Practice, Assessment, Feedback; Repeat!

Online Gaming

I’ve had the privilege of attending two conferences this week that furthered the thinking in my last blog post on teaching and learning. The first event was the OER Leadership Day at the North East OER Summit hosted by the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. The second was the 2107 New Media Consortium Summer Conference in Boston.

At the OER Leadership event, Ross Strader quoted Carnegie Mellon’s Herb Simon as saying

“Learning results from what the student does and thinks and only from what the student does and thinks.” [emphasis added]

In short, no doing and thinking implies no learning. Norman Bier supported this claim, citing a recent study (Koedinger et al, 2016) which found that “the learning effect of doing is about six times greater than that of (e.g.) reading.”


Consider the following simple model of learning:

  1. Work with (i.e. do and think about) the material;
  2. Assess the learning;
  3. Obtain expert feedback from the assessment;
  4. Repeat!

Getting feedback from assessment is critical for deeper learning to occur. It’s not (just) the assessment, but the feedback that matters.’ Ideally, the feedback needs to come soon after the assessment.  Important note: assessment & feedback as discussed in this post are not for summative purposes; rather, they are integral to the learning that results. This subtle, but important point, seems difficult for students raised in a conventional learning environment (and many teachers) to grasp.

Back at the OER Leadership day, David Wiley asked why computer games are so compelling? The answer is because they follow the Practice, Assessment, Feedback; Repeat model and the feedback is instantaneous!

Now let’s think back to tutorial learning. Tutorial learning works because it follows this model with near immediate feedback and with the further wrinkle that, before moving on the next topic, the learner must repeat the practice and assessment until mastery is reached.


How does the pedagogy of lecture fit into the frame of the Practice, Assessment, Feedback; Repeat model?  At the NMC meeting, as part of a thought-provoking keynote, Richard Culatta described

“A lecture [as] a really a zoomed out YouTube video that you can’t speed up or slowdown, and the sound doesn’t always work.”  “Additionally, it’s very expensive to produce.”

There’s a lot of truth to that statement, and yet there was also immediate push back on Twitter, saying while it may be overused in teaching, lecture has its place!  Fair enough, but if lecture is not (primarily) for learning, what is its purpose?  Gardner Campbell responded (again on Twitter) “Great lecture is cognitive testimony! ”  Indeed, I agree, though perhaps much of what is described as lecture in university classrooms (speaking from my own experience and practice) is less than great.

Let’s apply our model of learning to lecture.  What is the assessment and feedback on a lecture? Is it the midterm examination?  If so, the feedback, at least early in the term, is not very timely.  If the feedback is negative, I wonder how many students decide it’s too late to review; otherwise, they risk falling behind the upcoming material.  Perhaps this explains the lack of learning most students obtain from a lecture.

In a recent columnJosh Kim stated:

I believe deep in my bones that learning is a relationship. That authentic learning has everything to do with the educator / learner relationship – with the mentoring and coaching and caring that is inseparable from the art of teaching.

Throw down!

I have explored the link between teaching and coaching before, but let me leave you with this: Who is more likely to improve their practice,
someone watching a baseball game from the stands, or someone playing the game?  I agree that we can be inspired by excellent play, and even motivated to work harder on our own game, but it seems clear that practicing the sport is more likely to lead to improved play.  Perhaps attending a lecture is like being a spectator at a sporting event?

Images courtesy of:

  • AIBakker Playing Games via flickr
  • Piers Nie Computer Game via flickr
  • SAG Throw down! via flickr
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