The importance of feedback for your learning

Whenever you are learning something new, there’s nothing more important than the feedback loop  – you need to know how you’re doing at your task. This helps you improve your learning process to bring that moment nearer when you’ll be able to say “Yes! Now I can do this.”

Feedback Loops And 'Learning'

A demonstration of what the right feedback loops and algorithms can do in machines.

I recently watched a video from Zurich.MINDS and really only got interested when Raffaello D’Angelo started talking about feedback loops in computerized machines.

For machines, feedback means knowing where you are and where you’re supposed to go. Based on that, you do what’s necessary to close the gap between the two. The video reminded me of a few tips to improve your learning.

Ask for regular feedback focused on improving your learning

You need feedback loops to run at a sufficient rate of speed or you’ll flounder. This is as true for students trying to figure out something new as it is for an airborn machine to remain in one spot – and also, it occurred to me as I watched the video, to keep a drunk person (possibly also a student) from falling over.

When you’re trying to learn, waiting until you ‘crash’ doesn’t get the best results. How often you need feedback depends on:

  • how difficult the topic is for you,
  • if you’re getting the right kind of feedback – and so, possibly on
  • whether you’re asking the right questions, that allow you to improve your understanding.

Your ultimate learning goal is to learn how to fish

It’s all too easy to get into a mire of details along the way of learning. At school there’s a tendency to focus on the next paper, the next test, … Schools need to get you to learn the fundamentals of a language, to program a computer. But what is your goal in learning those things? Well, in some cases, just to get out of school.

But you’ll be doing something after school, and refusing to dig into a topic because you don’t like the details is self-defeating. It’s not about “if this then that”. That’s just what you learn at first – one problem, one solution.

Algorithms (see video) are rules you can apply no matter what the circumstances are. Understand what rules you need – so you can learn those, and apply them correctly. Master the fundamentals. Learn to fish.

Where do you want your learning process to take you?

So when you ask for feedback, focus on one question: are you learning how to fish? If not, rephrase your question and see if you get better answers.

I once ran into a teacher who had a “one answer fits all” approach and repeated that answer word for word until you said you got it. If you push for an answer that makes sense to you and you get nothing, find another teacher 🙂

Is your learning process taking you where you want to go?


2 thoughts on “The importance of feedback for your learning

  1. What a great post – really quality stuff here. So relevant, and valuable a read.

    My boss always, ALWAYS makes a noise when I make a mistake or don’t do something properly according to how I understood her instructions but never, not ever praises. I’m tired of it, in truth. But as for feedback showing you where you are and should be going – I can see that completely: yes.

    • I can’t help wondering – giving praise (at work) is something people can start doing quite consciously. Then as they get positive reactions they keep it up. But to some it may seem artificial: “the best compliment is a job well done” is a great excuse to avoid an awkward situation.
      Maybe you could ask for feedback when you don’t hear a sound – and tell her it would help you to know what you’re doing right that time. For best results, find out first what is important to her, and why.
      You’ve got me thinking – thank you for that 🙂

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