feedback ladder.

The number of available online courses is increasing. Universities are offering lectures online. Schools are testing remote lessons. All in all, remote as well as self-learning is rising and with it the importance of proper self-feedback during learning.

Feedback is essential for learning. But it is hard to include feedback properly during learning and even harder during self-learning.

You might have prepared some notes and you are learning by self-quizzing and self-explaining. Or, you are working on a learning project which accompanies the online course you are taking right now.

While doing this you encounter a perplexity, a question, a misunderstanding or even a misconception of yours. Great! Now it is time for the right feedback. Now it’s time to climb the feedback ladder.

Let’s look at a very simple example. Say, you are trying to calculate:

5 + 5 = ?

You are thinking about it and applying what you know, for example:

5 + 5 = 7

Now what? You are not sure if it is correct. You might feel a bit of perplexity. Did you understand everything right? How do you get the right feedback now? You can type it into a calculator (or turn your flashcard; or google it) — the first feedback step.

5 + 5 = 10

Great. You got feedback if you are right or wrong. And, you are wrong. You got an error. Mistakes are there to learn from. But don’t be satisfied by this feedback. This is not great feedback. It is only corrective feedback. You just learnt that you did something wrong and what would have been right. But you don’t know why.

Next, you might look into the textbook. Revisit the rule. Try to find an explanation for how it works — the next feedback step. But again, don’t be satisfied by finding the reason and don’t blindly accept it. This is only directive feedback. It misses reflecting on what you did wrong in your particular case.

Instead, ask yourself why you might be wrong; what might be right. What did you get wrong while calculating 5 + 5? What misconception did you have? Try to understand it and adjust your mental model. This is epistemic feedback — the highest step of feedback.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work just for feedback. But even if it is difficult and takes time to use proper feedback, most of the time it is worth it. Don’t just look it up if you are right or wrong. Don’t blindly accept the correct answer or explanation. Try to find your misunderstanding and your misconception. Try to adjust your mental model. After understanding your mistake and where it came from, it will be easier to modify your knowledge and really learn.

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