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Linking feedback to the learning process

It is very important to ensure that the feedback given to the learner is aligned with the overall learning outcomes of the programme, teaching session or clinical activity in which the learner is engaged. Giving feedback can be seen as part of experiential learning. Kolb (1984) proposed that learning happens in a circular fashion, that learning is experiential (learning by doing), and that ideas are formed and modified through experiences. These ideas underpin the idea of the ‘reflective practitioner’ and the shift from ‘novice to expert’ which occurs as part of professional development.

The learning cycle requires four kinds of abilities or learning contexts:

  • concrete experience – learners are enabled and encouraged to become involved in new experiences
  • reflective observation – gives learners time to reflect on their learning
  • abstract conceptualisation – learners must be able to  form and process ideas and integrate them into logical theories
  • active experimentation – learners need to be able to use theories to solve problems and test theories in new situations.

 Kolb cycle

This cycle is similar to the ‘plan – do – reflect – act’ cycle which is often used in appraisals. Hill (2007) identifies that ‘feedback plays an important role in helping learners move round the cycle. For example, feedback supports the process of reflection and the consideration of new or more in-depth theory. Through a process of negotiation, feedback can also help the learner plan productively for the next learning experience.’

If we consider that one of the tasks of those giving feedback is to help the learner achieve their learning goals, then Hill (2007) suggests that we need to start with an understanding of:

(a) where the learner is in terms of their learning, the level they have reached, past experience, and understanding of learning needs and goals

(b) the learning goals in terms of knowledge, technical skills and attitudes. You may be observing more than one of these learning domains at the same time.

During the observation, our task is to identify where and how far the learner has travelled towards the learning goals, where they may have gone off track and what further learning or practice may be required.

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