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3.1. Feedback and Evaluation in Adult Learning

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3.1. Feedback and Evaluation in Adult Learning

Feedback and evaluation are integral parts of daily communication between adult instructors and supervisors that help learners and employees learn and grow. This section will describe how to use feedback and evaluation effectively using the Carkhuff model for helping relationships interpreted by Jill Newman Henry.
Complete reference for this information is: Using Feedback and Evaluation Effectively in Clinical Supervision – A Model for Interaction Characteristics and Strategies, by Jill Newman Henry, The Journal of American Physical Therapy Association, Vol 65, Nn.3 March, 1985.

FEEDBACK is a nonjudgmental communication to another individual for the purpose of facilitating self-awareness. Developing self- awareness is an essential component of funcationing as an effective adult. Carkhuff states that understanding of self helps an individual to act differently from the way he acted before, or, in other words, to learn. Self-awareness enables an individual to recognize the consequences of his or her actions. The individual may then choose to repeat his or her actions if the consequences are favorable, or to modify his or her actions to produce more desirable results. The self-aware adult can independently change, learn, and grow to experience a more rewarding life. Hanson describes the characteristics of feedback as being "direct, descriptive, accepting, respecting an individual’s freedom, immediate, and focused" True feedback is difficult to give because it is often confused with judgments made during evaluations. Feedback permits the recipient to act on his own because he chooses to, not because someone else judged that he should.

EVALUATION is the judgment of an individual’s knowledge or behavior based on specified or unspecified criteria for performance. In adult education settings, specified criteria relates to the published objectives of the program. Unspecified criteria relates to how the instructor thinks the learners should or should not respond or act when given the course information.


INFORMAL AND FORMAL FEEDBACK AND EVALUATION Informal refers to communication given through words, tone of voice, body language, and other forms of nonverbal behaviors. Formal refers to communication documented in writing.

  1. INFORMAL FEEDBACK is given through nonjudgmental oral communication. It consists of stating observations of behavior without inferring positive or negative attributes to the behavior. When giving informal feedback, a person assumes the role of a digital camera – recording and replaying observations. Statements of fact, such as. "When you came into the room, you hesitated for a moment", or "You’ve been working on that self-test for over an hour" are forms of informal feedback.
  2. INFORMAL EVALUATION is given through judgmental oral communications and body language. Praise and blame are part of informal evaluation. Statements such as, "Good work", or shifts in vocal tone such as "Why did you do itthat
    way" imply comparisons with a standard. Looks of disapproval given across a crowded room from instructor to learner are part of informal evaluation.
  3. FORMAL FEEDBACK is given in writing. An instructor making suggestion for fine tuning written assignments is an example of formal feedback.
  4. FORMAL EVALUATION is given in the form of grades on tests and other written documentation.

Using the CARKHUFF model of helping relationship, we will examine the appropriate use of these 4 forms of communication.

Carkhuff’s model for helping relationships as interpreted by Gazda et al "contains three distinct phases of helping. Each phase requires certain actions on the part of the helper (adult learning facilitator) to facilitate the helpee (adult learner) in solving his or her own problems.

