Building Better Feedback

The main purpose of feedback is to provide corrective action to behavior required to achieve a desired goal.  Feedback is a key step in learning how to learn.

Effective feedback involves a sort of triangulation:

1)   a specific goal,

2)   some kind of metric that measures our distance from achieving the goal, and

3)   A process for improving the practices intended to achieve the goal.

In order for feedback to be effective we need to be able to describe both the goal and the behavior in terms as specific as possible.

The most descriptive terms are generally measurements of some kind, such as to run a 40 yard dash in 4.5 seconds.  Maybe that’s what makes such avid fans and participants of sports: they are generally so measureable.

Other goals are harder to describe.  For instance, perhaps you’ve recently read a book.  Was your goal merely to read it, or to understand it?  If the latter, then how do you know you’ve understood the book?  Do you have a process for making this determination for yourself?

Suppose you’re using Mortimer Adler’s criteria for understanding a book.  Then you’ll need to be able to at least answer these four questions:

1)   What is the book about as a whole?

2)   What is being said in detail, and how?

3)   Is the book true, in whole or part?

4)   How is it significant?

How far you are from answering those questions gives you some idea of how far you are from achieving your goal of understanding the book.

Sometimes measurements can seem counterproductive.  I have an app for my computer to measure my meditation progress. It works well and measures a strong correlate, “coherence,” but it’s rather distracting.  I feel like a pitcher who’s focused on the fans instead of the next pitch.  So while I don’t use it every day I do believe that “regular” use of the app can be indicative of the effectiveness of my meditation practice.

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