Feedback and the Learning Process

This week our ED 256 class read a piece from Dow et al (see citation below) about the benefits of receiving feedback on advertising projects that were designed using either serial or parallel prototypes. The idea was to create examples of Web advertisements and then receive feedback after each single design (serial) or receive feedback after multiple designs (parallel). The serial participants received feedback after every one of their designs. The multiple designs test group received feedback after initially creating three designs, then received feedback after two more designs, before creating a final design. The researchers of this very statistically accurate study found that “parallel participants outperformed serial participants by all performance measures…” (18:2).

At first glance, I was quick to simply think this made perfect common sense. If you, as a participant, design three prototypes as opposed to another participant who only designs one, then you have an advantage. But to stop here at a conclusion would be to miss some of the important issues the study raises.

The study is really developing ideas about how we learn. The researchers use the timing of feedback as a tool to demonstrate that “delay helps learners reflect” (18:16). The feedback delay was reserved for the multiple design participants. For me, it is easy to follow how a potential learning outcome that allows time for reflection offers growth as opposed to feedback that comes after only one design prototype. The writers also note that feedback on serial design participants tended to keep those participants fixed and focused on refining an already existing design, rather than suggesting any ideas of beginning anew. The parallel design participants had the ability to consider feedback on three designs together. In this case, three is definitely better than one.

For me, what the study highlights about the learning process is that students learn more effectively when they are given more than one opportunity, or given alternatives, to creating solutions to problems. This is clearly highlighted in this study by the higher level of “self-efficacy” with the participants of the parallel prototypes. Feedback on single design prototypes led to a lack in “self-efficacy” (18:5). The processes of delaying feedback and allowing participants time to reflect greatly enhanced their learning experience. This, I believe can be adapted to other learning environments.

To conclude I want to return to the feeling I had as I read this entire piece. The advantage of the parallel participants was affected by their ability to design three prototypes before receiving  any feedback. That advantage over the serial participants was in numbers, experience, and practice. I believe that the experience of creating three designs, coupled with the ability to reflect on those designs, allowed a greater learning experience to take place.

Dow, S., Glassco, A., Kass, J., Schwarz, M., Schwartz, D., & Klemmer, S., (2010). “Parallel prototyping leads to better design results, more divergence, and increased self-efficacy”. ACM Trans. Comput.-Hum. Interact. 17, 4.


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