Effective Feedback Methods for Online Teachers

Students and instructors are influencing education as they enroll in and teach online courses. We are seeing successes with online learning, but the methods are continually being evaluated to provide sound learning based on pedagogical and andragogical learning theories. Students indicate that teacher feedback is one of the important aspects to successful eLearning (Getzalf, Perry, Toffner, Lamarche, & Edwards, 2009). As teacher-student interaction is online, it requires further investigation for successful teacher feedback and student satisfaction. Face-to-face interaction is replaced by methods that have the potential to be just as effective, if not more so when compared to large, over-sized traditional classrooms at large universities. Feedback online is more than an end of the course survey, which tends to be one-sided, with information to be used by the instructor alone. Online courses must replace all the nuances of face-to-face learning with comparable solutions. Teachers cannot look at their audience to judge interaction, or answer questions fielded during a class. But research is uncovering methods that contribute to student satisfaction and success.

Quality online feedback may be more time-consuming, especially compared to institutions of higher education where many professors are accustomed to lecturing in large classrooms and providing Teacher Assistants to handle student questions. Smaller class size is more conducive to teacher-student interaction, and some online courses may be able to maintain this, but more often online courses enroll more students. Effective instructors must spend time responding to students' questions about assignments and course materials, as well as give feedback on their student’s work (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008).  The asynchronous learning environment presents new opportunities for making these connections successful while subscribing to sound theories of online learning (Espasa & Meneses, 2009).  

Even if it requires more time, the ease at responding from any location, at any time presents advantages over the traditional office hours.  Nevertheless, the size of the class, whether online or offline will determine the ability of instructors to meet those needs.  Overall, a teacher must consider timeliness with all feedback methods, as students online can create questions at all hours, and thus teachers must organize their time to include addressing these needs. In the spirit of collaborative learning, teachers who enjoy their work of teaching and assisting learners, will be eager to improve their own strategies to facilitate better outcomes within the eLearning community.

Teacher feedback can be addressed in a number of ways:  


Any venue, business, personal, or educational values the timeliness of answered emails.  In online courses it is essential for instructors to encourage and respond to emails from their students, thus supporting constructivist learning theory (Anderson, Imdieke, & Standerford, 2011).  Students have previous knowledge in many areas, but they need feedback to ensure that they are on the right path. Teachers in a face-to-face scenario can receive cues from their students during a discussion, signaling understanding or confusion. This does not happen online, and students rarely email or post questions according to a study by Anderson, et. al (2011). Teachers should inform students that they will answer emails within a certain timeframe, thus increasing a sense of order and engagement. A timely response shows enthusiasm in the subject and the process of learning, which indicates that a teacher loves their vocation (Anderson, et. al, 2011).  Students sense this and know which of their instructors love to teach and are more effective teachers (Anderson, et. al, 2011). This will require a consistent method of checking emails and responding to students questions or concerns. 

Online Presence:  

Teachers contribute feedback in other ways besides email. Discussion boards are often set-up for student interaction, but teachers have the responsibility to monitor and add to those discussions.  One teacher found a way to provide feedback by searching the postings, where she was able to read between the lines and look for a student's needs, adding clarity, new resources, or stretching student’s thinking (Anderson, et. al, 2011).  A teacher’s presence online further creates opportunities for connecting and building upon constructivist learning theory. A silent instructor shows disinterest and does not contribute to the learning process, signaling this lack of concern to the students.

The nature of asynchronous learning provides the opportunity for continual dialogue at any time of the day or location.  This increases the potential for collaborative learning, where students and teachers contribute ideas based on previous knowledge, and further provides for a constructivist-learning environment (Haythornthwaite & Andrews, 2011).  This feedback goes both ways -- for students and instructors. Teachers benefit from feedback and good teachers thrive on the need to receive affirming feedback (Anderson, et. al, 2011).  By becoming active online, teachers are better able to modify their methods and thus find satisfaction as a teacher. Students benefit as well, and the exchange of information and the building of new knowledge constructs learning environments.  

Feedback during a course is a continual formative assessment which can address doubts and questions about the subject matter (Espasa & Meneses, 2009).  In their study, Espasa & Meneses (2009) reported that this type of ongoing feedback was used the most and consisted in teachers conveying how to improve work and increase learning.  In another study of an online computer-programming course, Ebrahimi (2012), found that early feedback reduced student errors and inefficient problem solving methods.  Students had unlimited access to the instructor and classmates, stimulating a collaborative environment, which resulted in students using less trial-and-error methods to solve problems.  This reduced time and frustration, but it also impacted creativity and  error-detection capabilities which could effect overall learning (Ebrahimi, 2012). The subject matter of an online course will need to play a role in deciding the type of feedback for optimal learning.

