Mutual feedback

If we’re thinking about learning as a lifelong program that takes place in school, work, free time, individually, in tandem, in a group, at home or online, we also need to think about who we’ll partner up with. We need people like this as a mirror, as an aid in evaluating our progress and success.  

Situations in which we provide feedback to each other are called mutual feedback or mutual evaluations. Mutual feedback is a great opportunity to gain formative feedback, i.e. one that can help us shape ourselves, make progress and also provide feedback, which means learning by helping someone else.  

Advantages of mutual feedback 

  • The advantage of mutual feedback is the opportunity to gain a greater amount of feedback than can be provided by a teacher or superior throughout all your duties.  
  • The moment you’re learning something, you have insight into a given problem that’s similar to your classmates or colleagues; this means you can share what’s clear to you or what you’re having problems with. 
  • You’ll learn by providing feedback. Having the opportunity to look at the work of others helps us reflect on our own work and realize further possibilities to solve something or potential that we haven’t utilized.   

Formulating feedback 

To begin, it’s good to realize the importance that feedback has for others and not to be afraid of investing our energy into it. You can personally take part in the development of your friend, classmate or even someone you don’t know very well.  

It’s the wrong idea to think that feedback is just marking the errors that another person should go and fix. The goal of feedback is to help someone develop and to look for suitable tools to do this.  

Everyone knows the phrase that “you learn from your mistakes”. If we agree with this, we should be careful not to create fear in others of making a mistake by merely pointing out errors. A mistake can mean the courage to try something, and error is the path towards progress. We need feedback to allow others to reveal from their perspective what we ourselves can’t see because we’re missing the distance or experience to do so. It’s also important not to expect only praise and “pats on the back”, but also constructive help.  

Feedback also shouldn’t be just a collection of pluses and minuses, i.e. of the positive and negative.  

In an ideal case, we ask for self-evaluation before providing feedback. What do others see as their strong suit? What did they have problems with? What don’t they understand? What is the person’s experience with the topic or level in the given area? Information can help you get an idea of how your classmate is doing.  

In order to formulate feedback, we can follow a structure like this below:  

  • evaluations (+),   
  • questions and recommendations (?),   
  • evaluation according to criteria.  

With evaluations, we try to point out what was successful and what should be strengthened and supported. In asking questions and making recommendations, we ask why the other person did something in a certain way and describe what is worth attention for repetition, improvement or further thought. We never give orders.  

Feedback should also be targeted and specific. For example, imagine feedback for an article like this: “I quite like it, but the second sub-chapter doesn’t seem great.” You won’t gain much from feedback like this. Compare it with this feedback: “I think your essay is well-structured and very readable. I understood everything. I can only see a slight problem in the conclusion with the logical order of information and had to read it twice. How could the information be better ordered? Can you come up with something?”  

An example of feedback on an article in the form of evaluations – recommendations:  

  • + I appreciate the originality of the thoughts you wrote down in your term paper  
  • + I also appreciate the careful selection of sources that you worked with. You seem to know quality when you see it 
  • ? Can the list of sources could be arranged randomly? I thought it should be alphabetically arranged (according to last name).  
  • ? Is the information in the last chapter logically ordered?  

Don’t forget that all resources are available to you while providing feedback. If someone is asking you about something you don’t know, try to have a look around first instead of a simple “I don’t know”. Feedback also means working with information.  

In the text above, we’ve been talking about relatively structured feedback that is linked to specific tasks. However, this is not the only or perhaps even most common form of feedback. We also give people spontaneous feedback fairly often – to our siblings, classmates, parents, partners and strangers on social networks. We’re not going to write pluses and question marks for our grandmothers or people discussing things on social networks.  

We should always keep in mind the culture of feedback and communication and try not to insult; on the contrary, we should generally respect and support others. The person we’re giving feedback to is evidently trying to make progress. Appreciation and respect have great meaning for others and don’t end up costing us much. The opposite approach can hurt and can only make us look like a person of questionable character.  

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