Giving Meaningful Feedback

Meaningful feedback does not come easily to some individuals. In the online learning community, and particularly in online discussions, meaningful feedback is essential in order to promote growth and learning. It is not only the instructor that is required to give meaningful feedback in online discussions, but students are required to do so, as well. Discuss the importance of meaningful feedback, the benefits that it offers to all students in the course, and the strategies that can be used to promote meaningful feedback in online discussions.

A problem sometimes faced in an online discussion is that students can be hesitant to participate and the forum or chat can often feel empty or incomplete. To counter this, it is recommended that the teacher participate in the discussion as well and can give the forum a ‘spark’ if needed. This can be done by either starting off the forum with not only a topic but also a reply, or by commenting on what others are writing. The comments have to be more than just a simple remark such as ‘thank you’ but instead it needs to be positive feedback that adds to the discussion.

The feedback given needs to perform the following functions; a) clarifies what good performance is, b) facilitates the development of self-assessment and reflection, c) delivers high quality information to students about their learning, d) encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning, e) encourages positive motivational beliefs and self esteem, f) provides opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance, and g) provides information to teachers that can help shape teaching (Ertmer, Richardson, Belland, Camin, Connolly, Coulthard, 2007). So while a simple ‘thank you’ is polite, it does not provide anything to the student. The wording on feedback needs to be carefully constructed as well because certain things such as sarcasm and criticism can be hard to interpret just through text.

Giving feedback in an online discussion can be an art and it may not come easily to everyone. However, without this feedback, students may feel disconnected or the topic may suffer from feeling empty with no one responding. The difficulty in this is that the instructor, while more knowledgeable in the subject area, only adds one point of view to the discussion. Therefore, it is encouraged that for successful feedback to be given, it must come from the community and not just the instructor. This community is built up of all the students and of course the instructor as well. This community can only grow by having all opinions heard.

Feedback from students do not necessarily have to follow the rules from above, but they should be respectful and polite. Even a small gesture towards another student such as “I agree with what NAME said and to add to that…”. This shows that the students are reading what everyone else is writing and they are not just writing their reply without reading what others have said. In a classroom setting, everyone takes their turn to talk and the students have a chance to listen. In an online community, it is easy to skip the reading and just post your own view. It should be encouraged by the teacher to read and acknowledge what others are writing and to provide positive feedback to others.

However, when a student states his or her opinion on a topic, there is a good chance that someone will have a different opinion. It is important for all of these opinions to be heard and when students reply to other students posts, that can create a great debate. With that being said, it can also lead the topic astray or cause arguments; neither of which are helpful. If the instructor is finding that the topic is getting off track, then the instructor has to intervene in the discussion. This should also be done in a positive way without making any feel that their opinion does not count. As mentioned, feedback can be an art!

Feedback is also essential because it helps students feel more connected to the course and its community. With an online course, the student may be thousand of miles away, but it should not feel that way to them. If the instructor “fail[s] to actively make online education a personal calling, [it]could lead to the alienation of students” and that can impact not only their future participation but also their desire to learn (Cochran, 2011). When an instructor provides feedback to the student, it lets the student know that there is someone on ‘the other side of the screen’ and that the instructor has taken an interest in what was being said. In the classroom setting this is a lot easier but students have a set time to show up and discussion can take place in that class. On the web, students do not necessarily have a set time to post in the forum and if their post goes days without being acknowledged, then they may feel disconnected. Also, “student needs for constructive feedback, which are met inside the brick and mortar classroom in the form of direct question and answer sessions or even body language of peers and instructors” (Cochran, 2011). This is not possible in the virtual classroom, but with the right rubrics and setup, students can still receive their feedback in a positive way.

So while “feedback in an online environment is challenging and time consuming, [it is] absolutely necessary” (Gregory, 2010). Feedback can also be given in a few different ways. One a forum, the feedback can be given either publicly or privately. Both can be acceptable and it can possibly vary depending on the circumstance. Maybe the instructor will provide criticism through a private message and a positive remark publicly. However, the one thing that will need to be avoided is showing favoritism to any one student. One strategy would be that throughout the year while the instructor is commenting on the forums, the instructor should at some point private message each student individually with something positive. This adds a personal element to the course and also can spark motivation for the student.

Finally, the last benefit to feedback is the improvement that it allows for the learner. If a student is going off-track or not providing correct information, then this learner can still receive a good mark after receiving feedback. If the learners weaknesses are pointed out early in a course, then this gives them plenty of time to improve. Without feedback, this learner would never fullfill the goals of the course and would more than likely receive a poor grade. Someone students may have a hard time receiving feedback but it is a trait they need to learn.

Feedback in the online environment is critical. Whatever strategy the instructor decides to use and whatever way the instructor implements the feedback is up to him or her. As long as feedback is given throughout the course on a regular basis then this will lead to the growth of the learner and the community. Learning is not a one-way street in an online course and learning can occur from many different directions and people. By having feedback given throughout the course, whether it is from the instructor or other students, it allows for greater learning and also deeper learning.


Cochran, S. (2011, June 5). How to Give Effective Online Class Feedback. Online Class Feedback and Construcive Criticism. Retrieved July 17, 2011, from

Ertmer, P. A, Richardson, J. C., Belland, B., Camin, D., Connolly, P., Coulthard, G. (2007). Using peer feedback to enhance the quality of student online postings: An exploratory study.Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2).

Gregory, D. (2010, March 26). Provide Meaningful Feedback ASAP in Online Courses. Online Learning Cafe´. Retrieved July 17, 2011, from

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