Shape Learning & Build Retention with Formative Feedback

Instructional designers have many tricks up their sleeves to shape learning and learning experiences.

Learners — and content — are flexible enough to take on various shapes and styles. But, when goals are clear and precise, the IDs want learning to take an equally precise shape with measurable results — closer to the intricate structures a master Lego™ builder creates out of the predictably shaped plastic blocks than the free-form objects that a novice sculptor might fashion from amorphous blocks of clay.

Formative feedback is the Lego building kit these IDs seek.

Feedback is essential to learning

A open white envelope on a white background. A yellow paper speech bubble with a smiley face cut into it rests on top of the open envelope flap.

Along with clear expectations and goals, feedback is indispensable. Providing clear feedback during the learning process can enhance its powerful effects.

Feedback provided to learners during learning is called formative feedback. Feedback given at the conclusion of learning, often with an assessment, is called summative feedback

Both are valuable and, as researchers Mary Jacob Seibu and Isaac Biju point out, the two are not mutually exclusive. Both benefit learners.

Most L&D professionals are familiar with and use summative assessment and feedback; formative feedback is less common. That’s why this article focuses on the benefits of formative feedback.

Shape learning with formative feedback

In “Focus on Formative Feedback,” Valerie Shute defines feedback as any “information communicated to the learner that is intended to modify his or her thinking or behavior to improve learning.”

Choosing the wrong-sized building block can make the entire structure unstable. Just as the mismatch is immediately obvious if a tower on your Lego Taj Mahal more closely resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa, formative feedback can catch an error early. When provided during the learning process, formative feedback enables a timely course-correction

If the learner has misunderstood a concept or is approaching a process in an unsuccessful way, formative feedback can interrupt and redirect the learner before the error is firmly embedded in the learner’s mind. Providing formative feedback “eliminates the need to correct similar items in consecutive assignments,” according to J. Fluckiger et al.

Knowing that they are progressing successfully is also beneficial to learners, so formative feedback that reinforces the learner’s steps and progress or marks a correct response also has value.

There is no down side to providing positive or corrective formative feedback.

Feedback deepens understanding & retention

Like a Lego masterpiece taking shape, formative feedback helps learners see their progress toward a clearly understood goal — and grasp what they still need to do to close the gap between where they are and where they need to be.

When learners get specific, factual information about why a response is correct or incorrect, they’re more likely to understand — and retain — the information. This is what Shute terms “elaborative” feedback. It indicates the correct answer and explains to learners why that response is correct; it might also explain why another response is incorrect.

For feedback to be effective, Seibu and Biju wrote, “Students need to be given thoughtful feedback on errors as well as on correct responses.” They also need time “to reflect on the feedback and their own performance.”

Shute cautions against feedback that is “too long or too complicated,” running the risk that learners will ignore it or that it could dilute the message.

It even improves learning strategies

Researchers R. Vollmeyer and F. Rheinberg were not surprised to find that providing formative feedback improved learners’ overall performance — but they were surprised by an additional finding of their feedback study: Learners who knew that they would get feedback used more systematic learning strategies — even before receiving any feedback.

“Using better strategies improved motivation during learning that then helped knowledge acquisition and application. Thus, the mere expectation of feedback triggered deep processing of the learning material,” Vollmeyer and Rheinberg wrote.

Elements of effective formative feedback

According to Shute, effective feedback:

  • Occurs throughout learning but not prior to learners’ attempts to solve a problem; immediate feedback is best for complex content and for building long-term retention.
  • Focuses on the content and the task, not on the learner’s actions; instead of “good job” or “too bad” reactions, formative feedback should explain why the correct response is correct.
  • Is clear and specific and describes why or how to reach the correct solution.
  • Clarifies goals and reduces uncertainty.
  • Is unbiased and objective.
  • Does not compare learners with one another.
  • Is expected or anticipated by learners.

Microlearning & formative feedback: A natural pairing

Two slices of white bread on a white place, which rests on a white wood surface. On one slice is peanut butter; the other, jam. Around the plate, placed in the corners of the photo are: a knife with peanut butter on it; an open jar of jam; an orange slice; and 2 more pieces of bread.

Microlearning platforms deliver short, focused content. The brief nature of each interaction and the narrow focus provide an ideal opportunity for formative feedback, particularly when the content is presented in engaging interactive activities. 

OttoLearn guides learners using formative feedback

The OttoLearn Agile Microlearning platform excels at providing formative feedback on every interaction.

