What makes feedback effective?

    ACTIVITY - Reverse Brainstorming to explore the issue of effective feedback

    The activity of Reverse Brainstorming from the Mind Tools site combines brainstorming with reversal techniques and is a fun and interesting way to find creative ideas to address tricky problems. To use this technique, you start by reversing the issue . Instead of trying to solve or prevent the problem, you ask yourself "How could I possibly CAUSE this problem?". Brainstorming ideas to solve the 'reverse problem' tends to open doors to new realisations of possible solutions to the original problem.

    As a way of exploring the question of how we ensure that the feedback we give is effective in developing and promoting student learning, try Reverse Brainstorming to help gain new ideas of the factors which are important.

    The Reverse Brainstorming Task - Instructions:

    1. Your challenge is to identify what it is that makes feedback effective.
    2. Reverse the problem or challenge by asking "How could I possibly stop feedback being effective for students?"
    3. Brainstorm solutions to this reverse problem ... ways to CAUSE the problem you wish to avoid! Jot down all ideas that come to mind, ways to ensure that feedback is NOT effective. Don't reject ideas at this point. Write all ideas down.
    4. Now take each brainstormed idea and reverse it into a possible strategy to address the original problem or challenge.
    5. Evaluate the strategies you have come up with - are some of them workable in your context?

    ACTIVITY - Student Perspectives and Ideas for Practical Implementation

    In this activity you can explore student perspectives on the following questions:

    1. What does effective feedback look like?
    2. What is 'bad' feedback like? - Student Perspectives


    • Click here to listen to student perspectives on what makes feedback more or less effective for their learning.
      HEA Video Available online at:

      http://vimeo.com/channels/154640/9319496 -Section from 07:00 - 10:22
    • Jot down the issues they raise, and listen for any of the strategies you identified through Reverse Brainstorming.

    Ideas for Practical Implementation

    Here are some features which are highlighted in the literature as making feedback effective. Follow the links which have most in common with the issues emerging from the Reverse Brainstorm and/or student videos to find ideas for practical implementation.

    Effective Feedback is:

    What comes across loud and strong from the students is the importance of placing the student or learner at the centre of all good feedback practice. Feedback should not be written with the aim of justifying the mark that has been given to the work (MacLellan 2001) or produced to meet institutional requirements 'as part of a learning and teaching strategy, as part of your workload or to be used as evidence for external examiners or external review' (Irons 2007, p.54). Effective feedback should be produced for the student, with the student's learning needs as the central concern.

    In this, to be effective feedback:

    1. Is feedback which is picked up, read, and acted on by students
      Feedback will have no impact on future student learning, unless they actually pick it up, read it and act upon it!
    2. Is Timely
      To be effective feedback should be provided for students while it still matters to them and in time for them to use it as feed forward into their next assignment.
    3. Helps students take action to improve their learning
      Feedback should be for learning, not just evaluation of learning. It should help to close the gap between current performanceand the expected standard of work, written to take into account students’ understanding of what they are supposed to be doing.
    4. Is clear, detailed and specific
      It is important that students can understand the feedback you give, and to achieve this feedback should be specific about where, for example, mistakes were made or where additional information can be found in the literature. It is important too to avoid too much academic jargon, and word feedback in language students will understand.
    5. Has a forward-facing focus
      Feedback should be constructive, not just backward-looking, with a focus on aspects of the work which are relevant to later assessments. For example, a focus on generic issues such as study skills or presentational factors helps feedback to also function as feed-forward, building skills for future work.
    6. Builds motivation and self-esteemIs realistic and focuses on students’ performance
      Feedback should help students want to learn by being encouraging and supportive in tone, and including a focus on existng strengths and, where there are weaknesses, guidance how to improve.
    7. Is realistic and focuses on students’ performance
      Make sure your students realise that the feedback is about their work, rather than about them as people, with an appropriate level of challenge, asking them to do things they are able to do, not things they do not know how to do.
    8. Is targeted to the purpose of the assignment and the criteria for success
      The functions of feedback vary according to the nature of the assessment and to its criteria for success. Be flexible and avoid a one-size-fits-all approach.
    9. Encourages dialogue with tutors and peers as a way to make sense of their learning
      Feedback should not be seen simply as something which is delivered by tutor to students, leaving individuals to try to make sense of what has been said about their work. Dialogue between tutor and students, and in the form of peer-to-peer feedback and discussion around the meaning of feedback can help students learn more.
    10. Helps students develop their ability to make informed judgements on their own work
      The goal of feedback is enhancement of learning and improvement of future work and should therefore develop students' abilities to self-audit the quality of their own work

    Pause to Reflect

    Below are the 10 features which the NUS have highlighted as features of Good Feedback Practice. You will recognise some of them as outlined above; others perhaps come at the issue of Effective Feedback from a different perspective. Pick some of those we have not yet considered, read in more detail in the NUS resource, and reflect on your own viewpoint concerning this student perspective.


    • Are the proposals valid?
    • Are the proposals practicable?
    • If the proposals represent a challenge, are their strategies which could help address the NUS concerns?

    The NUS says that Feedback ...

    • Should be for learning, not just of learning
    • Should be a continuous process
    • Should be timely
    • Should relate to clear criteria
    • Should be constructive
    • Should be legible and clear
    • Should be provided on exams
    • Should include self-assessment and peer-to-peer feedback
    • Should be accessible to all students
    • Should be flexible and suited to students’ needs
    (NUS, undated, Feedback Campaign Briefing, Table 4, p.6-9)

    Where can I find out more?

    Gibbs, G. and Simpson, C. (2005) Conditions under which assessment supports students’ learning. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education. Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, 1, pp.3-31

    Nicol, D.J. and Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006) Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: a model and seven principles of good feedback practice.

    Student Enhanced Learning Through Effective Feedback (SENLEF) Project -
    Avaliable online at:

    What shall I look at next?

    Choose the features of effective feedback which interest you most and click on the links above to visit related areas within this Feedback Toolkit.

    Related documents/links