When I was first learning instructional design, I was taught that providing explanatory feedback was an essential practice because it takes advantage of the perfect teachable moment–the moment when you are told you are wrong is the moment you are most inquisitive: “Why?”
Explanatory feedback means not just conveying whether an answer is right or wrong, but also describing why.
That said, I was also taught that while explanatory feedback for wrong answers is very powerful, the impact of right answer explanatory feedback was much less, maybe even negligible. The reason? Once learners have chosen the correct answer, they’ve already moved on emotionally and are unlikely to spend time absorbing the right answer feedback.
That doesn’t make it bad to include–one can easily envision scenarios where a conscientious learner guesses, gets lucky, and wants to know more. But if development time is scarce (that is, always), wrong answer feedback is the better place to invest energy.
I wonder if anyone has tested the value of explanatory feedback against the expertise reversal effect…
Anyway, I was not surprised to see in Ruth Clark’s book that she upholds the value of explanatory feedback. I was a little surprised that the example she gave was of a right answer feedback, though: “Yes, in a low sunlight environment, a large leaf has more room to make food by photosynthesis.” Thinking that maybe the advice I was given all those years ago was out of step with current research, I took a look at the article Clark cited. I would have been very happy if this was the case as the governing body in my industry mandates unique explanatory feedback for all multiple choice question alternatives, right or wrong.
But, alas, the article cited by Clark doesn’t specifically test whether explanatory right answer feedback had a positive effect on learning. It still could be that only wrong answer explanatory feedback has a measurable impact. Oh, well. When I have some time I’ll dive back into the feedback literature and see if I can find greater corroboration for Clark’s position.