Like a Lego kit, OttoLearn provides learners with all of the pieces they need to succeed. They can refer to Knowledge Cards for guidance as they construct their masterpieces section by section, choosing which Topics to focus on first. 

OttoLearn engages learners in short Activities, like answering questions or choosing the appropriate response in a scenario. Learners receive immediate feedback after each response. 

The feedback is objective and factual, referencing or reiterating the learning content to explain the correct response. It does not evaluate or judge the learner’s actions. This formative feedback reinforces the learning content and helps cement accurate information in the learners’ minds and memories.

Together with the feedback, learners see their progress toward Mastery Goals. Knowing where they are in relation to their goals motivates learners to continue engaging with Activities, further reinforcing their learning.

Put formative feedback to work for your learners. Talk to an OttoLearn Agile Microlearning expert today.

Intrinsic

Extrinsic

Access to knowledge or performance support tools

Achieving a worthwhile or meaningful goal

Achieving a reward — a grade, a badge, points, a prize

Receiving an unexpected reward

Contributing to improving a project or a product

Wanting to be perceived as a team player, wanting to be liked

Improving performance or effectiveness relative to own past performance

Improving performance or effectiveness relative to coworkers; “winning” or being the best

Knowing enough to avoid making mistakes and do better work

Losing status or levels within a gamified framework as the result of making a mistake

Feeling of completing a task, accomplishing a goal, finishing a project

Doing the “right” thing — following rules or norms, being ethical

  1. Is the corporation’s compliance training program well designed?

    Prosecutors will look at whether the training is designed to prevent and detect wrongdoing and whether management is enforcing the program by means of training, incentives and discipline.

  2. Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith? In other words, is the program being implemented effectively?

    Prosecutors are expected to directly investigate whether a program is merely a “paper program” or a sincere effort. Evidence of a company-wide commitment to ethics and compliance, promoted by senior and middle management, is needed.

  3. Does the corporation’s compliance training program work in practice?

    Good intentions and training don’t count if they don’t work; in assessing whether the program “works in practice,” prosecutors will look at how the suspected misconduct was detected, what the company’s investigation process is and how the company is trying to correct the problem.

Microlearning delivers small, narrowly focused bits of information.

Adaptive microlearning tailors that content to each learner’s knowledge gaps and learning goals, ensuring the training is relevant.

Continuous adaptive microlearning conditions each learner to engage with relevant training every day — for just a few minutes.

Current Rank

Previous Rank

Technology

1

1

Personalization/adaptive delivery

2

3

Artificial intelligence

3

new

Learning analytics

4

2

Collaborative/social learning

5

5

Micro learning

6

new

Learning experience platforms

7

7

Virtual and augmented reality

8

10

Mobile delivery

9

4

Consulting more deeply with the business

10

6

Showing value

11

new

Performance support

12

11

Neuroscience/cognitive science

13

13

Video

14

9

Curation

15

12

Developing the L&D function

No items found.

When people have a question or don’t know how to do something, what do they do?

Whip out a smartphone and look for information. What they don’t do is sign up for a 1-hour seminar.

Microlearning brings corporate eLearning into the modern paradigm. Microlearning describes eLearning content that is:

  • Narrowly focused
  • Short
  • Available on demand
  • Mobile-first or mobile-friendly

It must answer a question, meet an immediate need, or help the learner solve a problem.

In the City of BigTown, there was held a conference,
One of training professionals — those making a difference.
A difference to company ROI by delivering training,
From many perspectives — like Manufacturing.
And, too, there were call centers, colleges, corporate sectors,
Each chiming in about outcomes and metrics.
All shipped their training through an LMS platform,
But were desperately seeking true training reform.

Antonio

One was Antonio, who hated the manuals —
For his product revisions and updates, they were annual.
Plus his printing costs? Oh, they were crazy!
And he truly believed that franchisors were hazy.

None knew how to train in an effective way,
"There’s too much to read, to do!” they’d all say.
For there were many levels of training to assign,
From the top at head office, down to those on the front-line.

Trainers Helen and Abinash nodded, “We agree!”
Said Feng, "Paper and handbooks? Just another dead tree.
On the job, not everyone will have the info they need,
Because the content changes and updates they never did read.
They never learned the content added along the way
That may apply to their region or division today.
Plus, in the field with team members in many locations,
Mobile-first training would make a stronger foundation!

