Feedback that works: a realist review of feedback interventions for written tasks

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Despite feedback being considered important to learning, its potential is rarely fully realised. Promoting learning through feedback in open-ended written tasks (e.g. essays and reports) is a complex endeavour that requires students who are motivated to identify and utilise appropriate information. We set out to understand the mechanisms that enable feedback interventions to work, for whom and in what contexts. Using a realist review research methodology, 19,065 papers mentioning feedback in undergraduate courses were screened, 375 full-text papers were assessed for rigour and relevance, resulting in 58 papers for
analysis. Self-determination theory was identified as a good fit for understanding what is required of feedback interventions to mobilise students to engage with the process. Findings indicate that the design of feedback processes in open-ended tasks needs to afford opportunities for students to have a sense of relatedness to their teacher, and perceptions of competence and autonomy. In addition, the role of emotion in mediating perceptions of competence needs to be considered. This review supports the use of feedback designs which
include scaffolded tasks, dialogue, action plans and sequenced tasks. These designs promote students’ perceptions of relatedness, competence and autonomy, leading to motivation to engage in feedback, and thus improved performance.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalStudies in Higher Education
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • feedback theory

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