Feedback has multiple purposes and functions that make it an awkward process to define and implement. It is helpful to draw them out so we can readily identify why, what and when we need to provide this information to students.

In the video attached to this post we discuss the aims and functions of feedback and feedforward. Briefly:


  • offers students opportunities to learn from their responses to assessment tasks submitted and therefore looks backward;
  • Consists of information from a specific assessment performance that is ‘fed-back’ to the learner; and
  • Has two basic functions:
    • Tells students how well they have addressed the assessment task and explains the mark
    • Indicates how that work could have been improved.


  • Is a prospective function that looks forward to provide guidance to students so they can learn from (and capitalise on) each assessment activity or event and use that information for future assessment tasks; and
  • Students need to be able to make connections between assessment activities and tasks and how to apply what they have already learned to new tasks.

(See tipsheet Sadler and Davies: Developing Effective Feedback for Learning)

Working together feedforward and feedback support the cyclical or spiral process of complex learning which involves repeated attempts at something in order to develop proficiency in the task and effective self-judgement about how well we are doing it.

Remember, making sense of information to turn it into knowledge requires:

  • exploring how it fits with what we already know; and
  • practice applying it.

David Boud talks about the central role for learners in this process. He no longer sees them as just recipients of information, but active agents seeking “and using information from a variety of sources. It is …. a two‐way interaction between giver and receiver; and the involvement of peers, non-human sources and practitioners as well as teachers are required. Other parties are used not simply as information sources, but as a means whereby learners can calibrate their own judgements and create for themselves the expertise needed for further study and performance” (Boud, 2015).

According to Boud (2015), learners therefore need to be able to identify what they know, recognise what they don’t know, what they can do and not do. We help them develop and achieve these self-assessment skills by providing direct authentic experiences that require them to make specific judgements about work they have undertaken.

This is where our activities around feedforward and feedback come in. We all react differently to feedback (and the context in which it is delivered) and some key factors driving that reaction are whether we think it is relevant and whether we can do something with it. Targetting and shaping our comments, therefore, so students can see what they need to do next is critical.

Not all students intuitively see the connections between information contained in the feedforward, their next attempt at a task, the feedback offered, and how to use it in the future. This is where creating scaffolded opportunities for students to reflect on the feedforward and feedback and getting them to articulate what they will do to change their work because of the feedforward and/or feedback is useful.

Another learning activity that builds capacity through feedforward is getting students to explain content, ideas, concepts etc,, to others. It is often in the process of helping others understand something that students identify gaps in their own knowledge or gaps in their ways of communicating or demonstrating that knowledge. The real-time feedback they receive in this type of activity is invaluable because it can occur while they are forming their ideas and undertaking preliminary work for their assessment.

The trick here is to have a conversation with our students about feedforward and feedback and creating a group-held concept of what it looks like (including the forms you will employ) so that when you provide feedforward and feedback they recognise it and choose to use it (or not).

It is interesting that when asked what being engaged in their learning means to them, students have expressed the importance they place on interactions between themselves and their teachers that support or offer opportunities for feedback, facilitated learning, coaching and discussion about their work.


Consider: what feedforward opportunities could you design for students throughout your course that link small chunks of content or stages/portions of tasks with their formal assessment items.

Examine: what your assessment items are going to test and consider how you could focus your feedback on those characteristics.

Ask: will the combination of my learning activities, feedforward, assessment items and feedback leave my students better equipped to learn further?


In the following tipsheets I have compiled examples and types of feedforward and feedback; some do’s and don’ts about the process; and some ideas on how to focus feedback on specific aspects of students’ work.

Written feedback tips HEA

Crafting Feedback for Learning

Good Practice Guide Developing Effective Feedback Sadler

Hatties Four levels of feedback 

Using comments in feedback


Boud, D. (2015). ‘Feedback: Ensuring that it leads to enhanced learning’. The Clinical Teacher. 12, 3-7.

Sadler, D.R. (1989). ‘Formative Assessment and the design of instructional systems’. Instructional Science. 18(2), 119-44.

Sadler, D. Royce. (2010) ‘Beyond feedback: developing student capability in complex appraisal’. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 35(5), 535 — 550