Difference between Feedback and Feedforward in Assessments (Feedback vs Feedforward)

Assessment feedback is retrospective advice given after a task is completed to improve past performance, while feedforward is prospective guidance provided before a task begins to better equip students for future performances.

This post dissects the nuanced difference between feedback and feedforward in assessments and elucidates how these strategies serve different but complementary roles in educational settings.

Feedback vs Feedforward: A Deep Dive into Assessment Practices

The domain of education is forever evolving, and the same goes for the mechanisms by which we assess and guide students towards mastery of their coursework. Two assessment methods that educators regularly employ are feedback and feedforward.

While both aim to guide and facilitate the learning process, their purposes, timing, and influences on the learner’s journey differ significantly.

Feedback: A Look Backward

Feedback, a term familiar to many, is essentially information provided to students regarding their past performance with the goal of rectifying any errors or misconceptions. Feedback is inherently retrospective.

Feedback looks at work completed, pointing out what was done well and what needs improvement. This practice is based on constructivist theories of learning, where it is believed that learners construct their own understanding and knowledge of the world through experiences and reflection on those experiences.

Feedback can take various forms: written comments on a piece of work, verbal discussions during one-on-one sessions, group reviews, or even peer-to-peer exchanges. It can be evaluative, giving a grade or score, or descriptive, providing more qualitative insight into a student’s understanding or skills.

The Power of Feedback

Effective feedback is critical in the learning process as it allows students to understand their current level of performance and identify areas that need improvement. It is an opportunity to close the gap between current and desired performance, driving self-regulated learning.

However, feedback needs to be timely, specific, and understandable to the learner to be truly effective. It should be provided to maintain or enhance the student’s self-esteem and self-efficacy, encourage them to strive for mastery rather than performance, and promote a positive perception of their competence.

Feedback: Potential Pitfalls

Despite its benefits, feedback has its potential pitfalls. One of the major issues with feedback is that it often arrives too late to be useful. For instance, when feedback is given after a final assessment, students can’t apply the corrections or improvements to the work.

Another problem is that feedback can sometimes focus excessively on negative aspects, which may demotivate students rather than inspire them to improve.

Feedforward: A Glimpse into the Future

On the other hand, feedforward is a relatively newer term in the educational context. While feedback is retrospective, feedforward is inherently prospective, focusing on future work rather than past performances.

Feedforward provides students with constructive advice tailored towards future tasks. It anticipates the problems or challenges that students may encounter and offers strategies to overcome them.

For example, before assigning an essay, an instructor using feedforward might discuss common issues students face while writing and suggest potential solutions.

The Essence of Feedforward

The crux of feedforward lies in its proactive approach. It is about providing clear directions and setting expectations so learners are prepared to meet the challenges that lie ahead. It empowers students by equipping them with the tools they need to succeed in future tasks, fostering a growth mindset.

The use of feedforward aligns with the theory of proactive teaching, which emphasises planning and preparing students for the upcoming learning journey. Instead of waiting for students to stumble upon problems and then address them, feedforward aims to reduce the chance of those problems occurring in the first place.

Feedforward: Potential Limitations

While feedforward can be a powerful tool, it also comes with limitations. Firstly, the effectiveness of feedforward relies heavily on the teacher’s ability to predict potential issues that students might face, which might not always be possible or accurate.

Furthermore, feedforward might not be as personalised as feedback, as it is often based on common problems faced by students rather than individual learners’ needs.

Feedback and Feedforward: a Complementary Strategy?

While feedback and feedforward have different focuses, they are not mutually exclusive practices. Instead, they should be viewed as two sides of the same coin. A balanced blend of feedback and feedforward can provide learners a comprehensive guide through their learning journey.

Feedback helps learners understand their strengths and weaknesses based on past performances, while feedforward prepares them for future tasks by equipping them with strategies to tackle potential challenges.

Together, they foster a holistic approach to learning where students can continuously learn from their past and prepare for their future.

