Seeking feedback on the work that you do as a learner is important. For one thing, it implies that you create your work with an expectation of sharing it, which has cognitive benefits (see #13, “15 Surprising Discoveries About Learning“). For another thing, it allows you to gather others’ perspectives, insights, and critiques toward improving your knowledge and skills.

But what about the work that you do at Saylor Academy, a program of self-paced, asynchronous courses with often small student cohorts?

In this post, we offer tips and resources for surpassing these difficulties and maximizing your opportunities to  create for an audience and receive useful feedback.

Where to seek feedback

Personal networks
Your family and friends may be excellent sources of feedback, particularly on topics like clarity of writing. Try explaining your work to them or teaching a mini-lesson. Or run you work by your future self — set it aside for a few days and then view it with fresh eyes; often both strengths and weaknesses of your work will become clear upon review.

Social Networks
If you use social networks, you likely have access to all kinds of expertise from close friends as well as acquaintances. Consider the advantages of networks that tend to be primarily social as well as networks that tend to be primarily professional.

Online Communities
The Web is full of communities that specialize in certain topics and are open to anyone. There are writing communities that exists precisely to solve the feedback problem. Other communities exist for languages, chemistry, math, history, you name it.

Saylor Academy discussion forums
We have our own growing community, of course. Keep in mind that students of other courses, even other areas of study, might have something to offer you…and vice versa. At our discussion forums, each area of study has its own category, but you can easily see what others have posted, as well.

How to seek feedback

This list is not exhaustive, but here are some good tips for getting great feedback:

  • Be clear about what you want. As intimidating as it can be to share your work, responding to others’ work can also be tough. Be specific about what kind of feedback you’re looking for: grammar, clarity, accuracy, style, pushback/opinion. Be specific, if necessary, on the form that feedback should take: comments, corrections, suggestions, direct edits, private messages, email, etc. It’s okay to be specific about what you don’t want, too; if you want critique on your ideas but not your grammar, just say so.
  • Ask questions. “Is my thesis statement clear? How might I improve it?” is much more likely to generate good responses than, “Any feedback is appreciated, thanks!” (Although saying “please” and “thank you” is a generally a good idea.)
  • Give to get. Find others who need feedback and give to them whatever you can. If they have not specified what kind of responses they want, then ask. Not only will you provide a service to that person and to the community, you will establish a relationship. Once you have provided good feedback to someone, asking them to return the favor is much easier. You will likely have to give more than you get, but if everyone does so, then everyone gets to hear from several people rather than one, or (gulp!) none.
  • Keep it simple. Consider asking for just one or two specific points of feedback to begin with. You are, after all, asking someone to spend time and effort. One easy task to assign might be this: “Could you please read this and point out any parts that do not seem clear?”
  • Provide useful information. Provide context and details that will help others to orient themselves; if people are confused from the start, they are unlikely to be able or willing to offer useful feedback.
  • Assume the best and consider feelings. Like we said, both giving and getting feedback can be intimidating, and it can be hurtful to receive a blast of critique from a friend or a stranger — even if you literally were asking for it. Try to assume the best of someone who has paid you the compliment of putting energy into reviewing your work. As a reviewer, though, anticipate how your feedback could be received and make an effort to be constructive in any criticism you offer.
  • Warm, cool, or both? Warm feedback offer praise and points out things done well. Cool feedback is gentle, constructive critique about what is lacking or could be done better. They operate well together, and not so well apart.

Tools for hosting, sharing and discussing your work

This list is representative, not exhaustive. The Web is full of free tools to create, host, share, and collaborate on all kinds of media, including for very specific topics like Java programming or Calculus.

Eportfolio – You can upload documents to the Saylor Academy eportfolio and then share the link to the file wherever you wish. Pros: we host the file for you and you already have an eportfolio account. Cons: the file must be a PDF, which limits others’ ability to edit or comment on your work directly.

Google Docs & Drive – You can create and keep documents and other media files that can be shared with anyone. You can allow anyone, including those who do not have a Google account, to comment on or even edit your work.

Microsoft OneDrive – An alternative to Google Docs, this is the free, “light weight” version of the Office software suite. You can also share with anyone and seek comment or collaboration.

Discussion Forums – Both our community forums and a wide variety of other forums on the Web are a good place to share and discuss work. Consider hosting your work elsewhere (e.g. any of the options above) and just linking to it in the forums. That way, you can better control formatting, readability, etc.

Etherpad – This is open source software that allows for real-time collaboration on documents (through a variety of services that use the software, such as the popular PiratePad). One major advantage is that no account is needed.

Blogs – Blogs are an all-in-one solution with the ability to create, host, share, and discuss work; typically, they can be private or public.

Dropbox – Like Google’s Drive and other services, you can easy host and share files of all kinds.

What do you think?

Here is where we practice what we preach! What can we explain better? What do you want to know more about? What might we add? Share your comments below.

Image: Pixabay user OpenClips | CC0