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Posted by Jim Farrell

December is the time to take stock of the year that’s winding down, and a highlight for me in 2010 was attending the eLearning Guild’s DevLearn conference. One of the things I enjoy most about DevLearn is attending the general sessions where industry leaders speak passionately about the state of elearning and  important trends like social networking, games and simulations in learning.
One of the speakers at this year’s closing session  was Dr. Jane Bozarth, the elearning coordinator for the North Carolina Office of State Personnel. Jane is a great person to follow on Twitter (and not just because she is a fellow resident of the triangle here in NC). Jane’s tweets are full of valuable resources, and one of the many topics that interests her (and me!) is the use of feedback in learning and assessments. Jane’s recent article on Nuts and Bolts: Useful Interactions and Meaningful Feedback in Learning Solutions Magazine includes some great examples of feedback. In that article,  Jane emphasizes that “the point of instruction is to “support gain, not expose inadequacy” — and that feedback should be provided with that goal in mind.
Jane’s article reminded me that during one of our Questionmark Podcasts, Dr. Will Thalheimer of Work-Learning Research notes the importance of retrieval practice in the learning process and the role of feedback in supporting retrieval. The amount of feedback is tied to when the assessment comes in the learning process. For instance,  feedback with a formative assessment can pave new paths to information that can make future retrieval easier. Feedback for incorrect responses during learning is used to repair misconceptions and replace them with correct information and a new mental model that will be used to retrieve information in the future. As Dr. Thalheimer mentions in the podcast, good authentic questions that support retrieval also support good feedback. You will find more details about this in Dr. Thalheimer’s research paper, Providing Feedback to Learners, which you can download from our Web site.
All these resources can help you use feedback to “support gain, not expose inadequacy,” making your assessments in the coming year more effective.