Evaluation in eLearning: the subtle art of giving feedback

One of the hardest parts of a teacher job is without any doubt evaluation, and in particular the seventh of Gagné’s events: giving feedback. In this article we will see which types of feedback can be given and for what purpose, with a few suggestions to use it in the best way in eLearning.  



Despite the word “feedback” being largely used in everyday life, it seems better to specify what it means in the training world and, in particular, in relation to evaluation. It identifies the information given back to students after completing an activity, aiming to inform him/her about reached results in terms of performance or acquired knowledge

With time, a lot of different classifications of feedback types have been created. For example, they have identified external and internal feedback, given by others or self-given (Narciss, 2008) or cognitive and affective depending on the explicative or supportive goal (Nelson e Schunn, 2009). It is clear, anyway, that the type of feedback is closely related to two main factors: who it comes from and what goal it aims to reach. 



Without claiming to be complete, then, we will try to list some types of feedback that can be useful in evaluating


This type of feedback consists in informing students about the correctness of their performance or answer. It seems important to underline that this is not a proper evaluation, since it does not inform about aspects to improve or deepen, but it rather aims to incite learners with the idea that they are doing well, motivating them to go on with the training program. It is a type suitable for learners not accustomed to evaluation, since they can be easily demotivated, or in context where training itself is more important than results (like in rehabilitation programs, for example).  


This type of feedback aims to guide students towards the correct answer, even without providing it directly. It is a useful tool for mid-term or end-of-the-module evaluation, since it pushes students to look for the solution and helps, through this exercise, to establish concepts and information in the memory before moving on. 


Like remedial feedback, the descriptive one also aims to support students towards a performance improvement, enlightening useful information giving advice to deepen the most “weak” topics. This type of feedback is suitable for mid-term tests, since it can be included into training rather than evaluative processes. 


Evaluative feedback is the most “traditional” one: its goals in fact is to measure accuracy, highlighting right and wrong performances and answers, even without pointing students toward the road to improvement. Contrary to previous types, it can be useful as pre-assessment, whose results can be only seen by teachers to help them to design the training program, or final test, to portray achievements at the end of the program. The goal, in this case, is clearly evaluative, since it does not imply remedial strategies after the outcome.  


Focusing on who gives the feedback, we have already distinguished between external and internal. Last one, also called self evaluation, is particularly suitable for mid-term evaluation for adults, to make them feel that sense of autonomy and control described by Andragogy and avoid that sense of dissatisfaction derived from negative feedback.  

It is very useful for social learning the possibility of peer-evaluation, namely that feedback that is not given by the teacher, but by course colleagues. This type of evaluation can be useful to improve the interaction among students, highlighting weaknesses also in “unofficial” moments rather than a true evaluation. 



Feedback is an essential part of every training program, both face-to-face and eLearning. Trying to simplify, there seem to be three main evaluative moments: pre-assessments, namely before starting the course or module to enlighten the prerequisites level, intermediate tests based on the single module to track progresses, and eventually end-of-the-course tests to portray the achieved results. Obviously, each one of these moments has its own characteristics, specifically related to the evaluation goal: to the teacher, the student or for certification purposes. Choosing one type rather than another also depends on the training topic: remedial and analytic feedback is more suitable for “hard” topics, while for “soft” topics it can be better to have an evaluation that does not give information about the accuracy of results (since it may be not objective). 


Generally speaking, whichever the chosen modalities, it is advisable that for the feedback to have specific characteristics to be effective: to be as objective as possible, to be always motivating for the student (even when negative), focusing on aspects that the student can control, to be succinct and clear

Do you want to read other suggestions to make eLearning more effective? Follow our next article!



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