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Feedback Strategies for
Interactive Learning Tasks
Learning and Instruction, Technische Universitaet Dresden, Germany
Feedback in Instructional Contexts: Deﬁnition..............................................................................................................126
A Conceptual Framework for Feedback in Interactive Instruction................................................................................127
Factors Affecting the Efﬁciency of External Feedback........................................................................................130
Requirements of Learning Tasks and Instructional Objectives...................................................................130
Internal Loop Factors: Prior Knowledge, Cognitive, Metacognitive, and Motivational Skills..................130
External Loop Factors: Instructional Goals, Diagnostic Procedures, Feedback Quality...........................131
Designing and Evaluating (Tutoring) Feedback.............................................................................................................132
Selecting and Specifying the Functions of External Feedback............................................................................132
Cognitive Functions .....................................................................................................................................133
Motivational Functions ................................................................................................................................134
Selecting and Specifying the Content of Feedback Elements..............................................................................135
Overview on Elaborated Feedback Components ........................................................................................135
Cognitive Task and Error Analyses .............................................................................................................136
Selecting and Specifying the Form and Mode of Feedback Presentation ...........................................................137
Immediate vs. Delayed Feedback Timing...................................................................................................137
Single Try vs. Multiple Try: Simultaneous vs. Sequential Presentation of Elaborated Feedback ............138
Adaptive vs. Nonadaptive Feedback Presentation ......................................................................................138
Unimodal vs. Multimodal Feedback Presentation ......................................................................................139
Implications for Evaluating (Tutoring) Feedback.................................................................................................139
In J. M. Spector, M. D. Merrill, J. J. G. van Merriënboer, & M. P. Driscoll (2008) (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Educational Communications and Technology (pp. 125-144). Mahwah, NJ: LEA.
Modern information technologies increase the range
of feedback strategies that can be implemented in com-
puter-based learning environments; however, the
design and implementation of feedback strategies are
very complex tasks that are often based more on intu-
ition than on psychologically sound design principles.
The purpose of this chapter is to present theoretically
and empirically based guidelines for the design and
evaluation of feedback strategies. To this end, this
chapter describes an interactive, two-feedback-loop
model that explains core factors and effects of feed-
back in interactive instruction (Narciss, 2006). Based
on these theoretical considerations, a multidimensional
view of designing and evaluating multiples feedback
strategies under multiple individual and situational
conditions is presented. This multidimensional view
integrates recommendations of prior research on elab-
orated feedback (Schimmel, 1988; Smith and Ragan,
1993), task analyses (Jonassen et al., 1999), error anal-
yses (VanLehn, 1990), and tutoring techniques (McK-
endree, 1990; Merrill et al., 1992).
System theory concerned with the issues
of regulation, order, and stability confronting us in
the treatment of complex systems and processes.
Output of a system that is fed back to the
controller of the system as an input signal to reg-
ulate the system with regard to a reference value
(cybernetic deﬁnition); post-response information
that is provided to learners to inform them of their
actual state of learning or performance (instruc-
Informative tutoring feedback:
strategies providing elaborated feedback compo-
nents that guide the learner toward successful task
completion without offering immediately the cor-
Interactive learning task:
Tasks providing multiple
response steps or tries and instructional compo-
nents such as feedback, guiding questions,
prompts, simulation facilities, and so on.
For almost a century researchers have investigated the
factors and effects of feedback involved in instruc-
tional contexts; consequently, the body of feedback
research is very large. This large body of feedback
research has been examined and revisited extensively
by Edna Mory in previous editions of this Handbook
(Mory, 1996, 2004). As space is restricted, the body
of feedback research that was included in these previ-
ous reviews will be not revisited in detail here, but the
insights of this research will be organized and outlined
on the basis of a conceptual framework for designing
and evaluating feedback for interactive learning tasks.
To introduce this conceptual framework, deﬁnitions of
will be discussed ﬁrst.
FEEDBACK IN INSTRUCTIONAL
is a widely used concept in many
technical and scientiﬁc domains (e.g., economics, elec-
tronics, biology, medicine, psychology). The concept
of feedback is derived from cybernetics (Wiener,
1954), which is concerned with the control of sys-
tems—that is, with issues of regulation, order, and
stability that arise in the context of complex systems
and processes. In cybernetics, feedback refers to the
output of a system that is fed back to the controller of
the system as an input signal. This input/feedback sig-
nal closes the feedback loop and, in combination with
an externally deﬁned reference value, controls the sys-
tem. In addition to the reference value and the feedback
signal, the controller and the variable to be controlled
are key elements. The controller stores the reference
value, compares it with the current actual value, and,
on the basis of this comparison, assesses what correc-
tion is required; hence, the effects of a feedback signal
depend not only on this feedback signal but also all
the other functional elements of the causal loop.
Since the development of Thorndike’s (1913) law
of effect, it has become well established in psychology
that the consequences of a behavior may inﬂuence the
rate and intensity of that behavior in future situations.
In the domain of learning and instruction, feedback
has been considered to be either a fundamental prin-
ciple for efﬁcient learning (Andre, 1997; Bilodeau,
1969; Bloom, 1976; Fitts, 1962; Taylor, 1987) or at
least as an important element of instruction (Collies et
al., 2001; Dick et al., 2001).
Some instructional researchers consider feedback
in instructional contexts to be any type of information
that is provided to learners after they have responded
to a learning task (Wager and Wager, 1985). This
notion of feedback is far too large because of the large
variety of post-response information, and it does not
include the idea that the information is presented with
the purpose of allowing the learner to compare his or
her actual outcome with a desired outcome to regulate
Feedback Strategies for Interactive Learning Tasks
or control the next attempt with this learning task.
Experimental researchers thus use a more limited
notion of feedback. They use the term
to refer to all post-response stimuli that are
provided to a learner by an external source of infor-
mation, according to experimentally deﬁned rules and
conditions, to inform the learner on his or her actual
state of learning or performance (Annett, 1969; Bilo-
deau, 1969; Holding, 1965).
According to the cybernetic and experimental deﬁ-
nitions, a general deﬁnition for feedback in instructional
contexts might be as follows:
Feedback is all post-
response information that is provided to a learner to
inform the learner on his or her actual state of learning
In instructional contexts, this deﬁnition
of feedback requires the differentiation among feedback
presented by an external source of information and feed-
back provided by internal sources of information (i.e.,
information directly perceivable by the learner while
task processing, such as proprioceptive information
when performing a pointing task). This differentiation
is particularly important from a methodological point
of view; consequently, in early experimental feedback
studies researchers tried to eliminate or control internal
sources of feedback to investigate the effects of external
feedback on learning and performance (for a review, see
Bilodeau, 1969). The differentiation among external and
internal feedback is also crucial if one investigates the
effects of feedback on the basis of recent instructional
models viewing the process of knowledge acquisition
as a process of active knowledge construction and com-
munication (Jonassen, 1999) or as a self-regulated learn-
ing process (Butler and Winne, 1995). This differentia-
tion should be kept in mind when revisiting feedback
research and considering feedback strategies.
