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How to provide effective feedback to online learners

Effective feedback is especially important for students in online classes. Teachers can choose several ways to deliver quality feedback.

3 min read


girl on computer effective feedback


Effective feedback is integral in any instructional setting, but it is not always as easy to deliver the same quality in the virtual environment. The online classroom format requires a greater level of clarity and specificity in feedback because teachers and students do not have the immediate feedback through visual cues they would have in a face-to-face classroom. And because most of the communication in an online course happens in writing, it is especially important for educators to make sure their written words aren’t misconstrued.

stacy young vhs learning

In many ways, however, teaching in an online environment is similar to teaching in a traditional classroom. The National Standards for Quality Online Teachers’ Standard D5 states that the online teacher “helps learners reach content mastery through instruction and quality feedback using various formats,” as would their counterparts in a face-to-face classroom.

In VHS Learning’s asynchronous learning, for example, teachers provide substantive, specific and actionable feedback on critical assignments each week. This helps students understand the next steps in their work. Teachers also ensure clarity and use asset-based language to allow the student to accept their feedback. 

Here are three more tips teachers can use to hone their delivery of quality feedback to students: 

Remember the characteristics of effective feedback 

Feedback does not have to be complicated or overly time-consuming, but it should always be: 

  • Timely. Provide feedback in time to improve future learning.
  • Specific. Point to specific areas of strength and areas for growth. 
  • Actionable. Identify clear actions a student can take to improve. 
  • Asset-based. Focus on what a student can do rather than what they did not do. 
  • Related to learning goals. Reflect the goals and objectives of lessons or units of study.
  • Constructive. Support academic and social-emotional growth of students.
  • Iterative. Reinforce and build on previous feedback. 

Vary the types of feedback

Every week, students complete assignments that measure their knowledge, comprehension, application, synthesis, analysis and/or critique of critical content and skills related to learning standards. Providing different types of feedback to students based on the levels of cognitive rigor demonstrated in an assignment is an important way to ensure the feedback appropriately addresses any gaps. The distinct types of feedback to consider providing throughout an online learning course include: 

  • Content-related feedback. Is specific to the content or mechanics of the assignment that supports students in applying their ever-developing, expanding understanding of the content. 
  • Probing feedback. Provides a question or prompt to encourage, support and even inspire students to advance their thinking. 
  • Suggestive feedback. Provides suggestions or ideas to encourage and even inspire students to demonstrate their understanding of the content. 

Use the tools in your learning platform

Tools within the learning management system platform can help teachers deliver effective feedback, such as written feedback, the use of a rubric, video or audio feedback, or annotations to mark up a student’s work.

Feedback is an important part of the learning experience and is most effective when it is timely, specific, actionable, asset-based, related to learning goals, constructive and iterative. Choosing the right mode of feedback for you and your students is critical to success. 

Stacy Young is the associate dean of instruction at VHS Learning. 


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