Immediate feedback and repetition in learning


One of our favorite quotes is from Anders Ericsson. He does research into the development of expertise or (as we often translate it) the research into excellent learning.

He claims that learners “… should receive immediate information feedback and knowledge of results of their performance.”*

But his next sentence is at least as important.

“The subjects should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.”

With DigLin+, we see how important it is to use these “rules” in literacy learning. The code must be cracked and this requires repetition and immediate feedback. And for literacy, also speed must be developed so that it is not only possible to “read” but also to understand what is being read. As long as grapheme-phoneme correspondence, analysis and synthesis take too long, there is no room in the working memory to give meaning to an entire sentence and to the meaning of the sentence in the whole text.

With  “paper” learning both of Anders Ericsson’s “rules” for effective learning are virtually impossible.

Suppose I make an excercise book with 300 pages and this is the content on each page:

Rule 1 is already going to be an issue here (immediate feedback) but rule 2 (repeating) is going to be a real problem. Who can I convince to complete this entire exercise book? Or even to fill in 50 pages? And with how much focus will a learner do this? How meaningful would this feel?

In most cases exercises only occur once or a few times in exercise books and it is almost impossible to repeat the same exercise. And actually all these exercises should be checked. Even if the feedback is not immediate it is important that there is feedback on the tasks performed.

But the question is also whether this delayed feedback on paper tasks will still have an effect. You are no longer within “the thinking” that has led to the erroneous conclusion that 7×9 is 64. That thinking should actually be corrected immediately. New “thinking” must arise immediately and that new thinking must lead to a correct answer.

We even see delayed feedback in a lot of digital material.

It is a bit like having a footballer practice on crosses but not showing the result of his actions. And then after 5 crosses we give feedback. The first was too hard, the second too high, the third was good… That makes learning complicated.

If there is direct feedback, a new attempt can be made immediately and improvements can be made there with small adjustments. If the cross goes well, an attempt can be made to repeat it and hold on to that. Eventually this leads to situations in which these crosses can always go well. It is quite possible to learn this without an “expert” because the quality here is so visible. You can see whether there is quality or not. No expert is needed to assess the quality.

Unfortunately in literacy learning this quality is not clear for learners. You need someone (a teacher) or something (a computer) to provide you with this feedback.

This immediate feedback (as long as it is given by a computer or is concluded by the learner himself) also does something else. Something fundamental. It provides more focus. It makes the task more challengeing. With immediate feedback you become curious about the result, it has a motivating effect. It invites you to do it again immediately. Better, faster, with fewer mistakes.

We see that when using the material of DigLin+ and Risk. Immediate feedback ensures that what you do is important. And sometimes you can literally hear that.

By the way, we have someone who has completed that exercise book with those 300 pages of times tables… But not on paper. A colleague has played this “game” an estimated 300 times. In one session you do all  the tables once. The challenge was to reach new records. This colleague has the “world record” 1:59 seconds with 0 errors. Each time he tried this there was immediate feedback and he could see if he got any better and faster. This led him to do this 300 times. Voluntarily…

Immediate information feedback and knowledge of results of their performance and repeatedly performing the same or similar tasks can lead to increased motivation and effective learning.

Jan Deutekom / Ineke van de Craats

*The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance (1993)

Try the calculus game yourself.

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