External feedback may conﬁrm or complement the
internal feedback, or it may contradict the internal
feedback. The latter case raises at least three questions:
•How do learners treat or cope with the dis-
crepancy between internal and external feed-
•What individual and situational factors con-
tribute to a discrepancy between external and
•How can we design and evaluate feedback
strategies that support learners regulating
their learning process successfully if there is
a discrepancy between internal and external
The ﬁrst question has been addressed implicitly by
the response certitude model of Kulhavy and his col-
laborators (Kulhavy and Stock, 1989; Kulhavy et al.,
1990a,b; Stock et al., 1992) and by the ﬁve-stage
model of mindful feedback processing (Bangert-
Drowns et al., 1991). Furthermore, it was explicitly
the focus of Butler and Winne’s theoretical synthesis
regarding feedback and self-regulated learning (Butler
and Winne, 1995). These models have been described
and discussed in detail in Mory’s prior reviews (Mory,
The second question has been answered indirectly
as a result of meta-analyses that showed that external
feedback effects are not always positive and thus tried
to identify possible moderators for the efﬁciency of
external feedback (Bangert-Drowns et al., 1991;
Kluger and DeNisi, 1996). The insights of these meta-
analyses are integrated in the conceptual framework
The third question, one of the most crucial ques-
tions for instructional design and practice, has been in
part addressed by researchers developing and evaluat-
ing intelligent tutoring systems (ITS). Detailed reviews
of the insights of ITS research are provided by Ander-
son et al. (1995) and VanLehn et al. (2005); see also
Chapters 24 and 27 in this Handbook. Core issues and
insights from prior research with regard to this ques-
tion are discussed below.
A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK
FOR FEEDBACK IN
This section focuses on feedback for interactive (com-
puter-based) learning tasks that is provided by an exter-
nal source of information (e.g., an instructional pro-
gram, a teacher) to contribute to the regulation of the
learning process in such a way that learners acquire the
knowledge and skills required to master these tasks. As
elaborated in the next sections, internal feedback is
considered an important factor for treating the infor-
mation provided by the external feedback. Conceptu-
alizing feedback as an instructional activity that aims
at contributing to the regulation of a learning process
makes it possible to use the core insights provided by
models of instruction and self-regulated learning
(Bloom,1976; Boekaerts, 1996; Carroll, 1963) to ana-
lyze possible factors and effects of informative feed-
back. Instructional models are based on the assumption
that the effects an instructional activity can have are
determined by the quality of the instructional activity
(e.g., scope, nature, and structure of the information
provided and form of presentation), individual learning
prerequisites (e.g., previous knowledge, metacognitive
strategies, motivational dispositions, and strategies),
and situational factors in the instructional setting
(instructional goals, learning content, and tasks). The
current conceptual framework links these issues with
systems theory and attempts to integrate ﬁndings from
systems theory with recommendations from prior
research on elaborated feedback (Schimmel, 1988;
Smith and Ragan, 1993), on task analysis (Jonassen et
al., 1999), on error analysis (VanLehn, 1990), and on
tutoring techniques (Anderson, et al., 1995; McKen-
dree, 1990; Merrill et al., 1992; VanLehn et al., 2005).
The basic components of a generic feedback loop serve
as the starting point for formulating a feedback model
with two interacting feedback loops: the interactive,
two-feedback-loop (ITFL) model:
• Identiﬁcation or deﬁnition of the variables
that should be controlled
• Continuous measurement of these controlled
variables by a sensor
• Feedback of the actual values of the con-
trolled variables to a controller
• Reference value for each controlled variable
that is predeﬁned and stored in the controller
• Comparison of the actual values of the con-
trolled variables with (predeﬁned) reference
values by the controller
If there is a discrepancy between the actual and
the reference value, the controller must transform this
discrepancy into a control action.
•Transmission of this control action to a con-
trol element (control actuator)
•Execution of the control action by a control
According to systems theory, the control actuator
that carries out the control actions, the controlled vari-
ables, and a sensor that measures the controlled vari-
able are key elements of the controlled process. To
regulate the controlled process, the controller requires
the reference value, the actual value provided by feed-
back, and comparison and transformation procedures
for generating the control actions.
In the ITFL model, the controlled process is
deﬁned as the carrying out of learning tasks or the
mastering of the demands associated with these tasks.
Building on models of self-regulated learning (Boe-
kaerts, 1996) as well as the approach of Butler and
Winne (1995), this model distinguishes among cogni-
tive, motivational, and metacognitive demands (see
Figure 11.1). Quantiﬁable controlled variables for
these criteria could include carefully deﬁned and oper-
ationalized cognitive, metacognitive, or motivational
indicators of mastery of particular task requirements.
Overview of the components of the ITFL model. (From Narciss, S.,
Informatives tutorielles Feedback. Entwicklungs-
und Evaluationsprinzipien auf der Basis instruktionspsychologischer Erkenntnisse (Informative Tutoring Feedback)
Münster, 2006. With permission.)
• Cognitive performance criteria
• Processes internal reference value and internal feedback
• Compares internal reference value and internal feedback
• Compares external feedback and internal reference value
• Compares internal and external feedback
• Generates internal control action
• Meta-cognitive performance criteria
• Motivational criteria
• Processess external reference value and feedback
• Compares external reference value and feedback
• Generates external control action
External Reference Value
External Representation of
• Instructional goals
• Instructional content and tasks
= External Control Action
of Actual Output
of Actual Output
Subjective Representation of
• Cognitive, metacognitive
Internal Reference Value
Internal Control Action
Mastery of Learning Task Requirements
Feedback Strategies for Interactive Learning Tasks
When regulatory paradigms from systems theory
are applied to an instructional context containing exter-
nal feedback, two interacting feedback loops must be
considered: (1) an internal feedback loop that pro-
cesses internal feedback, or the actual values to which
the learner has direct access (e.g., conﬁdence in
answers, perceived effort); and (2) an external feed-
back loop that processes the actual values determined
by the learning medium (e.g., the instructor, learning
A distinction between external and internal feed-
back loops means that it is also necessary to differen-
tiate between the following elements:
—Internal and external feedback
loops require a diagnostic component that
registers the actual values of the controlled
—Control of internal and
external feedback loops can only be carried
out on the basis of relevant reference values.
In the ITFL model, it is assumed that internal
reference values are generated on the basis
of a subjective representation of the demands
of learning tasks, whereas external reference
values are based on an external representa-
tion of these demands. Subjective task rep-
resentations are mainly governed by
individual prerequisites such as existing
knowledge, metacognitive and motivational
strategies, and individual learning goals.
External representations of task demands are
closely related to the features of an instruc-
tional context, particularly to the speciﬁc
—For the actual values registered
by the internal and external sensors to be
processed, each requires a component in
which reference and actual values can be
compared; thus, both external and internal
controllers in which this process can be car-
ried out are needed.
