Feedback: How Much is Enough?

Turns out that more feedback is not better than less feedback, at least according to a recent study in the Journal of Marketing Education.  David Ackerman and Barbara Gross found in a study of upper level university students that “when an instructor provides a lot of feedback, as opposed to a small amount of feedback on an assignment, students receive it negatively.”

In fact, students view a lot of feedback in the same way that they view no feedback.  In the case of high feedback (the experiment used 11 standard comments on a hypothetical assignment as “high” feedback, and the students were told that they received a “B-” on the assignment), students interpreted the comments as unfair, and it increased their dislike of the professor, and decreased their satisfaction with the grade they received.  

If the student was told that they had received an “F” on the paper, they reported an overwhelming reaction of anger, rejecting the feedback provided. Thus the students who need feedback the most may be the ones who are most likely to reject he feedback. Students reported feeling discouraged and tense when receiving the higher levels of feedback, which potentially reduced their ability to understand and incorporate this feedback.

The low condition of feedback (one or two comments) appeared to have the best impact on the students perceptions of the feedback, in terms of students beliefs about the professor’s perception of the student, their liking of the professor, their belief in the fairness of the comments and their satisfaction with their grade.

So what does this say about feedback?  Moderating feedback in the classroom is likely to be more productive.  But it also tells us something about feedback in organizations.  If the results are consistent between students and workers, we might want to consider changing our approaches to 360 degree feedback programs and performance evaluations. Rather than focusing on negative (euphemistically called “constructive”) comments throughout a performance evaluation, perhaps we need to focus on one or two specific areas of behaviour, in order to avoid having employees disregard feedback that is essential to personal development.

Feedback in the workplace is like spice in a recipe, a little goes a long way.


3 replies »

  1. Hi Colleen – interesting research results. Personally, I think a lot of people would rather stay unemployed than go through another 360. However, if we are to keep them, we should take your advice and moderate the amount of feedback to something people can manage to cope with.
    (PS – wanted to e-mail something to you, could not find contact info. not intended to be negative feedback, just feedback.)

  2. Good spice analogy. What is true of spice is often true of feedback. Too many spices, like feedback on too many different ” developmental opportunities” might result in an unsavoury flavour or not flavour at all. The quality of spice is as important as the quantity of spice. The same is true of feedback. Spice like feedback must be carefully measured. Feedback needs to be carefully balanced. Finally, in many recipes, the fresher the spice the better. With feedback, the fresher or more immediate the feedback the better.
    Now if only people knew how to cook.

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