Several years ago, I attended a Creative Writing course at a local community college. On day-1, the instructor handed out a stack of documents –the Day’s Outline– and asked us to quickly review them to understand what we were about to learn. What happened next is a classic case of miscommunication and misunderstanding – something that eLearning course creators should learn from and avoid!
Capturing eLearning Feedback: Make It A 2-Way Conversation!
We were not offered an opportunity to ask questions or provide inputs. By the time our instructor was ready to start the course, every participant had read and understood what was going to be taught. However, there was one very critical issue: We all understood the guidelines differently. Each of us had different expectations about the course, and that leads to a great degree of stress.
Thankfully, this was just an exercise that the instructor had deliberately created to illustrate the importance of communication and feedback. As instructional designers and eLearning course creators, it’s important that we understand the significance of learner feedback because that’s what will help us produce engaging and meaningful content.
Feedback Is A Process, Not A Milestone: How To Make eLearning Feedback A Part Of The Learning Conversation
Here are some guidelines on how to make eLearning feedback a part of the learning conversation– and not just another milestone event:
1. Understand The Basics
Just like our Creative Writing instructor illustrated, not everything that you, as an Instructional Designer, attempt to communicate will be absorbed in the manner and intent that you planned. That’s because of the very nature of how feedback-loops work:
- You deliver your message.
- The message is encoded and transmitted.
- Your online learners receive the message.
- The message is “unscrambled” by their brains.
- It is then interpreted.
- They then understand (or misunderstand!) what you are trying to teach them.
- They then repeat that process to provide you feedback.
- You (the instructor/course facilitator) then understand (or misunderstand) what they are trying to tell you.
As you can see, there is lots of room for assumptions and suppositions, and this leads to poor feedback.
2. Make Feedback Continuous
One way to remove some of those pitfalls to poor feedback is to design eLearning courses that embed feedback within the content. Some examples include:
- Mid topic quizzes.
- End of chapter assignments.
- In-section/lesson moderated collaboration sessions.
Using these methods will force greater two-way outreach between instructors and learners. If feedback is left to the end, it will likely result in not meeting stipulated course objectives.
3. Make Feedback Mandatory
Some courses are designed in such a way that receiving learner feedback is not required. Because of the very nature of distance learning, online learners tend to do what’s mandatory, skipping the rest. The result is that you, as instructors and course designers, miss out on critical inputs from your learners.
To overcome this shortcoming:
- Make learner feedback mandatory.
- Encourage feedback by attaching course credits/marks (even though those might be nominal in size).
- Follow-up on feedback that you may not have received on time.
Practicing these rules will go a long way towards encouraging your learners to provide feedback about their experiences and expectations!
4. Offer Your Own Feedback – Promptly!
One of the reasons why many distance learners are “turned off” from providing feedback (either negative or positive) is because they feel their feedback is often ignored. As a result, after the first few times of providing feedback, they simply give up.
The way to address this is to slot time in the course outline where the moderator of the course will respond to feedback that has been provided. Here are some guidelines to make that process a positive experience for everyone:
- Don’t wait too long to respond to feedback and have a clearly stated policy. For example, 8-hours or no more than 3 business days, so that learners know when to expect your comments/feedback.
- Stay away from template or cookie-cutter responses (“Great feedback…Keep it up!”). Instead, make it a point to read, understand, and respond to the specific comments made by the learner.
Doing the above will make learners feel appreciated about the feedback they provide, and will also give you invaluable inputs about your own performance at every step during the course.
5. Embrace Technology To Shorten Feedback Loops
eLearning courses are highlighted by the distance between learners and instructors. If your course enables it, leverage technology to bridge the gap between sending and receiving feedback.
One way to do this is through moderated online Chat sessions. You can be online in real-time when learners are signed-on, which puts you in the same (virtual) room as your constituents. That way, you won’t need to wait for the end of the lesson or end-of-course feedback.
It can happen in real-time, giving you enough time to remedy any issues/challenges raised throughout the course.
6. “Humanize” Feedback
The power of feedback coming from a “real person” (live, in-person) is far different (and much more effective) than that sent/received via emails, text messaging, or real-time chatting. If possible, make yourself available for in-person feedback sessions:
- Post your availability schedule so every learner knows when you will be available.
- If the course content is particularly complex, make yourself more frequently available during key chapters/lessons or sessions.
- Offer “discrete” or “private” feedback sessions, so learners feel less intimidated when discussing specific challenges.
- If you can’t meet your learners in-person (say, on campus or at a corporate learning center), offer Skype, WhatsApp, or SameTime video sessions – it’s the next best thing to meeting in-person!
Always encourage learners to communicate openly when providing you feedback. And you should do the same. Unless there is a frank and open two-way exchange of ideas and thoughts, the entire feedback process will be in vain.
If you think feedback is just another milestone within the overall course outline, then you might not be able to accomplish your course objectives. That’s because, if your learners are struggling with specific areas of the course, there’s no mechanism built into your course design to flag those concerns/challenges to you.
Understanding that feedback is a 2-way street is vital for distance learning course creators, teachers, and moderators.
Just as you would like students to improve on some aspects of their learning, distance learners often have inputs to help you (course designers and facilitators) improve your own teaching skills. And, the only way to accomplish that is via well-designed feedback loops that are integrated into the course, and not designed as stand-alone course milestones.