In an instructional context that provides external infor-
mative feedback, the differentiations made in the ITFL
model lead to the following assumptions regarding the
interaction between internal and external feedback loops:
•The starting points for internal and external
regulatory processes are the relevant con-
trolled variables for the particular controlled
process (i.e., mastery of learning task
• The actual value of the controlled variable
or variables is registered by both the
learner and by an external actor such as an
instructor or a computer-based instruc-
• External actual values are initially pro-
cessed externally in the external controller
of the teaching medium. The external ref-
erence value, the comparison between the
reference value and the actual value, and
the externally speciﬁed rules for calculat-
ing the correction value determine the ini-
tial value of the external controller. This
initial value, which in systems theory
would be referred to as an
, is fed to the internal control-
ler as external feedback.
• This external feedback is processed in the
internal controller along with the internal
actual value (i.e., internal feedback). This
means that several comparisons must be car-
ried out by the internal controller. These
include comparisons between:
• Internally measured actual value (internal
feedback) and internal reference value
• External feedback and internal feedback
• External feedback and internal reference
• From these comparison processes a correc-
tion variable (i.e., an internal correction
variable) must be generated. The learner’s
main task in this case is to locate the source
of any discrepancies that are detected
between these various values. Such dis-
crepancies can occur when, for example,
internal or external sensors register feed-
back values inaccurately, the quality of
internal or external feedback is poor, or the
subjective task representation is incorrect
or imprecise and thus leads to incorrect
reference values. The results of this causal
analysis are important for calculating the
internal correction variable. This means
that the internal correction variable is the
result of a number of internal processing
• The internal correction variable is channeled
to the ﬁrst stage of the controlled pro-
cess—the control element—where it serves
as the basis for selection and activation of
corrective measures. These corrective mea-
sures can in turn have an impact on the con-
Factors Affecting the Efﬁciency
of External Feedback
The assumptions of the ITFL model lead to the con-
clusion that the efﬁcient regulation of task processing
with external feedback may be affected by factors of
both the internal and the external feedback loops. Both
feedback loops contribute to the regulation of the same
controlled process, which is characterized by the
requirements of the learning tasks.
Requirements of Learning Tasks
and Instructional Objectives
As mentioned above, the starting point for both feed-
back loops is the controlled process, which can be
more or less complex depending on the requirements
of the learning tasks and the instructional objectives.
For a system to be regulated successfully, it is crucial
that its controlled process be described carefully and
precisely. At the same time, it is necessary to deﬁne
which variables will serve as controlled variables that
will be measured and regulated, how these are to be
measured, and the procedures through which correc-
tions are to be carried out. In instructional contexts,
this involves initially analyzing exactly what require-
ments are associated with the instructional content,
goals, and tasks. Moreover, to select corrective mea-
sures for the regulation of controlled variables, the
errors and difﬁculties that could arise in connection
with mastering task requirements must also be identi-
ﬁed, as well as the information and strategies that are
necessary to eliminate these errors or difﬁculties.
Instructional content, goals, and tasks may be more
or less complex concerning their requirements.
Bloom’s revised version of the taxonomy of learning
objectives may serve as a basis for categorizing task
requirements (Anderson et al., 2001). Analyzing learn-
ing task requirements on the basis of this taxonomy
makes it clear that it is more difﬁcult to identify pre-
cisely the content-related, cognitive, metacognitive,
and motivational requirements for complex tasks (i.e.,
those that require higher order, content-related knowl-
edge or operations) than for simple tasks. As a conse-
quence, one may assume that the internal and external
feedback loops might function less efﬁciently for com-
plex learning tasks. The notion that task complexity
affects the internal feedback loop was, for example,
identiﬁed in Mory’s studies, which aimed at general-
izing Kulhavy and Stock’s model of response certitude
(Mory, 1994, 1996, 2004). Mory found that for higher
order learning tasks, students’ response certitude could
not be used as a reliable measure for adapting feed-
back, because students were not able to assess their
answers to these tasks correctly (in terms of the ITFL
model, they were not able to generate a reliable internal
This assumption is also reﬂected in many studies
on elaborated feedback that were conducted to inves-
tigate the hypothesis that elaborated feedback is more
effective with more complex tasks; however, results of
these studies are rather mixed (see reviews by Azevedo
and Bernard, 1995; Bangert-Drowns et al., 1991;
Mory, 1996, 2004). Yet, feedback studies that devel-
oped elaborated feedback on the basis of thorough
analyses of task requirements generally found the
developed elaborated feedback types to be superior to
simple outcome feedback (Birenbaum and Tatsuoka,
1987; Nagata, 1993, 1997; Nagata and Swisher, 1995;
Narciss, 2004, 2006; Narciss and Huth, 2004, 2006).
In some studies, however, with very complex and dif-
ﬁcult tasks or with serious errors, elaborated feedback
was not efﬁcient even if it was developed on the basis
of task analyses (Birenbaum and Tatsuoka, 1987; Clar-
iana and Lee, 2001; Nagata, 1997).
Internal Loop Factors: Prior Knowledge, Cognitive,
Metacognitive, and Motivational Skills
According to the ITFL model, the learner’s represen-
tation of task requirements, the learner’s ability to
assess his or her responses (quality of the internal
sensor), the learner’s abilities and strategies with
regard to analyzing and comparing internal and exter-
nal information and identifying corrective actions
(quality of the internal controller), and, ﬁnally, the
learner’s abilities and motivation in applying these cor-
rective actions (quality of the control actuator) are core
factors contributing to the efﬁciency of the internal
feedback loop. All internal factors inﬂuence the exter-
nal feedback loop because the two loops interact.
Subjective Task Representation: Prior Knowledge
The starting point for processes in the internal control-
ler is a precise deﬁnition of reference values of con-
trolled variables. These reference values are generated
on the basis of how learners understand and represent
the requirements of the learning tasks. Meaningful ref-
erence values can only be generated if the subjective
representation of task requirements is adequate.
Whether learners are able to represent task require-
ments adequately and precisely depends on the com-
plexity of these requirements but also on individual
factors such as prior knowledge, metacognitive knowl-
edge, and strategies and motivation. How much indi-
vidual difference in subjective task representations
affects the impact of feedback on learning is an inter-
esting question for future research.
Feedback Strategies for Interactive Learning Tasks
Learners’ Self-Assessment Skills
Comparing the reference values with the actual values
of controlled variables yields meaningful information
only if the actual values of the controlled variables are
determined accurately. In the internal loop, this depends
a great deal on learners’ abilities or skills in assessing
their responses and performance (Mory, 1996, 2004).
Learners must identify indicators for each task require-
ment that can help them evaluate the extent to which
the task requirements are fulﬁlled. How external feed-
back may support the acquisition of self-assessment
skills is another interesting issue for future research.
