Feedback or Feedforward?


A couple of years ago I was sharing some of my ideas about LQ with a colleague and friend in the Netherlands when she offered me “feedforward”.  This was not a mistake, a mistranslation of “feedback” from Dutch to English, this was a specific strategy.

The idea of feedforward has stayed with me and I use it often but does it make any difference if we call it feedback or feedforward? Well I think it does and this is why:

Feedback starts with what has been done or achieved, it is based in the past.  There is an analysis of actions, strategies or the outcomes. Feedback is influenced by “hindsight” and can be accusatory if using “Why?” in the reviewing process. Often we naturally seek to defend what we have done and therefore may not listen to the comments or advice offered in the way it is intended or indeed recognise the meaning.  Even if the feedback comes after a lesson observation we may seek to protect ourselves from the comments by inwardly suggesting they did not see everything and asking how a single observation can have any real merit.  Feedback can result in a lack of respect or trust in those giving it. This is in part due to the conclusive nature of feedback. Regardless of the person giving the feedback using the “Even Better If” approach you may feel on opposite sides. Once the trigger point has occurred, the activity or whatever feedback will be given on, then there is clock ticking and with each moment the memory of what has occurred, what was meant by an action can diminish. Feedback needs to be timely to be most effective.  Feedback can struggle to look forward because it means letting go of the past, something we are often reluctant to do.

Feedforward is about moving forward, it is based on future actions or behaviours; what can be done next working from where you are now. There needs to be a recognition of what has gone before or been produced and this needs to be agreed in the same way as feedback. The difference is that this is a starting point not the end point.  It is not about what has happened so much about what can be done, there is a different focus that affects any dialogue. In a way it breaks the cycle of the feedback loop and strikes a forward path instead. The questions involved in feedforward are not so much about “Why?” but “How?”. This dialogue is reflected in the part played by the person offering the feedforward; they are on the journey with you. Feedforward involves both parties in being creative, of solving problems, together. This personal investment is a key characteristic of feedforward and supports the building of relationships that can lead on to trust and mutual respect. Feedforward involves planning; there is a different clock at work than the one in feedback and one that can be driven by opportunity and enthusiasm about trying something new. Feedforward encourages objectivity. The “Even better if” approach is more suited to feedforward since it builds on the past by requesting we let go and take from that only that which supports our learning.

Of course feedback is an excellent way to support learning if done correctly but I think there is more opportunity to do it poorly than there is of providing poor feedforward. I would argue that putting yourself in the feedforward mind frame can lead to a dialogue that involves greater objectivity and less defended ownership. The very nature of feedforward encourages you to think about the next step in the learning process. Consider these comments and see if you can see the influence of a feedforward thinking process.

  • Measure what you achieved against what you set out to achieve. How successful were you and how will you take what you have learnt forward into your planning?”
  • “What message were you trying to get across? Okay, what I heard was …. . “Why do you think that maybe and how can you close the gap next time between what is meant or said and what is heard?”
  • “Now you have reached this point where do you go from here? What resources or approach do you need to adopt in order to achieve greater progress?”
  • “What you are saying is important. How do you ensure others get your message too?”
  • “Knowing where you are is important but how about where you need to be and how to get there?”

I am not suggesting we replace feedback with feedforward but what I am suggesting is that we may avoid some of the issues of poor feedback if we adopt a feedforward approach to the process of feeding back.

Make sense? I hope so. If not how about offering me some feedforward!

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About 4c3d

"4c3d" (AcEd) is the abbreviation for Advocating Creativity in education, a company I set up to challenge how we think about and deliver education. The blog champions my concept of Learning intelligence, how we manage our learning environment to meet our learning needs.

3 responses to “Feedback or Feedforward?”

  1. Denise says :

    This is a thought-provoking concept, one that makes me rethink performance discussions and coaching sessions. Good read.


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