Difference between Feedback and Feedforward in Assessments

DefinitionInformation is provided to students about their past performance to correct errors or misconceptions.Constructive advice is given to students about future tasks to anticipate and overcome potential challenges.
FocusRetrospective, focuses on past performances.Prospective, focuses on future performances.
GoalTo rectify mistakes made in past performances and reinforce successful strategies.To prepare students for future tasks, providing strategies to tackle potential challenges.
Time of DeliveryAfter a task is completed.Before a new task begins.
NatureReactive, as it responds to work that has already been completed.Proactive, as it prepares students for upcoming work.
Potential PitfallsIt can arrive too late to be useful for the current task. Can focus excessively on negative aspects.It relies on accurate prediction of potential issues, which may not always be possible. It might not be as personalised as feedback.
BenefitsAllows students to understand their strengths and weaknesses based on past performances. Encourages self-regulated learning.Prepares students for future tasks by equipping them with strategies to overcome potential challenges. Fosters a growth mindset.
Difference between Feedback and Feedforward in Assessments (Feedback vs Feedforward)

How should students be guided to use feedback and feedforward effectively?

Using feedback and feedforward effectively is an essential skill that students need to develop for optimal learning. Here are some strategies to guide them in this process.

First, it’s crucial to foster a receptive mindset among students. They should perceive feedback and feedforward not as criticism or judgement but as essential tools for improvement and growth. Educators can cultivate this mindset by creating a supportive learning environment that values effort and progress over perfection.

With feedback, students should be encouraged to critically reflect on their work, using the feedback provided to identify gaps in their understanding or performance. They should learn to see mistakes as learning opportunities, not failures.

To enhance the impact of feedback, educators should guide students on how to create actionable plans for improvement, setting specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals based on their feedback.

For feedforward, students should be trained to anticipate potential challenges in upcoming tasks. Teachers can guide them in this process by discussing common issues that learners typically face and suggesting solutions.

Students should learn to strategise their approach to tasks based on the feedforward provided. This involves breaking down complex tasks into manageable steps, planning their work in advance, and continuously monitoring their progress against the expectations set.

Students should also be encouraged to seek feedback and feedforward actively. This could be from teachers, peers, or even through self-assessment. This fosters independence and builds resilience as students learn to navigate their learning journey proactively.

Finally, regular opportunities for reflection should be incorporated into the learning process. Reflecting on the effectiveness of their responses to feedback and feedforward can enable students to refine their learning strategies over time.

What’s the best way to balance feedback and feedforward in assessments?

The best way to balance feedback and feedforward in assessments is to integrate them into a continuous, iterative process of learning, where students can learn from the past and prepare for the future.

Here are some strategies for achieving this balance:

Begin by clearly defining the learning objectives for each task. This provides a roadmap against which you can provide feedback on past performance and feedforward for future tasks.

Feedback should be timely, specific, and focused on the task rather than the student. It should be framed positively, emphasising what was done well and constructively addressing areas of improvement. This helps students understand where they stand and what they need to work on, fostering self-regulated learning.

Feedforward, on the other hand, should be forward-looking and strategy-focused. It should provide actionable advice on how to approach future tasks based on the observed trends in past performances. The emphasis should be on preparing students for upcoming challenges and fostering a proactive approach to learning.

Creating opportunities for self and peer assessment can help foster a deeper understanding of the learning process. Students can provide feedback and feedforward to each other, promoting collaborative learning and developing a shared vocabulary around assessment criteria.

Finally, maintain an ongoing dialogue about learning progress. Regularly reviewing and discussing feedback and feedforward helps students internalise and apply the advice given. It promotes reflection and adaptation, key skills for lifelong learning.

How do feedback and feedfoward contribute to student learning and development?

Feedback and feedforward create a continuous learning loop where students learn from their past performances and prepare for future challenges. This dual approach can enrich learning experiences, promoting continuous progress and adaptive learning habits.

Thus, feedback and feedforward are instrumental in nurturing resilient and self-motivated learners prepared to navigate their academic journey confidently and competently.

Feedback aids in the process of self-regulated learning. Making students aware of their learning gaps, encourages them to take ownership of their learning journey.

