Learning is Feedback: And how to do it online

Let’s imagine you walk into a class of 25 students and begin teaching. You are about to receive A LOT of feedback.

The moment you finish that sentence, you’ll be receiving feedback. It’s in the student’s eyes.

Might be a tough lesson ahead.

You continue, you ask a question to the class.

The question was easy, students are engaged, the learning is happening.

You ask another question, only one hand goes up. Billy answers.

You walk around the room, you look over shoulders. You give and receive feedback. The feedback is a two-way street.

A raised eyebrow, a quizzical expression, a scribbled teacher note, a brief chat, a tick, a cross, a joke.

What you hear, what you see, what you say. All is feedback.

  • Feedback about their learning to them
  • Feedback about their learning to you
  • Feedback about your teaching to you.

This feedback comes through many channels, and it comes all the time.

But that is face to face. What about when we move online?

Online Learning and Barriers to Feedback

There are a lot of people who have suggested just picking up what works in their face to face environment and moving it online. Keep the regular timetable. Teach live lessons.

After all, we have the technology right? We can video chat with our students in real-time, it’s not much different to being in the class with them.

To believe that, is to fundamentally misunderstand what is special about addressing a class of 25 students as a teacher. It isn’t special that they are listening to you live. What is special is all the feedback you are giving and receiving. You cannot question your class effectively online like you would face to face, and they cannot question you.

Online Learning blocks the regular feedback channels

Yes, they can type a little question in chat box below, maybe even shout the question out in the middle of your explicit instruction… but that question isn’t giving you, the student, or the class, the feedback you all need.

Online Learning and Opportunities for Feedback

But… where a window, closes an opportunity opens.

While it is true that Online Learning is a barrier to many types of feedback, it is a conduit for so many more.

  • Post a small diagnostic task after each new learning sequence and mark all of them digitally, posting back instantly.
  • Send your students individual messages asking them to summarise some aspect of the learning.
  • Write every single one of your students an individual message about their work.
  • Send every student some video feedback.
  • Have 6 different feedback conversations all at once via the power of asynchronous chat systems like Microsoft Teams.

While you’ve lost what is great about face to face teaching, you have also been unshackled by its slavish adherence to the clock. You are now master of your time, and you can use it to gather as much feedback as you like, however you like.

All Learning is Feedback

When you plan for online learning, at every point, I want you to ask yourself the following question.

Is feedback flowing from this?


Learning is Feedback.


  1. I really liked this reflection on feedback Joel. The need to move online has forced a reflection on the differences between modes and mediums. I remember presenting on the place of technology to transform learning, however I have really been left wondering about the impact when learning is only online. I really liked your point in your other post about adapting your pedagogy. Some things change, some things stay the same.

    Also on: Read Write Collect

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