Said Sales trainer Jane of her PDFs stored online,
“They’re rarely revisited after onboarding time.
I need content delivered in snack-sized bites,
And the ability to test them until they get it right.”
Ursula
chimed in, "Onboarding’s a pain for new hires,
With most feeling like their hair is on fire!
Plus, promoted reps must refresh what they know
To be properly prepared to perform their new role."

"I deal with compliance," sighed Manal the Banker.
Abinash nodded, Frank turned to thank her,
For she’d raised the ugliest concern of them all —
That certifications aren’t based on year-long recall.
“To maintain the standards and follow each rule,
We need more than one test that comes out of the blue.
When it comes to things like health & safety, it's a game-changer
Because if their training is lacking, they could be in danger.”

Antonio

Continuing he asked, “Could training be location-specific?
As learners move through the plant, alerts would be terrific!”
Helen asked who used traditional classroom training
Combined with online to keep interest from waning.
Did they have workshops, seminars, or events,
The kind that take workers away from their desk?
"They learn at that moment, then likely forget —
is there a way to get long-term retainment?”

Rachel had been quiet, she’d said not a word,
When suddenly she leaned in so her voice would be heard.
"We solved these concerns after ditching binders and books —
We use daily drip training and our learners are hooked!
When we update our content, it gets to them faster,
And metrics and KPIs reveal the content 'masters.'
We use OttoLearn for microlearning and we’ve been thrilled,
for all of our training needs — and more — are fulfilled."

So ends our tale of the nine trainers complaining
about the problems they had delivering training.
Training that mattered, with metrics and firm ROI,
Based on data analysis of prime KPIs.
Many problems they shared, with no clear resolution,
Found Agile Microlearning with Otto was the solution!
Microlearning both adaptive and agile saved them from disaster,
Making trainers and trainees learn happily ever after!

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Content Studio

  • Combining the question and activity tabs
  • New WYSIWYG editor which is “inline” with the text
  • Ability to include media (images, video, audio) within activities (question, answers and feedback)
  • Icons to indicate correct answer, position locking, whether or not the answer is visible to learners (active), and override feedback

Recently Released

  • Learner password reset
  • Streamlined data entry into the content studio, by being able to quickly add
  • Numerous small updates and bug fixes
  • Check out our most recent updates and add yourself to be automatically notified when we push updates

Option

Pros

Cons

Seats

  • Super easy to understand
  • Very predictable cost, if you have a specific number of users (eg: employees)
  • Doesn’t differentiate between users that have different volumes.
  • Have to purchase seats for your maximum number of users.‍

Active Users
(Typically the number of users that log in during a month)

  • You don’t need a license for every specific user, you can often only license half of your users (since perhaps only half ever log in during a month)
  • Typically there is a large cost for going over your licensed number of users, which can be incredibly expensive (eg: 5-10x more than your licensed cost)
  • You often have to “play games” as an administrator, not wanting to do a mass course enrollment if you have only have your users licensed in a month

Trend

What It Means

Why It Matters

Adaptive Learning

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Efficiency. Learners learn the material faster because they spend less time on what they already know.

Personalized Learning

Learners can follow a scaffolded learner path or self-direct their learning.

Learners are inquisitive. We all Google for information when we need it, so why lock learners into a particular learning path?

Learners engage the most when they are allowed to deviate from a set path and explore available content.

At the end of the day, as long as each learner reaches their mastery goal, the particular path they took to reach there is unimportant.

Microlearning

Delivering content to the learner in smaller chunks.

Chunking content is important only if it is paired with the ability to search for and find specific content chunks “on demand” and the ability to consume just the chunks a learner needs. With these features, training doubles as a performance support.

Learning Experience (LX) Design

Using science and art to create experiences that help learners fulfill the learning outcomes they desire, in a user-centered and goal-directed way.1

Have you used Google? If so, then you have benefitted from Experience Design (XD): When you search for something, you rarely have to go past the first result.

With good XD, you don’t think about the design;  it “just works.”

With poor XD, your learners will disengage. They’ll say they “don’t have time.” What they are really saying is that they “don’t have time for the poor experience.”

Artificial Intelligence

Typically, when used in relation to L&D, AI actually means “machine learning.”

Machine learning algorithms learn from data and “get smarter” over time.

Have you used Netflix or Amazon recommendations? They are based on machine learning.

The algorithms look at a ton of data, including your past choices and choices made by others who are similar to you, to make predictions as to what you will want to watch or buy.

