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Providing feedback in online or blended courses

Modified from on MB Hub blog post Feedback in your online course. Written by Mona Maxwell, Senior Instructional Designer. Originally published October 6, 2021.

Updated and Edited by JJ Cloutier and Mona Maxwell July 2023
Content review July 2023

What is feedback?

Feedback at the post-secondary level ranges from:

  • Advising a student in an aircraft maintenance program on how to rivet
  • Clarifying how to write in a specific genre
  • Specifying aspects of mathematical word problem interpretation

Regardless of the topic, feedback fills the gap between our learners’ current knowledge (what they currently know) or skill (what they are presently able to do) and what they want to know or do. Hattie & Timperley (2007) found that “…giving feedback has an extremely large effect on learning, with an effect size (correlation between two variables) of 0.79 (2x the average of all other educational efforts).”  

The difference between praise and feedback

Praise is different than feedback. If you want to be nice, then praise. If you want to improve learning, then give feedback.

In “The Power of Feedback” (2007), authors John Hattie and Helen Timperley point out that specific information about how the learner is performing a task is much more helpful than mere praise.  The table “Differences between praise and feedback” outlines examples of praise and what gap-filling feedback could look like.  

Table: Difference between praise and feedback

I like what you did here.Your plan is very concisely described. Consider whether the plan will accomplish the goal.
Nice work.You demonstrated a thorough ability to write a lab report.  In the future, increasing the number of possible conclusions would progress your report to an object of potential innovation.
This is exactly what I wanted. Your clearly outlined arguments resulted in a cohesive paper that is convincing to the audience.  In what setting or format could you reach this audience?

Importance of feedback

Like a real-time road map, feedback is essential in online courses where students may be less likely to reach out for support or may give up more quickly. Formative feedback – the type that is intended to improve learning within the duration of one course – serves a dual purpose of improving learning and maintaining engagement. The effect of formative feedback (i.e., feedback for learning) is 0.90*. That is, providing feedback before assigning a grade has a very positive impact on learning.  

Feedback given on a final paper or project is an investment in learner success in the next course. Feedback given in time to be applied to the next attempt of demonstrating knowledge or skill is an investment in immediate student success in your course.

When feedback is a normalized, regular part of your course, students are more receptive to it. (Ambrose, S.A., Bridges, M.W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M.C., Norman, M.K., 2010)

Guardrail, rumble strip or yellow line feedback

If you are convinced of the importance of feedback, perhaps you want to take steps to optimize the feedback in your course. 

Divided highway thru thick forest with guard rails on either side. In the centre a solid yellow line and the rumble strip end part way while the dashed yellow line runs the full length.
Image by Joe Gardner from Unsplash

First step – Characterize feedback in your course

Feedback can be like the guardrail or rumble strip along a highway or like a yellow line dividing the highway (or course).  

  • Corrective (negative) feedback, like the guardrail or rumble strip on a highway, aims to control or avoid further damage after clearly identifying that one is already off track. Provided following ‘practice,’ this feedback can result in improvement and need not necessarily be given solely by an instructor. 
  • Positive feedback, like the yellow dividing line, is directive and propels learner success. Directive (positive) feedback, like the yellow line, is directive and propels learner success, ideally empowering them to keep themselves ‘in check.’   

Yellow line feedback (directive), unlike guardrail and rumble stripe feedback (negative), provides learners with direction for when they can change lanes and move ahead. This is employed when you guide learners proactively on how to carry out a task better or deepen their understanding, when you provide clear criteria on rubrics and when you make explicit the connection between the objectives of the course and how those objectives will be evaluated. 

Ideally, the yellow lines provide the feedback needed to not only avoid the guardrail or rumble stripes but to enjoy the scenery along the way and anticipate the destination, while they circumvent the need for guardrail feedback. 

However, there is always a place for corrective feedback. A guardrail can be precisely what learners need as they gain proficiency and learn to self-correct independently. 

Learners do not need a backseat driver. As instructors, we must strike a balance between directive and corrective feedback to foster independence, self-reflection and focused decision-making in learners to avoid being the dreaded and overly perspective back seat driver. 

Next step – Optimize the feedback in your course 

After characterizing what the feedback is like (guardrail or yellow line) on the highway (or course), consider reviewing your feedback process and ask yourself these questions: 

  • What is the most effective feedback you are providing your learners? 
  • Does your course have exclusively guardrail feedback? If so, how can you better balance the feedback? 
  • Does your course rely on one-time-only or after-the-fact feedback?  
  • How can directive feedback be promoted?  
  • Can peers offer directive feedback to one another in an effective way?    
  • Have you normalized and repeated formative feedback in your course? 
  • Where are there any low-lying opportunities for yellow-line feedback?  
  • What barriers prevent your course design from providing effective feedback?  
  • Can tools in the learning management system like annotations, automated feedback, rubrics and intelligent agents facilitate timely and normalized feedback? 

Designing for effective feedback should happen before the course starts. Opportunities for feedback can be built into the design of the highways of your course. For help, collaborate with your institutions’ faculty development specialists or instructional designers or reach out to the MB Hub.

Feedback support for your online, blended or distributed course 

Black line isometric computer monitor with curser on screen

If you would like to have support applying these tips on feedback to your own teaching, Manitoba Flexible Learning Hub members are here to help.  View the  MB Hub Consultation page to learn more about the process.   

Book a one-on-one “Instructional Design Consultation” with our Instructional Designer to help you develop activities for blended or distributed courses today! 


Murphy Paul, A. (2013, March 18) Four Ways to Give Good Feedback.

Hattie, J. and Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, March(77), 81-112. 

Neelen, M., & Kirschner, P. A. (2020). 196-206. In Evidence-informed learning design: Creating training to improve performance. essay, KoganPage.  

Ambrose, Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: seven research-based principles for smart teaching (1st ed.). Jossey-Bass. 

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