Graded Assignments:  

Instructors are often assessed by the grades they give. But, students are also cognizant of whether a teacher loved the subject and enjoyed sharing the knowledge. While it is important not to devalue the methods of analyzing if a student has gained the required knowledge, many students have a desire to learn (especially within their major interest).  Anderson, et. al (2011), noted that students frequently included feedback with their assignments, explaining how it went for them and why it might have been difficult for them.  This was helpful to the teacher who then analyzed the learning module and considered alterations. A learning theory of connectivism supports this type of feedback, as well as the theory of constructivism, building upon information in a community and co-constructing.  The process of encouraging feedback from students throughout the course, either in graded assignments or discussions, is a valuable resource in designing eLearning courses (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). Formative learning assessment is a continual feedback that leads students to move from needing more direction to becoming autonomous (Espasa & Meneses, 2009). This can take place after a graded assignment and to be an effective formative assessment should include advise to improve learning as well as correct answers and a grade.  However, in the study by Espasa & Meneses (2009), this type of graded assignment feedback did not include teacher information to improve learning, yet concluded that the relationship between feedback and learning was positive indicated by final grades and students’ satisfaction.

Personalized feedback versus collective feedback:

Although this should seem obvious, students preferred personal feedback from the instructor and actually did better academically than students receiving collective feedback (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008).  In this study, the students further reported qualitatively that they were more satisfied by the availability of the instructor to respond in a timely manner than the feedback they received on assignments (Gallien & Oomen-Early, 2008). 

Content and Process of Feedback:

Teacher feedback prompts students to assess their existing knowledge, analyze what they have learned, and reflect on what they still need to learn (Getzalf, et. al, 2009).  In a descriptive, exploratory study, Getzalf, et. al (2009), studied graduate students’ perceptions of effective online feedback. Content and process of feedback was examined to reveal five major themes as described in the table below: 

Student Involvement and Individuation
Effective feedback is a mutual process involving both student and instructor.
Being Positively Constructive
Effective feedback provides constructive guidance that builds confidence
Gentle Guidance
Effective feedback guides through explicit expectations and ongoing coaching
Timelines for effective feedback are mutually established and met.
Future Orientation
Effective feedback is applicable to future situations

(Getzalf, Perry, Toffner, Lamarche, & Edwards, 2009)

Effective feedback for online courses is still being studied to ensure successful outcomes (Getzalf, et. al, 2009). Both teachers and students play an important role in ensuring that feedback is mutual, constructive, ongoing, timely, and applicable to future situations (Getzalf, et. al, 2009). Interested teachers will adopt these upcoming methods and cooperate with researchers who will continue to fine tune the process of learning online around theories of learning that support constructivism, collaboration and connectivism. New methods of feedback may continually unfold as technology increases. Hopefully, providing effective feedback will become second nature to those who teach within the eLearning community.


Anderson, D., Imdieke, S., & Standerford, N. S. (2011). Feedback please: Studying self in the online classroom. International Journal of Instruction, 4(1), 3-15. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=69726556&site=eds-live

Ebrahimi, A. (2011). How does early feedback in an online programming course change problem solving? Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 40(4), 371-379. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=79629576&site=eds-live

Espasa, A., & Meneses, J. (2010). Analysing feedback processes in an online teaching and learning environment: An exploratory study. Higher Education: The International Journal of Higher Education and Educational Planning, 59(3), 277-292. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ872788&site=eds-live;http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10734-009-9247-4

Gallien, T., & Oomen-Early, J. (2008). Personalized versus collective instructor feedback in the online courseroom: Does type of feedback affect student satisfaction, academic performance and perceived connectedness with the instructor? International Journal on E-Learning, 7(3), 463-476. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=ehh&AN=33019006&site=eds-live

Getzlaf, B., Perry, B., Toffner, G., Lamarche, K., & Edwards, M. (2009). Effective instructor feedback: Perceptions of online graduate students. Journal of Educators Online, 6(2)  Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ904070&site=eds-live

Haythornthwaite, C., & Andrews, R. (2011) E-learning Theory & Practice. London: Sage

1 comment:

  1. Fine work again. I am linking an audio feedback this time.


    I reference Moore's Theory of Transactional distance. You can read Moore's original work but a more recent iteration can be found at:

    Giossos, Y., Koutsouba, M., Lionarakis, A., & Skavantzos, K. (2009). Reconsidering Moore’s transactional distance theory. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. Retrieved from http://www.eurodl.org/?article=374


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