Understanding feedback in online learning – A critical review and metaphor analysis

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Computers and Education, 2021, 173
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Technologies associated with online learning have led to many new feedback practices and expanded the meaning of feedback beyond the traditional focus on instructor comments, but conceptual work on online feedback has not followed. This paper investigates how online learning researchers understand feedback's role in teaching and learning, and discusses how these understandings influence what research questions are asked, and what online feedback practices are recommended. Through a qualitative analysis of the language used about feedback in leading research journals, we identified six distinct understandings of feedback based on six dominant conceptual metaphors. These are feedback is a treatment, feedback is a costly commodity, feedback is coaching, feedback is a command, feedback is a dialogue, and feedback is a learner tool. Each of these metaphors offers a coherent frame of entailments related to the roles and responsibilities of online instructors and online learners as well as some bigger assumptions about what role feedback should play in online teaching and learning. A comparison with current feedback research revealed that just two of the six metaphors align with the learner-centric feedback practices that are increasingly considered appropriate among feedback researchers. The paper discusses how the conceptualizations might reflect different challenges facing online education. The paper proposes that researchers interrogate their own conceptualizations to ensure that they align with their beliefs about feedback and its role in the learning process. It suggests that a more deliberate use of metaphors when conceptualizing feedback and online feedback practices is necessary for clarity of communication and helpful for driving the work on feedback in online learning forward.
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