How Do You Scale Feedback?

data blackboard manWhat does it take to optimize learning?

Well, to start, you need access to information.

Most likely, this information will take different forms, depending on what you want to learn.

Once you gain access to the information, you’ll need to to take some kind of action. For example, you may have to listen (to someone explain), read (a text, an image), observe (a video, a performance), comprehend (a situation, a text), synthesize (multiple sources of information), analyze (the information presented), or prioritize (different sources, concepts, skills). It’ll depend.

Next, to demonstrate your understanding, you’ll have to take some action again. You may have to write, or bake, or drive, or fly, or run, or problem solve, or sing, or create, or take any number of actions. It’ll depend.

You’ve found the information. You’ve done what you need to do to access it. You’ve even begun to demonstrate your understanding.

Now what?

Well, in order to optimize learning, there’s something you’re going to need. And you’re going to need it from an expert. And you’re going to need it often. Ideally, you’re going to need it at pivotal points in the learning process. And, to optimize your learning, you’re going to have to respond to it.

What am I talking about?


Lots of folks have studied it, folks like John Hattie and John Bransford. Hattie describes a simple, yet elegant, feedback model centered on the following three questions:

  1. Where am I going?
  2. How am I going?
  3. Where to next?

All good stuff.  But.  Yes but.  Here’s my dilemma.

How do you scale feedback to optimize learning? Isn’t that the real dilemma, the one that exceeds access (it’s coming) and students making and doing (that’s coming, too)?

Companies are doing it. They’re doing it really well.  Case in point. Download a very reasonably priced running app on your phone. You’ll get real-time, high quality, ongoing, reliable feedback any time you need it.

There’s lots of apps I can point to that will do the same, and there are certainly lots of video games that have nailed it. In some cases, there are even adaptive learning programs achieving success in delivering timely feedback to support learning.

But it’s a far cry from what’s needed in the K-12 learning space.

I would argue that until we can figure out how to scale high quality, ongoing, reliable, expert feedback, made available at pivotal times in the learning process, then we cannot optimize learning.

We may be ramping up on access. That’s good.

But we’ve got a way to go when it comes to providing opportunities for students to “do” as they demonstrate their understanding.

And, let’s not kid ourselves, we’ve got even further to go when it comes to providing the type of feedback we’re talking about here.

It’s an opportunity and a call to arms: all you hackers out there . . . all you entrepreneurs . . . all you teachers . . . let’s figure this out together.

How do you scale the types of feedback that optimize learning?