eLearning Feedback: Make it Relevant and Relational

In my series on Keller’s ARCS Model for Motivation, I discussed the important role satisfaction plays in increasing and maintaining a student’s motivation to learn.

Students are satisfied and motivated to improve when teachers provide clear, constructive feedback and affirm and encourage them, both verbally and nonverbally. As classroom environments become more digital and asynchronous, we must find ways to improve instructor and student communication, especially feedback.

In this series, I’ll share practical tips for instructor to learner feedback and learner to learner feedback. We’ll look at tools to help you improve and enhance the feedback experience in online courses. Today we’ll begin with why you should provide constructive feedback.   

Why Feedback?

In her article, education writer Marianne Stenger (2014) quotes University of Texas at Austin Professor, James Pennebaker, who observes the central role feedback plays in the history of education:

When people are trying to learn new skills, they must get some information that tells them whether or not they are doing the right thing. Learning in the classroom is no exception. Both the mastery of content and, more importantly, the mastery of how to think require trial-and-error learning.

Remember, the ultimate goal is to help learners master course content and increase critical thinking. 

Feedback and Relationships

Feedback is more meaningful when there is an established relationship between the instructor and the learner. Also, students are more likely to act on feedback that’s relevant to their lives in and outside the course.

An established relationship between the instructor and learner increases the learner’s willingness to recognize how the feedback is relevant to his or her life. In his article, Michael Higley (2016), the Director of Assessment and Data at a Florida charter school, asserts that meaningful feedback “requires a partnership and trust between learner and instructor.”

In my post on satisfaction, I mentioned a couple instances in which it was difficult for me to receive feedback. Looking back, one reason it was hard to receive feedback was the lack of relationship between myself and my professors for those particular courses. In grad school, I formed stronger relationships with my professors, who proved themselves to be colleagues and mentors who wanted me to succeed beyond the classroom. As a result, I was more eager to receive and act on their feedback.  

Bringing a human factor into your online courses also adds another dimension of building relationships with students, which we’ll explore in more depth in my next post on instructor to learner feedback.

Feedback and Relevance

The second component of Keller’s ARCS Model is relevance. Professors Joseph Chesebro and James McCroskey observe that “we perceive something as being relevant if we perceive it is related to our personal needs (e.g., needs for affiliation, control, achievement) or our personal goals (e.g., career goals)” (2002, p. 83). Once your students see your feedback as relevant to their personal needs and goals, they will become more motivated to learn and remember the course content—and as a result, excel in the course. In turn, they’ll also be able to apply the lessons they learned from the course to their lives.

In his article, founder of eLearning Industry’s Network, Christopher Pappas, (2015) discusses the importance of placing learners in a position that mirrors the challenges they’ll face outside of class. He asserts, “It is more likely that [learners] will be forced to use this knowledge in their next job. This is why providing feedback that shows the impact of real decisions in a safe environment makes a world of difference” (Pappas 2015).

Last year I had the opportunity to take a Theatre Pedagogy course, which I loved! Every assignment—creating syllabi, lesson plans, an online portfolio, and developing and presenting lectures—was relevant to the challenges and daily activities I will face as a teacher, regardless of the learning environment. For each assignment, my professor provided relevant feedback that I used not only in the course, but which I continue to use as an Instructional Designer and an online Adjunct Instructor.           

Additional Tips:

I’ve discussed the importance of frequent, immediate, specific, and constructive feedback in both my previous series on Keller’s ARCS Model for Motivation and Charles Sander Peirce’s Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. However, Stenger (2014) and Anderson (2017) provide a few additional tips for providing personal, relevant feedback:

  • Use your students’ names
  • Address the student’s advancement toward a goal
  • Provide Epistemic Feedback- include prompts or questions for further thoughts,  explanation, or clarification

Until Next Time:

Stenger (2014) observes that when students have access to frequent, immediate, specific, and constructive feedback from an instructor they trust, “they develop an awareness of their learning, and are more easily able to recognize mistakes and eventually develop strategies for tackling weak points themselves.” In my next post, we’ll look at tools you can use to begin providing this type of feedback for your students.

What are some of the challenges or successes you’ve had with providing feedback to your students? What’s a way you strive to provide more personal, relevant feedback? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter!  


Anderson, A. (2017, February 23). 4 secrets to giving feedback online [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://blog.goreact.com/2017/02/23/4-secrets-to-giving-feedback-online/

Chesebro, J. L., & McCroskey, J. C. (Eds.). (2002). Communication for teachers. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Higley, M. (2016, April 3). Why meaningful online feedback is important. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/meaningful-online-feedback-important

Pappas, C. (2015, September 16). 6 ways to give constructive feedback in eLearning. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/6-ways-give-constructive-feedback-in-elearning

Stenger, M. (2014, August 6). 5 research-based tips for providing students with meaningful feedback. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/tips-providing-students-meaningful-feedback-marianne-stenger

Author: Ann Broda, Instructional Designer

Ann is pursuing her PhD in Communication through Regent University and also teaches speech online at Olivet Nazarene University. In her free time she enjoys spending time with family and friends, participating in theatre, drinking coffee, biking, traveling, and reading.

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