Learners’ Skills and Strategies
in Information Processing
To generate an appropriate control action, learners must
compare the internal and external feedback, the internal
feedback and reference values, and the external feedback
and the internal reference values. As discussed in the
ﬁve-stage model of mindful feedback processing
(Bangert-Drowns et al., 1991) and in Butler and Winne’s
(1995) synthesis on feedback and self-regulated learning,
many individual factors may affect how learners process
these informational components, particularly when dis-
crepancies exist between the different components.
Learners’ Will and Skills in
Overcoming Errors and Obstacles
As shown in studies on feedback seeking, even the
most sophisticated feedback is useless if learners do
not attend to it (Aleven et al., 2003; Narciss et al.,
2004) or are not willing to invest time and effort in
error correction. In addition to having the will, students
also need the skills necessary to fulﬁll the requirements
related to error correction. Butler and Winne (1995)
derived six maladaptive ways of feedback seeking and
processing from Chinn and Brewer’s (1993) work on
how misconceptions may hinder conceptual change:
Students may (1) ignore the external feedback, (2)
reject the external feedback, (3) judge the external
feedback irrelevant, (4) consider external and internal
feedback to be unrelated, (5) reinterpret external feed-
back to make it conform to the internal feedback, or
(6) make superﬁcial rather than fundamental changes
to their knowledge or beliefs. In all these cases, the
effect of the external feedback will be small.
External Loop Factors: Instructional Goals,
Diagnostic Procedures, Feedback Quality
In addition to these internal loop factors, the ITFL
model attracts attention to external loop factors that
might affect the efﬁciency of both feedback loops.
These include the external representation of task
requirements related to the instructional goals; the
accuracy of the diagnostic procedures assessing learn-
ers’ responses (equal to the quality of the external
sensor); the teaching medium abilities and strategies
with regard to analyzing learners’ responses—namely,
errors—and identifying corrective actions with regard
to these errors (quality of the external controller); and,
ﬁnally, the teaching medium’s ability in communicat-
ing these corrective actions (equal to the quality of the
External Representation of Task
Requirements and Instructional Goals
The starting point for processes in the external con-
troller is a precise deﬁnition of reference values of
controlled variables. In the external loop, these refer-
ence values are generated on the basis of how the
instructional medium (e.g., teacher, computer-based
learning environment) represents the requirements of
the learning tasks. As in the internal loop, meaningful
reference values can only be generated if the represen-
tation of task requirements is adequate. This means
that learning goals must be operationalized in such a
way that valid and reliably veriﬁable learning out-
comes can be deﬁned in the form of reference values.
As mentioned above, this might be more difﬁcult for
more complex task requirements.
Accuracy of Diagnostic Procedures
In the external loop, the controlled variables must
also be diagnosed accurately to make the comparison
between the reference values with the actual values
of controlled variables meaningful. This, in turn,
means that the indicators appropriate for measuring
different levels of mastery in a valid and reliable way
must be determined. How challenging an accurate
diagnosis might be is elicited in a recent study of
Chi et al. (2004) on the accuracy of human tutors.
Chi and her colleagues found that tutors were only
able to assess students’ understanding from their own
perspective, and they were not able to diagnose stu-
dents’ alternative understanding from the perspective
of the students’ knowledge.
Quality of External Data Processing
and Feedback Design
If a discrepancy between the actual and reference val-
ues of controlled variables is detected, a correction
variable must be deﬁned. A key issue here is how well
the external controller (i.e., the learning medium) is
able to transform this discrepancy value into a correc-
tion variable that has a high level of information rele-
vant to mastering the task requirements. Especially
with difﬁcult and complex learning tasks, a series of
transformations may be necessary so learners can
obtain information about the external correction vari-
able (external feedback) that they can use to correct
errors or overcome obstacles. The starting point for
the necessary transformational steps is precise knowl-
edge of the controlled process. It is necessary to know
which factors, in the sense of controlled variables, are
responsible for the system’s performance and thus
must be addressed by the correction variable—that is,
the external feedback.
DESIGNING AND EVALUATING
Researchers used a large variety of feedback types.
Widely used feedback types include:
Knowledge of performance
learners with a summative feedback after
they have responded to a set of tasks. This
feedback contains information on the
achieved performance level for this set of
tasks (e.g., percentage of correctly solved
Knowledge of result/response
learners with information on the correctness
of their actual response (e.g., correct/incor-
Knowledge of the correct response
provides the correct answer to the given task.
vides KR and offers the opportunity of fur-
ther tries with the same task until the task is
(MTF) provides KR
and offers the opportunity of a limited num-
ber of further tries with the same task.
(EF) provides addi-
tional information besides KR or KCR.
Complex elaborated feedback exists in multiple forms
and is thus related to a large if not fuzzy set of mean-
ings. Several authors have attempted to classify the
numerous feedback types (Dempsey et al., 1993; Kul-
havy and Stock, 1989; Mason and Bruning, 2001;
Schimmel, 1988). There is some congruency with
regard to classifying simple feedback types such as
KR or KCR, even though these feedback types are
sometimes denoted by different terms (e.g., knowledge
of result, conﬁrmation feedback, simple veriﬁcation
feedback, knowledge of the correct answer/response).
The various classiﬁcations differ, however, in how they
organize the different types of elaborated feedback:
Kulhavy and Stock (1989) differentiate among
elaborated information, which in cases of mul-
tiple-choice tasks is considered to be knowledge of the
mation (e.g., hints to the section of the instructional
text that is relevant for answering the task); and
elaborated information, which goes
beyond the instructional text and might, for example,
address metacognitive strategies. Mason and Bruning
(2001) differentiate among the following elaborated
veriﬁcation and general information concerning the
(provides KR, KCR, and
explanations as to why answers are correct or incor-
(provides KR and error-speciﬁc
information) (Schimmel, 1988), and
(provides KR and highlights the relevant attributes of
the concept) (Merrill, 1987).
Comparing these classiﬁcations reveals that feed-
back types can vary in functional, content-related, and
formal characteristics. One may conclude that the
nature and quality of an external feedback message is
determined by at least three facets of feedback: (1)
functional aspects related to instructional objectives
(e.g., cognitive functions such as promoting informa-
tion processing, motivational functions such as rein-
forcing correct responses or sustaining effort and per-
sistence); (2) semantic aspects related to the content
of the feedback message (e.g., frequency, timing,
mode, amount, form); and (3) formal and technical
aspects related to the presentation of the feedback mes-
sage (Narciss, 2006; Narciss and Huth, 2004).
The purposes of the following sections are (1) to
present principles for selecting and specifying the
functional, content-related, and formal dimensions of
elaborated feedback components that can be imple-
mented in a tutoring feedback algorithm, and (2) to
outline implications for future feedback research.
Selecting and Specifying the
Functions of External Feedback
Different theoretical frameworks use different types of
feedback and attribute different functions to feedback
in learning situations. From a behavioral viewpoint,
feedback is considered to reinforce correct responses.
