Failing forward has become a more common term in business settings. It is used to convey a situation where failure is seen as a learning opportunity that helps achieve success. As an educator, I’ve advocated for something similar for a number of years. I believe that failing or falling is part of learning. Unfortunately, at the moment, most grading systems penalize us for failing even the smallest assessment, and this leads us to believe that all failure is bad.
Now, if we combine the idea that failure can be positive and can help us learn with feedback to guide us on that learning, do we need to rethink what feedback is? Should it instead be feedforward?
Faulconer, Griffith, and Frank (2019) argue that feedforward is actually what is implied when we talk about the best practices in feedback, that it is timely, actionable, and that you have the ability to apply the feedback. This last point is the most important. If you receive the feedback and then move on without responding to it in some form, then it isn’t particularly useful for student learning. But, if students receive the feedback and then respond, it turns receiving feedback into an active process for the learner; thus, it becomes feedforward.
The researchers found that feedforward did appear to help students improve their grades on exams. The exams were delivered through an online learning management system (LMS) that was set up to draw questions from a pool of questions so that each exam and each attempt was unique. The exam was graded automatically. While correct answers were not provided, specific and actionable feedback was preprogrammed into the LMS to be delivered once the attempt was completed. The feedback was written with positive, supportive language, and contained references to specific course resources.
What I find particularly interesting in this case is that the feedback doesn’t highlight the specific errors that a student made. It is based on, what are really predictions by the instructor, regarding what the most common errors might be. Therefore, the student needs to figure out what their mistake is based on the course materials and the feedback and then identify how they will correct their own understanding to prevent the mistake next time.
I don’t know if we need a new term for this. I can’t really see myself starting to tell students that I’ll be providing them with feedforward from now on. I think that giving students the opportunity to learn and adjust immediately based on the feedback is the key point here. Unless a student can apply the feedback to their own work, then they really haven’t actively engaged with it. That is the problematic part.
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