In L&D, machine learning principles are being integrated in much the same way: to provide recommended content for a learner to consume.

This reduces the burden on training administrators to try to predict or guess what is relevant for each learner. It also provides a more personalized experience for each learner.

Imagine that you are a salesperson, and your training mix subtly and automatically shifts, based on the nature of opportunities in your sales pipeline. You are offered training only on available products that you have not already mastered. That would be a training program that is driven by machine learning.

Learning Analytics

An algorithm determines each learner’s knowledge gaps and feeds them practice activities to close those gaps.

Use learning analytics to make better decisions by converting data into insights.
The true value is not just in providing more data, more charts, and more graphs. The value is in leveraging AI to search for and surface insights that you’d never think to look for.

Combine the analytics from learners’ performance with key KPIs for the outcomes you desire, and have the analytics engine generate predictions such as, “Learners who reach mastery in the Objection Handling module will close 3.4 percent more deals.”

Now that’s actionable intel.

1 learningexperiencedesign.com

14% of organizations are experimenting with artificial intelligence tools such as machine learning and live chat (up from 6% in 2016)
30% of organizations are using games and simulations (up from 20% in 2016)
Fastest growth segments include continuous learning, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR)
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The Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Adaptive MicrolearningThe Cognitive Science Behind OttoLearn - OttoLearn Microlearning

Hi Josh,

About a week before I began getting my Ottolearn Mastery Moments, I had a popup window from Adobe appear on my screen as I was working on another project, prompting me to update my version of Flash. We do use Flash, so like an idiot, I clicked on the popup and asked it to start the update—and only then noticed that the url was not an adobe address. Of course, I closed the popup window using the X in the upper corner, which didn’t solve anything. Our IT guys did the best they could for me, but my computer is still compromised, and is being replaced.

Fast forward to Ottolearn and your Online Security for Employees course. After completing several mastery moments, I have now learned what to do with popups like that. This morning, as I restarted my computer again, that same Adobe popup appeared and this time I was ready! I opened task manager and killed that little $%^&^ dead in its tracks.

I know the point of letting us try out OttoLearn as participants was for us to experience the power of this platform from the learner’s point of view. I can tell you that I personally am very grateful for the training you provided to me, and the fact that I was able to let others in my company know how to kill off those nasty virus-carrying popups. Yes, it works. Yes, it’s fun! And yes, I have a true feeling of accomplishment.

I can’t wait for the point at which we can talk more about developing courses for our clients.

Thank you!

Experience

Exp.

High

New accounting rules

Workplace violence & harassment prevention

Low

Framing a basement

Changing a tire

High

Low

Perceived Relevance

No items found.

Retrieval practice is the key to retention.

Your brain wants to be as efficient as possible. Why would it try to encode information for long term storage if it thinks you don’t need it? You need to actually practice retrieving memories (information) in order to have your brain store it in long-term memory.

Spaced retrieval radically improves learning efficiency.

You not only need to practice retrieving information from memory, but you need to wait until you’re on the edge of forgetting it. This is why cramming is so ineffective at generating long-term retention.

Interleaved learning feels strange at first, but dramatically improves retention and skill.

Interleaved learning—mixing up material while learning and practicing, such as mixing up practice activities while learning WHMIS and supervisory skills, will improve your retention of both.

Option

Pros

Cons

User-based
(Seats)

  • Cost predictability. Each seat costs you $x/month
  • Typically more expensive than a usage-based license

Usage-based

  • Typically less expensive than a seats license
  • Cost variability tempered by pre-purchasing usage credits that never expire and consume them over time

Engagement Factors

Experience

Exp.

High

  • Best possible quadrant for engagement 
  • Will overcome learning obstacles
  • Will find a way to learn, even if materials are poor  
  • Won’t need nudging or incentives
  • Text is great
  • Can easily learn something
  • May need to work up the energy to engage in low quality materials  
  • May procrastinate, so incentives can help motivate.
  • Text is great

Low

  • Wants to learn
  • Has little experience so can benefit from more instructional quality
  • Greatest benefit of video and other rich media
  • Worst possible quadrant  
  • May not have experience in the topic
  • May not really care about it
  • Will require a lot of motivation to see engagement
  • Video can help

High

Low

Perceived Relevance

Neovation Learning Solutions Team - OttoLearn Microlearning is a product of Neovation Learning Solutions
eLearning Learning

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