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Rethinking your CPD: The gift of feedback


Receiving feedback is a key part of the learning process, but how important is it for learners to also give it? John Castledine, Head of Learning Development and Design at NIHR, takes a look in his latest blog as part of the NIHR's Rethinking your Continuing Professional Development series.

To quote author Steven Levitt: "The key to learning is feedback. It is nearly impossible to learn anything without it." 

Feedback reinforces positives and draws attention to areas for improvement. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), employees want the negative feedback that their managers hate to give. In a study by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman a significantly larger number (57%) preferred corrective feedback, while only 43% preferred praise/recognition. Digging a little deeper we find that 92% of the respondents agreed with the assertion, ‘negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance’.

Delivering feedback appropriately is a key message from this HBR paper. Those of us involved in learning will recognise the responsibilities we have as trainers, coaches and mentors to pay particular attention to this.  People must feel a sense of safety and trust. It is advised that we focus on praising effort, not ability. Research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck suggests that praising persistent efforts, even in failed attempts, helps build resilience and determination, while praising talent and ability results in risk-aversion and heightened sensitivity to setbacks.

But as learners what are our motives for giving feedback to those who teach us?

We may give feedback before or during a programme to help the trainer better understand our needs. A pre-course questionnaire can help identify the parts of the curriculum that should be given greater attention. A question raised in an online webinar draws out more information, beyond the original scope of the module being delivered.

Afterwards, when we complete so-called ‘happy sheets’, we share our reaction to the training event. Did we understand the learning objectives? Did we feel appropriately challenged? Are we able to apply what we have learned? Was your learning enhanced by the knowledge and experiences shared by the trainer? This is ‘Level One’ of a well used feedback model developed by Don Kirkpatrick. Each level gives more sophisticated information about the impact being made by us as learners.

But: do we stop to consider the feedback needs of the trainer? And is it true that as learners we also prefer to receive negative (constructive) feedback rather than to give such feedback to trainers?

There are many tools in the literature to help structure feedback. A simple but powerful approach is the 3 stage model developed by McKinsey. When you did [X] It made me feel [Y]. In the future, I would recommend that you do [Z]. Please consider how to integrate this into the feedback you give to those who train, mentor or coach you.

Constructive criticism is essential to drive a culture of continuous improvement, ensuring that future learners benefit from the feedback you can give. And, it aids the career development of colleagues involved in learning and development. So when completing ‘happy sheets’ and other feedback tools, please take the time to help those of us who are trainers improve our skills.

Curious to know more? Here is a short video summarising ten common mistakes in giving feedback from the Center for Creative Leadership.

John Castledine, Head of Learning Development and Design, National Institute for Health Research

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.