In behavioral learning contexts, the focus of interest
is therefore more on formal and technical feedback
characteristics such as frequency and delay than on the
complexity of the feedback contents; hence, behavioral
studies use outcome-related feedback types such as
knowledge of result or knowledge of the correct
Feedback Strategies for Interactive Learning Tasks
response (for a review, see Kulik and Kulik, 1988).
From a cognitive viewpoint, feedback is considered a
source of information necessary for the correction of
incorrect responses (Anderson et al., 1971; Kulhavy
and Stock, 1989). The question of which type of elab-
orated feedback information is most efﬁcient is of
major interest in cognitive feedback studies; however,
in most of these studies even elaborated informative
feedback has only been conceptualized as seeking to
conﬁrm or change a learner’s domain knowledge.
Feedback models that view feedback in the context of
self-regulated learning theorize that the most important
function of feedback is tutoring or guiding the learner
to regulate the learning process successfully (Butler
and Winne, 1995).
This brief summary of prior research reveals that
feedback can affect the learning process at various
levels, and can therefore have numerous different func-
tions. For this reason, a number of authors have made
more subtle distinctions (Butler and Winne, 1995;
Cusella, 1987; Sales, 1993; Wager and Mory, 1993)
(see Table 11.1). A comparison of these differentiated
treatments of feedback functions reveals that all of
these authors advocate feedback as an acknowledging
or reinforcing function, an informing function, and
some form of guiding or steering function. Moreover,
all of them have postulated a regulatory or correcting
function for feedback. In addition, Cusella (1987),
Sales (1993), and Wager and Mory (1993) drew atten-
tion to the motivational and instructional function of
feedback. Butler and Winne (1995) described at least
three subfunctions of the instructing function (tuning
or completing, differentiating, and restructuring). In
addition, these authors have pointed out that feedback
can activate metacognitive processes such as monitor-
ing or information seeking.
If external informative feedback is viewed from
the standpoint of the current ITFL model, it becomes
clear that as a general rule multiple feedback functions
come into play simultaneously, according to how the
controlled and command variables are deﬁned. On the
basis of the models of good information processors
(Pressley, 1986), intelligent novices (Mathan and
Koedinger, 2005), and self-directed learning (Boe-
kaerts, 1996), possible feedback functions can be
deﬁned from the cognitive, metacognitive, and moti-
vational standpoints. Because ﬁner differentiations of
feedback functions make it possible to work out which
information will be useful in which settings, careful
selection and speciﬁcation of the intended feedback
functions provide the basis for designing tutorial feed-
In the case of complex tasks, incorrect answers and
solutions can occur for widely varying reasons (Van-
Lehn, 1990). The content-related, procedural, or stra-
tegic knowledge elements that a learner needs to arrive
at a correct solution may be lacking, erroneous, or
imprecise. The necessary knowledge elements may
also be incorrectly linked or the conditions for their
use incorrect or ill-deﬁned. Feedback can offer infor-
mation on all of these aspects. A distinction can be
made between the following cognitive feedback func-
tions in connection with incorrect responses:
• An informative function in cases where the
number, location, and type of error or reason
for the error are unknown
•A completion function in cases where the
error is attributable to lack of content-
related, procedural, or strategic knowledge
and the feedback provides information on
the missing knowledge
•A corrective function in cases where the
error is attributable to erroneous content or
erroneous procedural or strategic elements
and the feedback provides information that
can be used to correct the erroneous ele-
•A differentiation function in cases where the
error is attributable to imprecise content-
related, procedural, or strategic knowledge
elements and the feedback provides infor-
mation that allows for clariﬁcation of the
•A restructuring function in cases where the
error is attributable to erroneous connections
between content, procedural, or strategic ele-
ments and the feedback provides informa-
tion that can be used to restructure these
incorrectly connected elements.
Feedback Functions in Four Sources
Butler and Winne
According to Butler and Winne (1995), external feed-
back can have numerous metacognitive functions apart
from those listed in Table 11.1; for example, external
feedback can address metacognitive strategies and their
deployment options, provide criteria for monitoring and
evaluating goals, or motivate learners to generate their
own monitoring related information. In addition, it can
serve as a basis for assessing the suitability of solution
strategies employed or of error search and correction
strategies; hence, at least the following feedback func-
tions can be differentiated from each other with regard
to mastery of metacognitive requirements:
• An informative function in cases where
metacognitive strategies or the conditions
for their use are unknown and feedback pro-
vides information about metacognitive strat-
•A speciﬁcation function in cases where feed-
back provides criteria for monitoring goals
or where conditions for the use of speciﬁc
solution strategies or metacognitive strate-
gies are speciﬁed
•A corrective function in cases where errors
have arisen in the use of metacognitive strat-
egies and the feedback provides information
that can be used to correct erroneous strate-
•A guiding function in cases where learners
are encouraged (e.g., through leading ques-
tions) to generate their own criteria for mon-
itoring or evaluation or to assess the
suitability of their own solution strategies or
Recent studies on the effects of feedback addressing
metacognitive processes and strategies have provided
mixed results (Roll et al., 2006; van den Boom et al.,
Even though feedback has been assigned an important
role for both achievement and motivation (Hoska,
1993; Kluger and DeNisi, 1996; Mory, 1996), most
studies on external informative feedback have focused
on learner achievement and neglected the impact of
feedback on motivation. At the motivational level,
however, it is crucial, despite errors and the resulting
negative effect, to maintain the level of effort, persis-
tence, and intensity of task processing. Many theories
of motivation suggest that perceived values of task
processing and self-perceptions of competence are cru-
cial factors in learners’ motivation (Pintrich, 2003).
Generally, all types of feedback contain an evalu-
ative feedback component (i.e., information regarding
the correctness or quality of the solution) that reveals
success or failure in task processing. Feedback thus
has an impact on the attainment value of the task that
might result in more effort or strategy investment and
might affect performance. Symonds and Chase (1929)
and Brown (1932) reported supportive results for this
motivational effect of feedback. Recently, a study of
Vollmeyer and Rheinberg (2005) revealed that this
impact of feedback is present even if feedback is
merely announced. Moreover, Ulicsak (2004) found
that students spent more time reﬂecting group activi-
ties if they believed that the instructional system
observes them and will provide feedback.
