Making Feedback Work Better for the Learner

Draper’s Six-Way Feedback Ambiguity

Draper takes the following position regarding feedback: “The perspective adopted here is that an agent attempts to self-regulate the value of variables of various kinds by comparing information (‘ feedback’) from external events to the desired goals, and acting to reduce the difference: each of these constitutes a self-regulatory loop of receiving information and taking corrective actionwhich may be traversed many times” (Draper, 2009, p. 307). Further, Draper posits that the ambiguities fall largely into the following six categories:

  • “Technical knowledge or method
  • Effort
  • Method of learning about the task
  • Ability, trait, aptitude
  • Random
  • The judgement process was wrong” (Draper, 2009, p. 308)

Therefore, dependent upon the perspective of the learner, the feedback may or may not be helpful to that particular learner. The significance of this premise is clearly evidenced upon contemplation of situations wherein an instructor provides feedback to a learner within one category, while the learner either needs, wants or expects feedback within a completely different category. As just one example, perhaps my entire life has been devoted to the study of mathematics and physics. However, I am unable to comprehend more abstract mathematics as required by the discipline. The instructor may provide feedback that I should pursue a different field; however, I may find the feedback more helpful within technical category. Another example could be a student who knows they did not put in the effort required for the assignment and therefore, expect feedback towards that category; however, the instructor instead provides feedback regarding the method of learning of the task or application of process.

Analysis of Feedback Received

I would not categorize myself as the typical learner, certainly not as described in our resources. For instance, whether I am fully appreciative of a course or not, I am always interested in the feedback I receive on each assignment. There have been many occasions, however, when the feedback I receive is less explanatory or specific than I would prefer. As one example, an instructor would highlight text in a paper indicating there was something amiss with the text, but not indicating exactly what was the problem. I run grammar and spell checker on all of my assignments, so the problems are unlikely to be among those common culprits. Many times, I am left wondering what it was about that phrase and/or few words the instructor did not like, or, perhaps, they really liked it and that was why they highlighted the text? I have no idea because they did not tell me. On a few occasions, I have emailed an instructor regarding questions such as these; however, the instructor has not responded. It has been my belief that because my assignment was typically graded as with an “A” that the instructor felt it was unnecessary to revisit my questions when others may need their guidance more. Another issue that has occurred in my assignments is when the instructor simply highlights a category in a rubric, without further detail or specifics. I am speaking specifically in situations where the score was not the optimal score. It would be advantageous to understand what particular aspect of the assignment did not meet the criteria of the rubric for that category. However, this information is not typically indicated. In these situations, it is left up to me which category the feedback is meant to be determined in.

Revised Feedback

The scenarios I have provided are remedied easily enough. The instructor needs to only remember that if they highlight or underline some portion of text in an assignment they need to put a comment with it to indicate why they are marking that text. Similarly, in any situation where a learner scores below the optimal score on a rubric, it is advantageous to indicate to the student which portion of the assignment, segment of text, phraseology, etc. resulted in the deficiency in score. As I read my writing here, it is clear that I attribute feedback primarily to categories of methods and technical skill, where it is possible that the instructors meant the feedback in terms of effort, randomness, or my inherent ability. I would suggest specificity whenever possible.


Draper, S. W. (2009). What are learners actually regulating when given feedvack? British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(2), 306-315. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Hatziapostolou, T., & Paraskakis, I. (2010). Enhancing the impact of formative feedback on student learning through an online feedback system. Electronic Journal of e-Learning, 8(2), 111-122. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Oosterhof, A. Conrad, R.M., & Ely, D.P. (2008). Assessing learners online . Saddleback River, NJ:Pearson.

Suskie, L. (2009). Using a scoring guide or rubric to plan and evaluate an assessment. In Assessing student learning: A common sense guide (2nd ed., pp. 137-153). Retrieved from


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