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Why crowdsourced, peer-to-peer feedback could be the killer tool for L&D

18th Apr 2016
CEO Track Surveys
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Feedback between two people
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The concept of feedback as a development tool for individuals and organisations isn’t new. But there’s no doubt that one of the clearest messages from experts is the growing importance of making feedback a core organisational value: to enhance learning, engage employees, inform managers and make better organisational decisions. Jo Ayoubi, CEO of Track Surveys, tells us more.

The respected L&D specialist Josh Bersin has described feedback as ‘The Killer App’ (in the sense of a programme or process, rather than a phone app, although it can be a phone app too).

In a 2016 report, Bersin by Deloitte described how dynamic feedback is supplanting traditional engagement surveys and enabling better communications within organisations. 

And an analysis by IBM indicated that organisations that actively used feedback had higher levels of employee engagement (up to 20% higher) than those that did not. The report cites evidence for ‘the effectiveness and protective power of listening to employees and monitoring the workforce’. 

A new model for feedback: recent research findings

In a study published in 2014, it was found that crowdsourced peer-to-peer assessments of learning activities showed a strong correlation between instructor assessment and peer-to-peer aggregated assessments.

This method of assessment:

  • was seen by learners as fair and accurate,
  • helped instructors to build an active learning culture among learners, and
  • in itself helped learners to become more aware of what ‘good’ looked like, and hence their own learning experience was enhanced, as well as those learners receiving feedback.

A more recent academic article on peer assessment goes so far as to demonstrate that assessment by colleagues (or fellow students in this instance), is not just useful as an assessment of learning.

It was shown in addition that this type of multi-sourced feedback is useful as an activity in itself.

Not only do students assess themselves (a key component of feedback which brings in reflective learning), but (learners) ‘do not passively receive feedback but instead actively generate it for others, enhancing their cognitive engagement and developing lifelong skills that will be valued in any setting where they will appraise and comment on the work performed by others.'

Two big ideas are coming together

There’s a convergence of two key ideas:

  1. The value of peer feedback (which includes feedback from colleagues who are bosses, reports, team members etc) as a tool and enabler of learning evaluation. Peer feedback is already being used in academic environments, for example.
  2. The concept of crowdsourcing is becoming common in both learning environment and the wider world. The ‘wisdom’ of the crowd is being recognised as an accurate, efficient and engaging way to help learners embed their learning. 

How peer to peer feedback and crowdsourcing is being used right now

We can learn a lot from academic institutions – experts in learning - who are actively encouraging students and learners to immerse themselves in multiple and crowd-sourced feedback.

For example, at Exeter University, peer feedback includes self-assessment, assessment of peer’s outputs, and discussion of the feedback in a group session.

At UCL, “Students were extremely positive about the experience of peer marking, with many commenting that reading another student’s work made them re-evaluate their own submission. There was no significant difference between peer and faculty marks and students highlighted benefits from each type of feedback.”

Within organisations too, there is a recognition that peer review can be a powerful tool for improvement. Companies like Hearsay Social and Ceridien now include peer review as a key part of performance review.

Making this a key part of L&D is the next step.

So what’s driving the need for feedback in business?

  • It’s all about engagement: The fierce need to engage and retain employees – whether we like it or not, employees need to learn and develop if we want to keep them. (There is a statistic somewhere that says that employees come for the money but stay for the job satisfaction and the feedback). The days of Mushroom Management (keep them in the dark and throw manure at them) have long gone.
  • Thirst for feedback: Employees are looking for more feedback, more frequently and what’s more, feedback that’s going to help them. In particular younger workers want lots of communication and lots of feedback, and we in the Learning and Development community should be using this thirst for feedback to enhance the development and training that we provide to our learners.
  • Learning by sharing: It’s becoming more and more apparent that a great deal of learning takes place through discussion, knowledge sharing, and feedback.
  • Technology can make it happen: Actually it’s not about the technology, but the fact that technology is now so prevalent and easy to use that it would be a travesty not to use it to enhance learning and sharing through feedback. Not only can technology simplify and systematise feedback it can make that stuff easier and faster to access, share and communicate, through multiple, mobile devices and feedback tools.

Using mobile technology that can be easily accessed by any employee, people can ask for and get immediate feedback on their business goals, balanced scorecards, values, team management, projects or customer skills – online from their manager, or from their colleagues.

Providing learners with an ‘open’ feedback platform, that’s easy to use and mobile-friendly, is something that L&D should embrace.

So what’s the big idea for L&D?

Integrate crowdsourced peer feedback on learning goals into L&D activities

People don’t often share their learning goals.

So why not give them a way to share their learning goals, and the steps to achieve those goals, with their colleagues?

By sharing those goals, their colleagues can give feedback when they see this person doing something right (related to their goal) – this is a powerful reinforcer and is also what good feedback should be: relevant and timely.

This feedback will build up and provide the individual with a great set of observations from her colleagues that help her work towards her key development goal.

Make it easy for learners to ask for feedback

Another way of using feedback to empower, engage and reinforce, is to give them the ability to ask for feedback whenever they need to, from all or any of their colleagues, or even their customers.

Not only does this empower them, it also helps to give them feedback and reflection on say, a completed project, or a specific customer relationship.

An added advantage for L&D is to be able to track people’s progress and get closer to that holy grail, i.e. the Kirkpatrick Level 4 that connects the learning to the business outcome.

Providing learners with an ‘open’ feedback platform, that’s easy to use and mobile-friendly, is something that Learning & Development should embrace because its benefits are clear for learners, their colleagues and the organisation as a whole.

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