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Correct timing for providing feedback

This is an excerpt from Fundamentals of Motor Behavior by Jeffrey Fairbrother.

When providing augmented feedback, whether it is about an outcome or technique, it is a good idea to keep in mind five “rules of thumb.”

1. More is not always better. In fact, giving feedback too often can make a learner dependent upon the information provided to such an extent that performance actually suffers when the feedback is removed. Remember that the goal of most learning situations is to be able to transfer your skills to a different performance setting and that this new setting will often not provide instructional support such as feedback. Consequently, providing feedback too often can hinder the learner's capability to do the very thing that he or she is trying to do—perform the motor skill on his or her own. Research suggests that providing feedback after every fifth attempt is a good place to start (Schmidt, Lange, & Young, 1990). For new learners or difficult tasks, you might give feedback more frequently during initial practice. When feedback is given, it might provide information about only the last attempt, each of the previous attempts, or an average of each of the previous attempts.

2. Feedback should provide information about how to fix the problem when learners do not know how to correct their own errors. For example, a coach might tell a diver, “You didn't rotate enough on that dive; next time tuck tighter;” a therapist might tell a knee replacement patient, “Try to flex your knee more when your right leg accepts weight during walking.” These feedback examples include information about how to increase the diver's speed of rotation (i.e., tuck tighter) and the knee replacement patient's knee flexion. For experienced performers, providing too much information of this sort might become a distraction if they already know how to fix their errors. They may need only feedback describing the outcome or form of the movement they are practicing (e.g., “Your splash was too big”).

3. Delay feedback long enough for the learner to process her own inherent feedback. Giving feedback too quickly can interfere with this processing and impede the learner's efforts to develop her capability to evaluate her own performance. For a long time, it was thought that feedback should be given immediately after the completion of a motor skill, but research has shown that doing this actually interferes with learning (Swinnen et al., 1990). Instead, it is a good idea to let learners think about the movement on their own before giving them any feedback.

4. Have the learner estimate his own errors before feedback is provided. Rule 3 says that you should delay feedback long enough for the learner to self-evaluate his or her performance. A way of actually formalizing this process into practice is to explicitly ask learners to identify their errors during the delay between completing an attempt and receiving augmented feedback. Combining rules 3 and 4 will help ensure that learners develop the capability to detect and correct their own errors to the extent that this is possible. This will ultimately facilitate learners' independence from the instructional support provided during practice and allow them to transfer their skills to the desired performance setting.

5. Feedback should target aspects of the performance that the learner can control. Feedback should convey information about specific aspects of the performance that the learner can actually change. It will not help learners to tell them about a mistake that they cannot change. For example, a patient working on rehabilitating her shoulder may not have the strength to complete certain exercises with correct form. A skilled therapist would not ask her to complete these exercises and then tell her that her form was incorrect. Instead, the therapist will select an exercise that is more appropriate for the current capability of the patient.

More Excerpts From Fundamentals of Motor Behavior