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  6.  — Feedback and feed forward: developing lifelong learners

Feedback and feed forward: developing lifelong learners

Develop students’ own judgement and self-regulation by providing ongoing opportunities for formative feedback.

Why feedback and feed forward?

Feedback and feed forward are the primary means by which learners can assess what they need to work on and gauge their progress, so small tasks with lots of feedback help to make this path clear. Feedback typically tells us how we are progressing towards a goal; feed forward should tell us what we need to do to get closer to it.

Three students testing a car's electrical systems

The role of higher education is to provide a foundation for a lifetime of learning and work.1 This entails developing skills that enable students to be self-regulating, autonomous learners, who recognise gaps in their knowledge and know how to fill them. Activating these skills requires us to provide “greater opportunities for formative assessment, and informal and formal feedback”.2

Having students critique their own work, and identify how to improve it, can develop self-reflection, ability to self-regulate and self-manage learning, helping them take responsibility for their own learning for the longer term.

Feedback and feed forward in practice

Fostering critical thinking with reflective journals

Fostering critical thinking with reflective journals

Lesley Gardner and Udayangi Muthupoltotage discuss how timely, frequent and constructive feedback has a powerful influence on student achievement. However, its impact on higher education students is hotly debated and often highly variable.

Small steps

Providing feedback


Automated instant feedback from say, Canvas quizzes, H5P activities, and Perusall can provide ‘self-check’ questions for formative feedback,. They usually allow students to re-test themselves until they feel confident.


Quick-marking tools such as SpeedGrader or CrowdMark (and their ability to annotate PDFs), and Canvas rubrics, can make life easier. Some tools also offer a comment library that allows markers to save and reuse common feedback comments.


Provide generic feedback to the class, alongside a short, personalised comment to individuals. This can help with marking workload while giving students an idea of what good quality assignments look like.

“I was impressed by the extent to which some of you researched this question. On the whole most of you managed to identify …. which were…. The best answers were those that ….”


Record an audio or video of you speaking to the student about their work. This is more personal and they are more likely to pay attention. For example, Andrew Eberhard uses screen casting but audio and video feedback can also be created in Canvas’ SpeedGrader.

“You did a good job of comparing … a little more reference to theory and research would have further strengthened this.”

​Help students develop reflective skills and ability to judge their performance


Students record their reflections on the process of completing a task.

During your research trail, what went well and what might have been done better?


Students write a reflective personal ‘learning journey.’

 How did your understanding/appreciation of the topic change over the course of the semester and what prompted these changes.


Provide opportunities for students to submit early drafts or outlines of a task for feedback, including their notes on the areas they feel need attention/expansion.


Have students review and critique the work of previous cohorts on a task and reflect on anything they would do differently. For example, you might use a Canvas Discussion topic for this.

Read this commentary from a former student. What aspects do you think work well? Consider the information, format, tone, use of scholarship, or other aspects of the work. Now compare your own approach. Is there something you would do differently to write a commentary?

Maxine Lewis, LATIN 201/301/305


Present a scenario or problem, ask students to consider what actions they would take, present an expert’s analysis, and ask students to modify their initial answers in the light of the expert view. This is one way of activating students’ natural ‘comparison feedback’.

In depth

David Nicol talks about the importance of activating learners’ own judgement of their work by providing opportunities for them to compare their work with exemplars, or the work of peers.3 His research claims that analogical comparisons (comparing your work against similar work) is often better than analytical comparison (comparing your work against criteria, or against feedback comments). By staging multiple opportunities for comparison throughout the course, he claims there is a cumulative benefit – and there is no additional workload involved. In fact, the lecturer makes fewer written feedback comments.

Click the Full screen button or Watch on YouTube for a larger view.

Effective feedback is:

  • Timely – Provide feedback as soon as possible after students submit their assessment, while it is still fresh in their minds, and they have time to incorporate feedback into their next assessment.
  • Actionable – Provide concrete information and suggest strategies for improvement. Value-based statements such as “Excellent” or “Well done” do not help students understand why they did well or how to improve.
  • Aligned to learning outcomes and assessment criteria – Connect feedback to the learning outcomes and the specific criteria in the marking rubric.

Related resources

Feedback and Feed forward on Rethinking Assessment.

Marking guides and rubrics on Rethinking Assessment.

3 time-saving ways to give assignment feedback with video

Video feedback on student assignments

Audio and video feedback for students (UWE Bristol)

Nicol, David. “The power of internal feedback: exploiting natural comparison processes.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 46, no. 5 (2021): 756-778.

Page updated 22/02/2023 (minor edit)

  1. Boud, David, and Nancy Falchikov. “Aligning Assessment with Long-term Learning.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 31, no. 4 (2006): 399-413.
  2. Morris, Gayle, David Lines, Murray Ford, Te Oti Rakena, Barbara Staniforth, Alan Shaker, Rachelle Singleton, Tim Baice, and Kaitlin Beare. Signature Pedagogical Practices: Transforming learning and teaching delivery and transition pedagogy at Waipapa Taumata Rau I University of Auckland into an experience that reflects the values of Taumata Teitei. Auckland: University of Auckland, 2022.
  3. Nicol, David. “The Power of Internal Feedback: Exploiting Natural Comparison Processes.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 46 no. 5 (2021): 756-778.
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