Turning Feedback into Valuable Feedforward

Shreelekha Singh
July 17, 2024
6 min read

The idea of feedback is deeply embedded in the human psyche. Almost everything we do leads to some form of feedback. Whether it is getting recognition at your job, getting rebuked for a mistake at home, or something as common as getting likes on your Facebook/Instagram posts, we are running in a constant feedback loop that dictates how we evolve.

In the sphere of education, feedback is a compelling tool used for shaping students’ learning curve. But today, a fundamentally altered idea of feedback does not appeal to the learners’ innate impulse to grow. 

Advances in the education landscape worldwide have created a considerable buzz for the concept of feedforward as a viable alternative for feedback.



What is feedforward?

Simply put, feedforward looks at the future. This concept is rooted in the idea of moving forward with the help of suggestions for constant improvement. It counters the concept of feedback by eliminating the need for a response after the completion of any task or a grade after the performance. Instead, it redefines the entire give-take relationship between the reviewer and the reviewed.  

Marshall Goldsmith, a leadership coach, first developed the concept of feedforward for business leaders. Taking inspiration from the ideas enlisted in his books, Joe Hirsch condensed the ideas about past, present, and future in the book entitled The Feedback Fix. What’s common between both authors’ views is their emphatic emphasis on the idea of feedforward.

Hirsch defines feedforward as “a radical approach to sharing feedback that unleashes performance and potential of everyone around us”.


How does feedforward work?

In a learning environment, feedforward stokes the motivation to become better. It is rooted in the notion of a positive future rather than looking at the negatives of the past. This concept empowers students to envision their growth and create a roadmap for the same. 

To exemplify it with a classroom scenario, a teacher can give a week-long project work to the students. In a normal situation, the teacher would give feedback in the form of a score or a grade for all individuals.

Cut to the feedforward approach, the teacher will discuss the objectives of the project work and the expectations alongside holding regular discussions about every student’s progress on the work. In the process, they will talk about the areas of improvement for every project while appreciating the good work, if any.

feedback vs feedforward

Why does feedforward work? 

A, the students will not work on the project just for the sake of it. It is not uncommon for students to delay their assignments until the last minute and hurriedly put something together just to get the ‘passing marks’. 

The concept of feedforward endeavors to eliminate this counterproductive habit. Students will be motivated to put in the effort and learn from a project, even if it is only because they need to show their progress in class.

B, the students will not associate a project work with grades. The idea of writing an assignment or making a report has become so useless for most students that they often ‘outsource’ their work. In such a situation, there is absolutely no learning or growth. 

When a teacher engages with the learners regularly to discuss their progress and outcomes, it indirectly prompts the students to take their work seriously. It instills the idea of working for learning something rather than working for getting a grade.


How to implement feedforward in the classroom? 

Even with all the research that has and will go into improving the mechanism for feedback, the fact remains that it is retrospective. This signifies that feedback, in some ways, obstructs the recipient’s learning opportunities.

In stark contrast, feedforward is piecemeal. It allows students to rectify any errors or enhance any weaknesses in the process itself. This idea is premised on the notion that feedback is not simply a grade or a comment that you receive; it is a dialogic process of constant exchange of ideas.

Discussed below are a few ways to put this concept into action and assess its effectiveness through visible results.


1. Personalized discussions about the future

One of the most significant components of feedforward is to deliberate about the future. Interactive learning is always productive. By holding regular discussions with their students, teachers can instill the idea of positive change in a better manner.

The focus of these discussions, whether generic or about a specific project, should be on the scope for improvement. Sit with every student and give them your attention to discover what they are lacking and how they can improve. 

This exercise should always include at least two suggestions for positive change. This works best when evaluating student performance in an ongoing assignment or activity.


personalized discussions

2. Following the idea of plussing

Plussing is a brilliant activity to create a collaborative learning environment. Practiced among the elites of some of the biggest companies like Microsoft, this exercise is also relevant for schools and educational institutions. It allows a group of people to ideate and iterate without any judgmental feedback or language.

Instead of rejecting any idea upfront, participants have to think of improving the idea with something better.

As a potent tool to effect feedforward, plussing empowers teachers to create student-oriented assignments and assessments. It encourages a culture of constructive thinking. In a classroom, learners and teachers can sit together to bounce some ideas off each other. 


3. Planning for self-improvement

Marshall Goldsmith wrote, “Feedforward assumes that people can make positive changes in the future, whereas feedback tends to reinforce stereotyping, self-fulfilling prophecies, and feelings of failure”.

Teachers need to interpret this idea of feeding forward and shape their pedagogy accordingly. The student should be taught to focus on what can be done instead of what is in the past. Teachers can help build and encourage this outlook by emphasizing on self-improvement. 

In their interactions with the students, they can persuade the learners to plan for the future. For instance, set their goals for this academic session or decide on a subject that they want to improve. Positive change in the future is a fundamental idea in the feedforward concept.


4. Encouraging students’ interests to build potential

What most educators do not realize is that negative or unbiased feedback can potentially destroy an individual’s interests. With feedforward, the emphasis is on building the students’ interests and hobbies, transforming them into skills.

The best way to augment students’ potential is to be aware of their areas of interest and encourage them to find ways to pursue these interests. If, for instance, a student likes football. Then the teacher can motivate her or him to get formal training, watch games, and become better at the sport. 

Even if their interests are from outside the syllabus, teachers can encourage them to use the values they learn in the class.


Final Thoughts

Feedback is a thing of the past, both literally and figuratively. The need to amplify students’ learning outcomes calls for the idea of feedforward. It not only motivates the learners to put in their best efforts but also changes their outlook towards life. In a way, feedforward is a constructive reinterpretation of feedback that eliminates certain inapt aspects in the latter. 

Shreelekha Singh

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