A controlled resource approach to understanding the effects of feedback on learning
McLaughlin, Anne Collins
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It is a testament to the complexity of learning that one hundred years of research on feedback has not produced universal prescriptions for training. Results are split in two directions; those recommending more feedback during training and those recommending less. Numerous theories that explain and predict certain feedback effects, but none explain the mixed findings in the literature. This has resulted in: a) no singular theory and b) little understanding of other factors that might affect the mechanism of feedback. The following series of studies systematically manipulated the cognitive load of the experimental task and measured learner working memory capacity. The overall question was whether forcing the learner to self-evaluate would result in more or less learning of a rule-based cognitive task and how this effect might be moderated by the working memory capacity of the learner and the load of the task to be learned. It was expected that high working memory capacity learners might learn more when difficulties were introduced for a simple task (via less supportive feedback). Instead, all groups not only learned more when receiving more support, the high working memory capacity learners appeared more able to utilize the additional feedback. Instead of providing their own support when feedback was minimal or lacking, high working memory capacity participants seemed best able to make use of the information provided in supportive feedback. Low working memory capacity participants seemed unable to either provide their own support when feedback was minimal or lacking, but also were not as able to make use of the information provided in more supportive feedback. The contribution of the current series of studies is an explanation of why and how appropriate level of feedback support can change based on the working memory capacity of the learner and demands of the task. Feedback can either impose a load upon the learner to self-evaluate or provide support for acquisition performance. Though learners may benefit from feedback neither too high nor too low, the current results indicate that additional feedback is most useful to those with the attentional resources available to utilize it.