If feedback provides additional elaborated com-
ponents that guide learners to successful task com-
pletion without immediately providing knowledge of
the correct response, it offers mastery experiences
that can be linked to personal causation. As such,
mastery experiences are considered the most impor-
tant source for developing a positive self-efﬁcacy—in
other words, positive perceptions of competence
(Bandura, 1997; Usher and Pajares, 2006). Feedback
may also affect how the difﬁculty of such tasks, the
prospects of success, and the attributions of success
or failure are assessed in future situations; hence, at
least the following basic motivational functions
should be considered when evaluating informative
• An incentive function, in that feedback ren-
ders the results of task processing visible
•A task facilitation function to contribute
information for overcoming task difﬁculties
•A self-efﬁcacy enhancing function, if it pro-
vides information that makes it possible to
master tasks successfully, even if errors are
committed or difﬁculties arise
•A reattribution function, if it provides infor-
mation that contributes to mastery experi-
ences that can be linked to personal
In addition to informative elaborated feedback
types, a variety of motivational elaborated feedback
types has been investigated by motivational research-
ers. Such motivational feedback types include reattri-
bution feedback (Dresel and Ziegler, 2006; Schunk,
1983); mastery-oriented feedback, which makes
learner’s progress visible (Schunk and Rice, 1993);
and task vs. competence feedback (Sansone, 1986,
Feedback Strategies for Interactive Learning Tasks
1989; Senko and Harackiewitz, 2005). In summary,
elaborated motivational feedback components that had
a positive impact on learners’ motivation (namely, on
perceptions of competence) (1) stressed the relation
between effort, ability, and success; (2) made progress
visible; (3) provided task information rather than per-
formance information; or (4) elicited goal discrepancy.
Selecting and Specifying the
Content of Feedback Elements
In general, the content of a feedback message may
consist of two components (Kulhavy and Stock, 1989).
The ﬁrst component, the
or, in Kulhavy’s
component, relates to the learn-
ing outcome and indicates the performance level
achieved (e.g., correct/incorrect response, percentage
of correct answers, and distance to the learning crite-
rion). This component is attributed a controlling func-
tion (Keller, 1983). The second component, the
component, consists of additional
information relating to the topic, the task, errors, or
solutions. Combining the evaluation and information
component of feedback might result in a large variety
of feedback contents.
Overview on Elaborated Feedback Components
Table 11.2 presents a content-related classiﬁcation of
feedback components that provides a structured over-
view of simple and elaborated feedback components
by organizing the components with regard to which
aspect of the instructional context is addressed. This
content-related classiﬁcation assumes that elaborated
information might address: (1) task rules, task con-
straints, and task requirements; (2) conceptual knowl-
edge; (3) errors or mistakes; (4) procedural knowledge;
and (5) metacognitive knowledge. Five categories of
elaborated feedback components can thus be deﬁned:
• Elaborated components that provide infor-
mation on task rules, task constraints, and
task requirements are linked by the category
knowledge on task constraints
Content-Related Classiﬁcation of Feedback Components
Knowledge of performance (KP) 15 or 20 correct; 85% correct
Knowledge of result/response (KR) Correct/incorrect
Knowledge of the correct results (KCR) Description/indication of the correct response
Knowledge about task constraints (KTC) Hints/explanations on type of task
Hints/explanations on task-processing rules
Hints/explanations on subtasks
Hints/explanations on task requirements
Knowledge about concepts (KC) Hints/explanations on technical terms
Examples illustrating the concept
Hints/explanations on the conceptual context
Hints/explanations on concept attributes
Knowledge about mistakes (KM) Number of mistakes
Location of mistakes
Hints/explanations on type of errors
Hints/explanations on sources of errors
Knowledge about how to proceed (KH) Bug-related hints for error correction
Hints/explanations on task-speciﬁc strategies
Hints/explanations on task-processing steps
Knowledge about metacognition (KMC) Hints/explanations on metacognitive strategies
Metacognitive guiding questions
Informatives tutorielles Feedback. Entwicklungs- und Evaluationsprin-
zipien auf der Basis instruktionspsychologischer Erkenntnisse (Informative Tutoring Feed-
, Waxmann, Münster, 2006. With permission.
• Elaborated components that provide infor-
mation on conceptual knowledge relevant
for task processing are linked by the cate-
knowledge about concepts
• Elaborated components that provide informa-
tion on errors or mistakes are linked with the
knowledge about mistakes
• Elaborated components that provide infor-
mation on procedural knowledge relevant for
task processing are linked by the category
knowledge on how to proceed
• Elaborated components that provide infor-
mation on metacognitive knowledge are
linked by the category
knowledge on meta-
(KMC). To design feedback algo-
rithms with elaborated components, several
simple and elaborated feedback components
can be combined. In most of the feedback
studies, elaborated feedback was designed
by combining knowledge of the correct
result or knowledge of the result with elab-
orated components such as explanations of
errors or to correct responses.
Cognitive Task and Error Analyses
Narciss and Huth (2004) derived the steps necessary
to select and specify the feedback content from knowl-
edge about cognitive task analysis and error analysis
(for a detailed description, see Jonassen et al., 1999;
VanLehn, 1990). Similar steps were proposed by Van-
Lehn and his collaborators (VanLehn, et al., 2005) and
by Rittle-Johnson and Koedinger (2005) based on
insights and experiences in developing intelligent
The ﬁrst step consists of the selection and speciﬁ-
cation of instructional objectives (e.g., acquisition of
a knowledge domain, mastery of learning tasks, liter-
acy in the given context). The starting point of this
step is the curriculum and its objectives, which in
general have to be speciﬁed to obtain explicit, con-
crete, and measurable learning outcomes. The revised
version of Bloom’s taxonomy of educational objec-
tives offers a well-founded framework for this speci-
ﬁcation of learning objectives (Anderson et al., 2001).
The speciﬁed concrete learning outcomes provide the
basis for the selection of the feedback functions, con-
tent, and forms.
Feedback is presented after the accomplishment of
learning tasks; consequently, learning tasks are espe-
cially relevant to the design of feedback. The second
step is, therefore, to select typical learning tasks and
match them to the required learning outcomes.
The third step consists of analyzing the require-
ments for each type of task. The aim of these task
analyses is to identify: (1) domain-speciﬁc knowl-
edge items (e.g., facts, concepts, events, rules, mod-
els, theories), (2) cognitive operations related to these
items (e.g., remember, transform, classify, argue,
infer), and (3) cognitive and metacognitive skills
involved in the mastery of the selected learning tasks.
The informative components of a feedback message
can refer to each of these aspects of a learning task;
hence, the results of these task analyses provide an
overview of both task requirements and possible
informative components that can be implemented in
a feedback message.
As mentioned above, from a cognitive and from
a self-regulated learning viewpoint, elaborated or
informative feedback is considered a necessary source
of information, especially if the learner encounters
obstacles or proceeds incorrectly. A next important
step for the design of informative feedback is there-
fore to describe typical errors and typical incorrect
steps. Furthermore, it is necessary to identify miscon-
ceptions and incorrect or inefﬁcient strategies that can
be attributed to the described errors (Crippen and
Brooks, 2005; Narciss and Huth, 2004, 2006; Van-
The steps described above are essential prerequi-
sites for the selection and speciﬁcation of helpful infor-
mation. The results of the task and error analyses pro-
vide information that is necessary to select those
informative components that match the task require-
ments. If the major function of the feedback message
is tutoring learners to master the given learning tasks,
then the related requirements feedback should not
immediately provide the correct response or explain
the correct strategy. This information should only be
offered if the learners do not succeed otherwise; hence,
offering adequate tutoring when learners encounter
obstacles requires providing information that gives
knowledge on how to proceed without presenting
knowledge of the correct response. Table 11.2 presents
examples of such informative tutoring feedback com-
Smith and Ragan (1993) recommended that the
content should be tailored to the type of learning
tasks; however, it should be kept in mind that studies
comparing the efﬁciency of different types of infor-
mation with regard to various learning tasks
reported rather mixed results (for detailed review,
see Mory, 1996, 2004). Furthermore, with the devel-
opment of new paradigms for learning and instruc-
tion, the question of which knowledge should be
addressed by the feedback content is getting more
and more complex.
