To be an effective online teacher, it’s crucial to master the art of giving feedback to online learners.
This is no easy task.
It takes skill, and a light hand.
Especially when you’re teaching adult learners.
The challenges are many.
• The communication environment is devoid of visual cues.
Your message can easily be misinterpreted, and offence taken.
• Online learners are at their most vulnerable when being assessed.
Criticism is always difficult to hear: it must be delivered with tact and kindness.
• Many online learners come to the course already over-committed.
They’re trying to balance work, family and a range of other obligations.
• Learner anxiety is very common.
It may have been some time since your online learners did any formal study, and they may have a history of under-achievement in formal learning.
• There’s often reluctance to learn, and built-in suspicion about the experience.
Many adult learners are under pressure from employers to formalize their skills with qualifications.
Some students resent taking classes in topics they feel they already know well.
So you see what I mean about the challenges involved here.
And that’s why I see providing constructive feedback to online learners as something of an art.
Happily, artistic skills can be learned.
Here’s how to make sure your feedback encourages and inspires your online learners.
6 Artful Ways to Offer Inspiring Online Learner Feedback
Online learners are often already working professionals, sometimes in senior roles.
They’re not used to having their written work critiqued.
They can bristle when receiving criticism, especially from an online teacher they’ve never met.
So make sure your qualifications and experience are right there in your LMS for your students to see.
Make it very clear that you’re a professional yourself.
Your professional background gives you skills they can benefit from.
2. Use appropriate language and tone.
The right use of language and tone helps to produce a professional yet engaging learning environment.
By avoiding jargon or unnecessarily technical language, you make sure your online learners never feel stupid.
And by adopting a welcoming tone, you help to establish a supportive and safer learning environment.
3. Be specific.
The most helpful student feedback is very clear about what works – and what doesn’t – in a piece of assessed work.
The clearer you can be about which parts are hitting the nail on the head, and what the particular problems with the work are, the better.
Online learners need to know exactly how to improve their work, and which areas they need to gain strength in.
4. Be positive whenever possible.
There is almost always an aspect of an assignment you can praise.
Start out that way, and you create an overall message of encouragement, which incorporates specific suggestions for improvement.
That’s a lot more constructive than simply listing all the things wrong with an assignment. Sustained negativity can be crushing, and demotivate online learners who are already wondering whether they’re up to this challenge in the first place.
5. Offer timely feedback.
Most learning organizations have a preferred window for returning assignments. If your turnaround goal is 10 working days, for example, make sure that your students know when to expect your comments and their grade.
By providing feedback within living memory of them writing the assignment, you can help them to stay in touch with what they need to do to improve their next paper. And there will still be time to change their approach before the next deadline.
6. Point them to other relevant resources.
Sometimes online learners need a particular kind of support that you can’t offer in assignment comments.
• If they’re struggling with the writing process itself, direct them to the student services section of your organization.
• If they’re not referencing correctly, remind them where the referencing guide is in the LMS.
• If they’re struggling with technical issues, direct them to the Helpdesk.
As you can see, giving student feedback to online learners demands some skill and finesse.
Try these strategies, and help your online learners to achieve in ways that will directly impact their careers and future.