How to Design Corporate Learning Feedback Loops

Feedback is essential to how humans operate. As we go about our lives, we encounter many cause and effect type of natural feedback loops. A certain event triggers a certain response, which in turn, becomes a trigger for another response, forming a long cause-effect chain. Ultimately, these chains benefit us as they guide our actions. Feedback loops in corporate learning, meanwhile, should work similarly. As learners complete tasks, we should provide them with positive or negative feedback, helping to adjust their future performance.

While feedback in general should always be of the growth type, it should also be timely and specific. Here’s a 4-step process on designing feedback in practice.

Everything should start with the aim

The aim of the learning is the most important thing to start with. A good learning objective unpacks and clearly communicates the learner what it is that they’re supposed to be striving for. Therefore, it’s vital to pay attention to the objectives already at the design stage. What do the people need to learn, and how does the particular learning resources contribute to achieving that. Every piece of material should always have an aim on its own too.

While knowledge-based objective tend to be the most common, we’d suggest trying to go a bit deeper. In organisations, learning is rarely important because of “knowing” but rather because of “doing”. Therefore, the objectives should be centred around doing too. In practical terms, this means setting up performance objectives in place of conventional learning objectives. Often, they are far less ambiguous and help to clearly communicate the expectations to the learner.

The feedback exchange

The next step for an effective feedback loop in corporate learning is to actually give feedback. First of all, feedback should always be specific. This means that rather than e.g. just pointing out that something went wrong, guiding the learners to the right path. Secondly, feedback should also be timely. The more often, the better. With different digital tools, it’s easy to build streams of feedback across a variety of activities. You can automate a lot of it, in fact.

Then again, feedback should also be non-evaluative to avoid any misunderstandings and keep the focus on getting back to the right path. Finally, all the feedback should be focused on the aims discussed above. If your feedback goes outside the framework of those aims, you might have to either revise the aims or making sure you’re sticking to the agreed-upon “rules”. It’s not fair to expect something out of the learners if you don’t clearly communicate it!

Give opportunities to revise and apply

For feedback to be effective, learners need to first of all identify the right course of action, and then get back on it. This means, that once feedback is given, there should be opportunities to try again. Hence, when designing your learning experiences, make sure the feedback is continuous. If feedback is only at the end, you might keep away the opportunity to improve. Rather, a good learning experience should include a number of ways to practice and apply the new knowledge. The learners would get real-time feedback of these activities, and be able to improve. Then, as another practice opportunity still remains, they can put the new knowledge into practice in a safe environment.

Again, digital tools and technologies grant a lot of possibilities in this space. One can use many different kinds of exercises and activities to give learners the needed space to revise and apply.

Reflection is a key to learning

Finally, one piece of corporate learning feedback loops that is often forgotten, is reflection. To form a closed loop, it’s important to look back at the initial aims and goals. Did learners achieve the given objectives? Did they grow their skills or increase in proficiency? Was learning put into practice?

Learners should, of course, be in the centre of this reflection activity. It’s important for them to grasp the process and their own performance. However, as learning designers, it’s our responsibility to build in such opportunities. Reflections may be personal and individual, but they could also be shared or facilitated digitally. This could for instance enable people to learn from each other’s reflection.

How to support feedback loops in corporate learning with technology?

Ultimately, technology helps us a great deal in designing for and facilitating good feedback processes. Things like digital surveys, social media tools, coaching assistants and personal learning analytics can provide very useful. On the content side, there are also tools like gamification, adaptive learning and scenario-based learning that build on the idea of rapid, continuous feedback. If you’d like to explore how to build better feedback loops for your organisation, get in touch here.