Effective Learning through Practice, Skill-building, and Feedback

Taylor Halverson and Mike Johnson

A wagon train

On the trek of learning, many students have no idea whether they are in the first or the last wagon.  Without practice and feedback, students often are in the dark about how well they are learning—sometimes overestimating their comprehension and skill, sometimes underestimating them.

The Need for Practice and Feedback

According to instructional design expert Barbara Seels (1997), “Practice is the most important ingredient of effective instruction; it speeds up learning, aids long-term retention, and facilitates recall.  Instruction is less effective when there is no opportunity to perform the task or when practice is delayed . . . . Unfortunately, much of the instruction in our classrooms provides little or no opportunity for practice.” The more immediate the opportunity for practice and feedback, the more likely learning will occur.  

Providing Opportunities for Practice:        

  • Paired in-class discussion: Pose a problem, question, or issue.  Ask students to turn to a neighbor and discuss.  Then call on a student to share his or her solution with the class. 
  • Working problems in class in pairs or small groups: After each group has completed its work, you can invite one group to present its findings and results with the rest of the class, including the process that produced the solution.
  • Homework exercises that reflect the skills or knowledge required for course mastery: Provide example problems (practice) and solutions (feedback).
  • Low-stakes quizzes: Offer frequent, short quizzes (on-line or in class) worth only a few points, providing both you and your students with a “weather-vane” that indicates the direction of the students’ learning.  Again, the feedback must be rapid to be effective.

Providing Opportunities for Feedback

Feedback is essential to student success and can come in many forms.  But how does an instructor provide valuable feedback without spending every waking hour crafting such feedback? 

  • Paired in-class discussion: After having students share their solutions, you should provide immediate feedback.  Other learners can self-assess, basing their judgments on the public modeling of feedback they just saw.
  • Online quizzes: If you use online quizzes, feedback can be built directly into the quizzes to explain to students why certain answers are wrong or right, or why some answers are better than others. 
  • Grading rubrics: These can also ease the time commitment required to provide substantive feedback. 
  • Online Discussion Boards: These tools allow teachers and learners to create video-,  audio-, and text-based discussion boards. This is an excellent way for teachers to provide rich feedback to individual learners, specific groups in the class, or to the entire class. 


Building in multiple opportunities to practice new skills and receive feedback is one way to keep the wagon train moving forward with all members of the company participating, practicing, receiving feedback, learning, and improving.


  • Barkley, E. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Barkley, E., Cross, P. K., & Major, C. H. (2005). Collaborative Learning Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for Teaching, 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  • Seels, B. & Glasgow, Z. (1997). Making Instructional Design Decisions, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997.
  • Materials from the Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence: https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/principles/learning.html#LP04(items 4-7).

Taylor Halverson and Mike Johnson work at Brigham Young University’s Center for Teaching and Learning.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.  Image in the public domain

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