Furthermore, feedback can reinforce successful strategies and deepen understanding. Feedback can build self-esteem, promote perseverance, and foster a positive perception of competence when well implemented.

On the other hand, feedforward focuses on equipping students with strategies to tackle upcoming challenges, thus fostering a proactive mindset. By offering clear expectations and tips for success, feedforward reduces uncertainty and increases students’ preparedness.

Feedforward emphasises growth and improvement, helping students to view learning as a process rather than a single event.

Both feedback and feedforward contribute to the development of a growth mindset—a belief that abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work. Feedback provides the insights necessary for improvement, while feedforward offers the roadmap to that improvement.

How can I track the effectiveness of my feedback and feedforward strategies?

Tracking the effectiveness of your feedback and feedforward strategies is vital to ensure they support student learning effectively. Here are several ways to evaluate their impact:

  • Student Progress: The most direct indicator of effectiveness is observing improvement in student performance over time. Are students making fewer errors in subsequent tasks? Are they better able to tackle new challenges based on the strategies provided in feedforward? Monitoring student work and performance can provide valuable insights.
  • Student Engagement: An effective feedback-feedforward mechanism should foster student engagement and motivation. Pay attention to how students interact with your feedback and feedforward. Are they making use of the advice in subsequent tasks? Are they demonstrating increased interest and involvement in their work?
  • Reflection Activities: Encourage students to reflect on how they used feedback and feedforward. You could ask students to write a reflection on how they have applied the feedback and feedforward, what challenges they encountered, and how it affected their learning. This can provide firsthand insights into their effectiveness.
  • Student Surveys/Feedback: Regularly ask students for their perceptions and experiences of your feedback and feedforward. Do they find them helpful and clear? Do they feel better equipped for future tasks due to your feedforward?
  • Learning Analytics: If available, learning analytics tools can provide a quantitative measure of the effectiveness of your strategies. These tools can analyse student performance data over time and highlight patterns that might be less visible through casual observation.
  • Peer Reviews: Invite a colleague to review your feedback and feedforward practices. They might provide a fresh perspective, suggest new ideas, or spot areas for improvement that you may have missed.

How can feedback and feedforward improve self-regulated learning?

Feedback and feedforward, when integrated into the learning process, can effectively foster self-regulated learning by promoting self-reflection, proactive planning, and self-assessment, thereby empowering students to take control of their own learning journey.

Feedback and feedforward play a critical role in fostering self-regulated learning, a process where learners actively engage with their education, setting goals, monitoring progress, and adjusting their learning strategies based on outcomes.

Feedback, which assesses past performance, helps students recognize their learning gaps, strengths, and weaknesses. By providing students with clear, specific, and actionable information about their learning, feedback encourages self-reflection and critical thinking, integral components of self-regulated learning.

When students understand where they went wrong, or what they did well, they are better equipped to adjust their approaches in future tasks.

Feedforward, on the other hand, is prospective and strategy-focused. By offering advice on how to approach future tasks, feedforward enables students to plan their learning strategies proactively. It empowers them with actionable steps to overcome potential challenges, fostering a proactive approach to learning.

Combined, feedback and feedforward create an environment that encourages students to take ownership of their learning. They serve as guideposts for students, helping them identify where they are in their learning journey (feedback) and navigate towards their learning goals (feedforward).

Moreover, this iterative process of receiving feedback and feedforward teaches students to seek, interpret, and apply these cues independently over time, thereby nurturing their capacity for self-assessment—an essential skill in self-regulated learning.

Conclusion: Assessment Feedback vs Feedforward

The world of assessments is much more than grades and scores. It’s a system that, when properly utilised, guides a student’s learning journey, supporting their ongoing development and instilling them with the skills necessary to navigate the waters of education independently and confidently.

Feedback and feedforward, each with unique strengths and potential pitfalls, play crucial roles in this system. As educators, understanding and implementing these practices skillfully can transform the educational experience, cultivating lifelong learners equipped to handle any learning challenge thrown their way.


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