Fall 2020 Online Assessment Training and Resources Learn more
Sign In
A student writing at a desk

Tight feedback loop: The key to distance learning that works

One of the most significant challenges distance learning poses is providing useful feedback promptly to students. Monitoring students’ performance and development can be difficult when you can’t see them face-to-face in a physical learning environment.

Already-vulnerable or lagging students may very well slip through the cracks as the school year progresses. Students feeling the pressure of school closures need focused feedback to stay on track.

The fix for this is to develop what’s known as a tight feedback loop. Essentially, it is the process of giving students actionable feedback in a short time-span to make measurable progress faster, ultimately keeping them more engaged.

This post will take an in-depth look at a feedback loop and provide tips to implement this between students and teachers.

What is a tight feedback loop?

A feedback loop is essentially a process designed to push students’ learning forward through feedback and getting it to them quickly. Implementing a feedback loop in all subjects can improve students’ comprehension of study material. It can also improve their hands-on application of a concept and help them articulate their goals as they make their way through their online courses.

Diagram: choosing an action, then performing the action, then waiting for a reaction, then measuring the reaction

Begin with an action or goal

A feedback loop starts with a desired action or goal. Whether it’s online education or in class, creating a learning target or an essential question chosen from a set of standards is critical to guide students. Once an instructor communicates a target or goal to their students, they will understand what they’re looking to achieve and the requirements to get there.

Performing the action

The action, which should be manageable and appropriate for the student, is then executed by the student. Students can do so on their own or under the supervision of an instructor. Students may even do so in the presence of a fellow student.

Waiting for a reaction

You can think of this stage as a “cool off” period where the student catches their breath or reflects on their work. Students might even provide their thoughts to the instructor regarding what they think they did well and what they could do better.

Measure the action & provide feedback

The final part of the loop is providing feedback itself. Instructors should give specific, focused and actionable feedback. The goal here should be to provide feedback that the student can physically execute and carry out for the chosen action or purpose.

How to tighten the feedback loop

Not all feedback loops are tight—in fact, some are too loose and too flexible. A tight feedback loop allows for fast and frequent feedback, which, ultimately, should allow for speedier skill and knowledge acquisition. With that said, it’s not too difficult to tighten the loop of feedback.

Tips for tightening feedback loops

  • Limit yourself to one action at a time: Choose one activity for your student to perform and let them focus on that. One focused goal allows the student to devote their attention and focus, rather than getting bogged down with too much feedback.
  • Make your feedback specific: One common problem is providing feedback that is too vague. Phrases such as “dig deeper” or “it could be better” accomplish very little. Instead, focus on technical aspects of the goal that the student can physically perform better and, more importantly, provide examples.

Why a tighter feedback loop matters in distance learning

The reality is that everyone benefits when a tight feedback loop is in place. Students will find it easier to focus on their goals, one step at a time, and become adept at finding areas of growth or areas needing improvement independently.

They will also find it easier to set goals and assess their progress over time. For instructors, there is the reassurance that their instruction is having a measurable impact on their students. They will also better understand individual students’ strengths and weaknesses, allowing them to offer more targeted support.

These are essential for distance learning because you cannot spend much time with students in person, where you can supervise them and collaborate in real-time. A tighter feedback loop allows you and your students to minimize the amount of time and resources used on a particular subject or skill of focus, especially when communication online can be limited or slow.

5 ways to prevent cheating in online assessmentAll Articles