  1. Facilitation Phase – Goal = Self-exploration. In this phase, the helper (instructor) uses empathy, respect, and warmth toward the helpee (learner).
  • To communicate empathy, the helper must listen to what the helpee is saying, think of words that represent the helper’s feelings and situation, and use those words to convey a level of awareness and understanding. A response that conveys empathy identifies a perceived feeling and places the feeling in relation to a particular situation. "You feel… because… ". The helpee, on hearing the response can validate his or her feelings by saying, "Yes, that’s how I feel" or " No, I feel…. ". The facilitator has assisted the learner in clarifying his or her feelings and engaged the learner in self-exploration.
  • Respect means the belief in the value and potential of a person. To communicate respect, the instructor must have confidence in the learner’s ability to help himself. Respect is not "advice-giving" it is giving permission for the adult learner to solve his or her own problems with support and confidence.
  • Warmth is the degree to which the instructor communicates his or her caring about the learner. Both warmth and respect are communicated through empathic responses and nonverbal communications such as gestures and voice.
  1. Transition Phase – Goal = Self- Understanding. The instructor now uses concreteness, genuineness, and self-disclosure.
  • Concreteness is used to focus on specific details of the learning situation to help the learner gain a different perspective.
  • Genuineness refers to the ability of the instructor to communicate verbal and nonverbal messages that are congruent with how he or she feels. Most people have had the experience of approaching someone who looks upset, asking if he or shee feels all right, and receiving a sharp reply "Yes! I’m Fine!".
  • Self-disclosure is that ability to share the reason for a discrepancy between words and emotions.
  1. Action Phase
  • The goal is to take appropriate action to assist the learner in learning.
  • The instructor now uses confrontation and immediacy to judge the learner and communicate his or her judgments in relation to the course or workshop objectives.
  • This is the phase of formal evaluations, of assessing a learner’s performance and making specific and immediate recommendations for improvement.


The model below illustrates the relationship between the uses of formal and informal feedback and evaluation and Carkhuff’s phases of helping in a helping relationship.


Nonjudgmental Communications

Casual interactions

Written Tests

Nonjudgmental Communications





Casual conversations
Sharing thoughts, ideas, & feelings

Logs, diaries, flow charts

Interaction Characteristics

Empathy, Respect, Warmth     Concreteness



——————-> Transition

Judgmental Communications




Judgmental Communications



Genuineness, self- Disclosure   Confrontation, Immediacy
Conversations indicating right or wrong, praise or blame

Eye contact, tone of voice indicating approval or disapproval

Written Examinations

Casual interactions

Written Tests

In the facilitation phase of teaching, informal feedback is used to ask and answer questions, to communicate empathy, and to develop feelings of warmth and respect between the instructor and the adult learner. Nonjudgmental, casual communication enables the instructor to earn the role of teacher, and the learner to accept the role of wanting to learn. This role clarification is essential to prevent later misunderstandings. Premature use of evaluation creates one of two scenarios. If the learner views the teacher as a "priest" or sole authority figure, then the learner will spend his initial energy of figuring out how to "please the teacher" and will place less trust in his own creative ideas. If, on the other hand, the adult learner has not had the opportunity to get to know and respect the instructor, and the instructor becomes evaluative, then the learner may refuse to take the evaluation seriously. The learner then sits with hands crossed thinking – "I’ll listen, but I won’t change!". Both responses described above prevent meaningful evaluations that facilitate growth.

The transition phase of teaching includes both formal feedback and informal evaluation. The learner begins to understand his knowledge and performance in relation to the objectives and begins to realize the effects of his own actions, begins to develop deeper self-awareness. Self-awareness leads to better decision making, change, and growth.

In adult education, the action phase occurs after facilitation and transition dimensions have been established. This is the phase of written examinations and practical performance feedback.

Use of this model requires, above all, self-awareness on the part of the instructor. That is perhaps its greatest advantage and disadvantage. The development of self-awareness takes time and effort. When I began using the model, I found that my primary mode of communication was informal evaluation. The use of praise words like "nice work" and "good job" without specific feedback left my adult learners wondering what they had done right and how they could do it again. In addition, certain aspects of formal evaluation came as a surprise to the learners. Without specific feedback, they did not understand the basis for the opinions expressed in the formal evaluations.

A balanced mixture of the techniques used in this sequence will produce adult learners ready and able to take action on what they are learning and use it to resolve their own life problems. The ultimate goal of all adult education is to facilitate the development of independent or self-dependent individuals capable of recognizing and resolving their own problems. Use this model to examine the more subtle aspects of your teaching, and to adjust your "style" to empower those who learn from you.

Be sure to complete the self test at the top of the page before proceeding to your next unit,3.2 Developing Written Tests

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