to open audio feedback than written feedback.
The use of audio feedback is an effective, timesaving way to
provide feedback for online learners.
educators can provide clear, detailed assignment
instructions for learners (Bigatel et al., 2012). Good
instructions help learners, but also save time for faculty
because the expectations are clear, less questions and
clarification are necessary, and thus application is more
likely. A best practice for online faculty found in a study
by Lewis and Abdul-Hamid (2006) is to include clear
instructions and expectations for the assignment. Schwarz
recommends using small assignments that build to a larger,
final assignment (2012). The learner can incorporate
feedback from the small assignments to improve performance,
and work up to a big project at the end of the course where
they showcase their development. The use of an assignment
rubric is a behavior of exemplary faculty (Lewis & Abdul-Hamid,
feedback and synchronized feedback are two more timesaving
methods that educators can employ. Video recordings of
feedback for learners are timesavers and provide clear,
personalized messages for the learner that include
non-verbal communications. The use of synchronous, web-based
conferencing is one technique that online educators can use
to provide feedback. Adobe Connect, Skype, or similar tools
are examples of tools to conference with learners. Learners
report improved clarity in understanding synchronous
web-based conferencing feedback (Chung, Shel, & Kaiser,
many reasons why giving effective online feedback is an
important educator skill. The online educator has an
opportunity to create an environment where the focus is on
success and enhancement of learning! This forward-focused
approach empowers and influences the learner through
affirmation, challenging questions to excel (Edwards, Perry,
& Janzen, 2011). The ability to provide effective online
feedback is a critical educator skill. Therefore, lifelong
education for teachers to develop and polish online feedback
skills is a worthwhile activity. Best practice includes
feedback that is prompt, clear, detailed (Bigatel et al.,
2012; Zsohar & Smith, 2009), individualized, and frequent (Gallien
& Oomen-Early, 2008), and balanced (Docheff, 1990).
Educators may use a variety of medium for delivery of online
feedback, such as written word, audio files, videos, pre-set
automated feedback, and synchronous web-based conferencing.
This article presents evidence-based, practical strategies
for educators to use in the online courseroom when providing
feedback. These best practices can assist faculty to
deliver quality feedback to enhance student learning.
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