Feedback Strategies for Interactive Learning Tasks
Selecting and Specifying the Form
and Mode of Feedback Presentation
Feedback types vary not only in their content-related
aspects but also in formal and technical aspects rele-
vant for feedback presentation. Using formal criteria
(e.g., timing, frequency), Holding (1965) differenti-
ated, for example, 32 different types of feedback. The
interactive capabilities of modern information technol-
ogy increase the range of feedback strategies that can
be implemented efﬁciently in computer-based instruc-
tion (Hannaﬁn et al., 1993). Using the interactive capa-
bilities of modern information technology, it is, for
example, possible to combine elaborated feedback,
tutoring, and mastery learning strategies to design
informative tutoring feedback
. The term
(ITF) refers to feedback strategies
that provide elaborated feedback components to guide
the learner toward successful task completion. The
focus of this elaborated information is on tutoring stu-
dents to detect errors, overcome obstacles, and apply
more efﬁcient strategies for solving the learning tasks.
In contrast to elaborated feedback types, which pro-
vide learners with immediate knowledge of the correct
response and additional information, ITF components
are presented without immediate knowledge of the
correct response. Additionally, ITF strategies offer the
opportunity to apply the feedback information on
another try (Narciss, 2006). These ITF strategies are
rooted in studies on tutoring activities (McKendree,
1990; Merrill, et al., 1992, 1995). The following sec-
tions present an overview on important aspects of feed-
back that must be taken into consideration when
choosing the form and mode of feedback presentation.
Immediate vs. Delayed Feedback Timing
An aspect of feedback that received much attention in
feedback research is the
of the feedback (Demp-
sey and Wager, 1988; for a review, see Kulik and Kulik,
1988). From Skinner’s operant learning theory, one
might assume that the feedback should be provided
soon after the response; however, experimental studies
that used paradigms similar to those of studies testing
the effects of blocked or massed vs. distributed practice
found that delaying feedback can be beneﬁcial, espe-
cially for retention in a delayed post-test. This effect
is referred to as the
al., 1963). Kulhavy and Anderson (1972) explained the
delay retention effect by an interference perseveration
hypothesis, which suggests that immediate feedback
might proactively interfere with the incorrect response,
and this interference might hinder the acquisition of
the correct response. Delayed feedback is not related
to proactive interference, because the incorrect
response is not present and probably forgotten.
Research based on the interference perseveration
hypotheses provided mixed results (Kulhavy and
Anderson, 1972; Kulhavy and Stock, 1989; Marko-
wotz and Renner, 1966; Peek and Tillema, 1978;
Rankin and Trepper, 1978; Schroth and Lund, 1993;
Sturges, 1969, 1972, 1978; Surber and Anderson,
1975). Kulik and Kulik (1988) proposed a dual-trace
information processing explanation for the delay reten-
tion effect. They pointed out that, with immediate feed-
back, learners only have one trial, whereas with
delayed feedback they have two separate trials with an
item. In the case of memorization, two separate trials
are better than one, and delayed feedback might be
superior to immediate feedback.
Clariana has developed a connectionist descrip-
tion of feedback timing to better explain the existing
results and to provide a basis for new insights on
immediate and delayed feedback (Clariana, 1999;
Clariana et al., 2000). With regard to the potential
effects of immediate vs. delayed feedback, Clari-
ana’s model proposes a strengthening effect for
incorrect responses with delayed feedback, whereas
immediate feedback weakens the association
between incorrect responses and items. These
hypotheses were conﬁrmed by a study of Clariana
and Koul (2005); yet, the superiority of delayed feed-
back (i.e., the delay retention effect) was only found
in experimental situations with test items, and it was
not found in applied studies (Kulik and Kulik, 1988).
Because researchers used a variety of immediate and
delayed feedback types—item per item vs. end of
session; directly after the session vs. hours or days
after session (Dempsey and Wager, 1988)—Mory
(2004, p. 256) stated that the ﬁeld of research on
feedback timing is “muddied.”
Recently, Mathan and Koedinger (2005) reconsid-
ered the debate on feedback timing from a metacog-
nitive perspective. They suggested that the question of
when to provide feedback following an error has to be
answered on the basis of a model of desired perfor-
mance. If this model includes metacognitive skills for
error detection and correction, then feedback providing
knowledge of the correct response should not be
offered immediately, because it does not foster the
acquisition of these skills. In contrast, feedback offer-
ing knowledge of the result together with knowledge
about mistakes implemented in a multiple-try algo-
rithm that requires students to analyze their erroneous
responses and to identify error correction steps can be
provided immediately (e.g., Mathan and Koedinger,
2005; Moreno and Valdez, 2005; Narciss and Huth,
Single Try vs. Multiple Try: Simultaneous vs.
Sequential Presentation of Elaborated Feedback
A second formal aspect is related to the question of
how many tries are offered to learners after they have
received feedback. Many studies offer only a single
try per item; that is, learners respond to an item, are
provided with feedback, and do not have the opportu-
nity to respond again to this item; however, some stud-
ies have offered multiple tries after providing feed-
back. Most of these studies use answer-until-correct
(AUC) feedback (for a review, see Clariana, 1993).
Clariana’s review of 30 studies that compared single-
try feedback types (immediate knowledge of result,
immediate knowledge of the correct response, delayed
feedback, no feedback) to multiple-try feedback/AUC
found a superiority of all feedback types over no feed-
back, but no differences between single-try and mul-
tiple-try feedback. In a more recent review, Clariana
and Koul (2004) contrasted multiple-try feedback
effects (AUC) for verbatim outcomes with higher order
“more than verbatim” outcomes (i.e., drawing and
labeling biological diagrams). This review revealed
that AUC is less effective for verbatim outcomes but
more effective for higher order outcomes (Clariana and
Multiple-try feedback types other than AUC can
be developed if one considers a third formal aspect of
feedback presentation: Complex elaborated feedback
can be presented simultaneously (i.e., all information
in one step) or sequentially (cumulatively or step by
step). Most studies on complex elaborated feedback
provide the elaborated information simultaneously
with knowledge of the result or knowledge of the cor-
rect response (e.g., Kulhavy et al., 1985; Phye, 1979;
Phye and Bender, 1989). However, only half of the
studies utilizing this simultaneous presentation of elab-
orated feedback produced signiﬁcant positive effects
(Kulhavy and Stock, 1989; Mory, 1996, 2004).
