Efficiency = Feedback / Cost

This is exactly the kind of formulation that drives me mad sometimes. But in a time where our budgets are imploding it’s better to give management a simple formula that encapsulates much of the debate than to merely cross your fingers that they get it. We’re kind of blessed to have an enlightened administration here at Keene State — my sense from the POD conference was that is not the norm.

The above is my “useful oversimplification”. What we struggle with as budgets collapse is the problem that feedback is both the most important part of the learning process and the most expensive part of the learning process. 

Seen outside the lens of innovation this would mean that cheaper education = worse education. But the truth is that we’ve invested most of our feedback efforts into fairly expensive  means of feedback — paying trained scientists and published literary theorists to lecture to classes with an occasional full class question thrown out there. 

Efficiency = Feedback / Cost means

  • LMS’s have to reduce the time spent on class management and provide instructors with ways to give quality feedback at little or no cost
  • More F2F time has to be used for feedback instead of content delivery
  • Students need tools to not only know how they did in a class, but how they compare to others and where they are weakest
  • Authentic learning and Community-based learning should be considered in areas where it provides a feedback-rich environment
  • In-class interaction should be structured in ways that provide feedback to all students (clickers, peer learning, structured discussion techniques)

And so on.

There’s other elements involved in learning, of course, but they are not as sensitive to cost-cutting. Reflection is key, for example, but costs little; student preparation for class is an an ongoing issue, but again, not one that is likely to be affected adversely by budget cuts. 

The good news, of course, is that a lot of the methods of providing low-cost feedback are also better methods — more humane, more student-centered, more social, more empowering, more conducive to a supportive campus environment.

And again, it is reductive. But would you rather someone else in your organization define efficiency?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. 

Two Educational Contexts

From Dan Kahneman:

True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. You are probably an expert in guessing your spouse’s mood from one word on the telephone; chess players find a strong move in a single glance at a complex position; and true legends of instant diagnoses are common among physicians. To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes. Anesthesiologists have a better chance to develop intuitions than radiologists do. Many of the professionals we encounter easily pass both tests, and their off-the-cuff judgments deserve to be taken seriously. In general, however, you should not take assertive and confident people at their own evaluation unless you have independent reason to believe that they know what they are talking about.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, in the context of designing authentic learning. The examples above represent two professional contexts, but they represent two distinct educational contexts as well. 

In people engaged in Type A endeavors, those high-feedback, clearly cued tasks such as anesthesiology, we learn from making experiences as authentic as possible. You want to bootstrap students into reality as quickly as you can. 

In Type B endeavors, reality is broken. The longer a professional is in the field, the worse his or her intuitions may be. In these cases you want to create an artificial reality that fixes the feedback problem, that exaggerates cues, that makes irregularities more apparent.

I think we know this, but we forget it, quite a lot, choosing instead to be religious about authenticity or dogmatic about artificial feedback. 

I also think that if you accept that there are more Type B situations than Type A situations that we may have far *less* formal education than we need, but that’s another post.