In addition to these empirical ﬁndings on pre-
senting complex elaborated feedback simulta-
neously, research on cognitive load in instructional
contexts would suggest that a sequential presentation
of complex elaborated feedback should be superior
to a simultaneous presentation (Chandler and
Sweller, 1992). Indeed, the few controlled experi-
mental studies that have investigated the tutorial
feedback types that present elaborated feedback
components sequentially have reported positive
effects (Albacete and VanLehn, 2000; Heift, 2004;
Nagata, 1993; Nagata and Swisher, 1995; Narciss
and Huth, 2006; VanLehn et al., 2005).
Because a sequential presentation of feedback
components requires offering multiple tries with the
same item, a direct comparison of the effects of simul-
taneous vs. sequential feedback presentations is very
difﬁcult if not impossible. An important issue for
future research, however, would be addressing the
question of how many feedback steps of cycles are
effective under which individual and situational con-
Adaptive vs. Nonadaptive Feedback Presentation
A fourth formal aspect of feedback presentation is
whether the feedback is presented in an adaptive or a
nonadaptive way. The adaptation issue is related at
such questions as these:
Which learner characteristics are critical
Crucial characteristics that
have been extensively addressed by feed-
back research and by most research on
tutoring systems include the learner’s prior
knowledge or knowledge state (Albert and
Lukas, 1999; Hancock et al., 1995a) and
the learner’s metacognitive state in general
measured by the learner’s response certi-
tude (Hancock et al., 1992, 1995b; Mory,
1991, 1994). Other important characteris-
tics that have received attention only in
recent studies include the learner’s motiva-
tion (e.g., self-efﬁcacy) (Narciss, 2004),
goal orientation (Senko and Harackiewicz,
2005), and metacognitive skills other than
response certitude (Aleven et al., 2006).
Which task characteristics are critical for
According to Sanz (2004), this
question is sometimes neglected by
instructional designers; however, adapta-
tion may be more or less necessary for
different tasks, and there might be critical
task characteristics (i.e., speciﬁc task
requirements) that can be used as indica-
tors for deciding when and how much
adaptation would be reasonable. In the
algebra tutoring system Ms. Lindquist, the
three feedback strategies are, for example,
determined by the exercise and its structure
How do we diagnose the individual char-
acteristics in a reliable and valid way?
Several approaches to diagnosing learner
characteristics have been investigated by
researchers developing intelligent tutoring
systems: manually authored ﬁnite state
machines (Koedinger et al., 2004); gener-
ative approaches, such as model tracing
Feedback Strategies for Interactive Learning Tasks
(Anderson et al., 1995); evaluative
approaches (Mitrovich et al., 2002); and
decision theoretic approaches (Murray et
al., 2004). Recently, several authors have
suggested using observable data on stu-
dents’ activities to infer nonobservable
learner characteristics (Kutay and Ho,
2005; Melis and Anders, 2005; Romero et
How do we adapt feedback to the critical
situational and individual factors?
tive feedback can be implemented in sev-
eral ways. An approach used frequently in
intelligent tutoring systems involves con-
trolling the sequence, content, and instruc-
tional activities (program-controlled
adaptation). A second type of adaptation is
based on the idea that the learner has to
take an active part in instruction and thus
is presented with a choice of instructional
activities (learner-controlled adaptation).
Unfortunately, learners sometimes lack the
metacognitive skills and motivation
required to decide which instructional
activities would be best for them (for
reviews on the effects of learner- vs. pro-
gram-controlled instruction, see Steinberg,
1977, 1989; see also Corbett and Anderson,
1990; Narciss et al., 2004). Recent studies
and frameworks on adaptive feedback
include metacognitive feedback compo-
nents that should foster the acquisition of
metacognitive skills (Aleven et al., 2006;
Gouli et al., 2005). A third type of adapta-
tion consists of combining program and
learner control, which offers a variety of
other possibilities for adapting feedback
and raises new issues for future research
(e.g., when and how to shift from program
to learner control and
Unimodal vs. Multimodal Feedback Presentation
The capabilities of modern information technologies
allow the presentation of feedback not only as written
text but also as narrated text (Narciss and Huth, 2004,
2006) or as a static or dynamic graphic. Furthermore,
feedback can be provided by animated agents
(Moreno, 2004). When and how to apply the princi-
ples of multimedia learning derived from Mayer’s
theory of multimedia learning (Mayer, 2001) for the
multi-modal presentation of feedback have yet to be
Implications for Evaluating
The design principles outlined above show that exter-
nal feedback, particularly informative tutorial feed-
back, is a multidimensional instructional measure.
Moreover, the interactive, two-feedback-loop model
described earlier suggests that the effects of external
feedback occur through an interaction with the
learner (i.e., with a complex information processing
system). This in turn means that the effects of exter-
nal feedback are not general but only emerge in
speciﬁc situational and individual settings; for exam-
ple, the amount of time it takes for errors to be
eliminated with the help of external feedback
depends on (1) the individual characteristics of the
learner; (2) the quality of the external feedback com-
ponents; (3) the type, complexity, and difﬁculty of
the tasks; and (4) the type of error. In highly skilled
learners or for easy tasks or simple slips, for exam-
ple, knowledge-of-result feedback alone is sufﬁcient
to yield a correct response the next time. In learners
with a low level of skill, for very complex and dif-
ﬁcult tasks, or in the case of serious errors, it is
possible that even informative tutorial feedback may
not be sufﬁcient for mastering the high demands.
The effects of various feedback strategies also
largely depend on how learners process and interpret
the information provided. In addition to cognitive
requirements (e.g., prior knowledge, strategic knowl-
edge), individual motivational factors, such as self-
efﬁcacy and perceived task values, and individual
metacognitive factors, such as monitoring competen-
cies and strategies, play a role. To draw differentiated
conclusions about the effects of various types of
feedback, not only cognitive but also individual
motivational and metacognitive factors, and the
nature of individual feedback, processing should be
External feedback can contribute to changes that
occur (1) during the treatment, (2) shortly after the
treatment, or (3) long after the treatment; thus, evalu-
ating the effects of various feedback strategies requires
collecting data both during and after the treatment
(Phye, 1991, 2001; Phye and Sanders, 1994). When
investigating the effects of various types or strategies
of external feedback, it should no longer be a question
of which feedback type is the best but rather one of
the following questions:
• Under which individual and situational con-
ditions do which feedback components or
strategies have high information value for
• Under these individual and situational con-
ditions, what cognitive, metacognitive, and
motivational effects do the various feedback
components or strategies have?
•When are these effects expected to occur,
and what is their expected duration?
Figure 11.2 summarizes these considerations regard-
ing requirements for and the effects of various kinds
of external feedback.
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• Learning goals
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• Informative component
- Hints, cues
- Worked out examples
Functions of Feedback
Contents of Feedback
Motivational Effects Motivational Effects
Cognitive Effects Cognitive Effects
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• Errors and sources of errors
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