Feedback Improves Performance Irrespective of Age

Recent research into learning supports an established principle that  task-related feedback can significantly improve performance. More importantly it goes some way to challenge the negative stereotype that age-related decline is inevitable. Feedback can improve performance irrespective of age.

Published in Psychology and Aging , investigators at Rice University (Houston, Texas) found that taking tests (and getting feedback) is more beneficial for learning than just studying information or simply re-reading it. The benefits were observed regardless of age, level of intelligence or whether or not people attend college. Jessica Logan, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Rice, said the findings show that training can help older workers obtain and maintain job-related information, adding the study also revealed” that employees regardless of age can greatly benefit from testing activities as a way to sharpen their on-the-job skills”.

The research emphasizes that learning is an active process rather than a passive absorption of knowledge. In my work providing academic coaching, I suggest techniques that increase interest and engagement with learning materials rather than passively reading through notes.

The research also has important implications for older people no longer in work too. Getting involved in new learning and getting feedback can have important implications for cognitive functioning. Learning is a lifelong process. Learning new skills increase confidence and esteem at any age.

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Yet More Personal Development Quotations

More of my favourite motivational / inspirational quotes:

A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions – as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.

– Friedrich Nietzche

Human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.

– William James

He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.

– Horace

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Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It


2 Metaphors for Learning: The Baby and the Fly

Let’s consider two role models for your learning and  personal development: the baby and the fly. Now I’m going to start by assuming that you have more in common with a baby than a common house fly, or at least I hope you have.

The Baby
Babies learn to work by trial and error. It makes an attempt to walk but quickly topples over and lands on it’s butt! The shock may make the baby cry but what does it do? Give up, try exactly the same again or try something slightly different? Well by this time the baby has a working hypothesis of what’s working and what isn’t based on feedback of previous butt-floor encounters. Baby may decide to shift weight a little in one direction, do a slightly different thing with the arms and so on. The original plan stays pretty much the same after all it did resulting in standing an a first step. After that it’s a cause of  using a continual improvement approach. Sometimes progress is slow but nevertheless it keeps going forward: try-think-tweak-try-think-tweak-try!

Now let’s consider the fly.

The Fly
Imagine there’s a fly in you house. (If that offends you then imagine it’s in my house). Not being blessed with such a sophisticated processing system, the fly thinks that if it can see through a window, then it must be able to fly through a window. Of course, it collides with the window, over and over again. Unlike the baby, the fly doesn’t reflect but continues to head-butt the glass, even though there may be an open window close by. The fly doesn’t see the opportunities or look for solutions other than ‘persistence pays’. And yes, full marks to both the fly and the baby for persistence, but bonus marks to the baby for using the feedback and knowing to adjust the plan and trying something different. What we need is persistence in formed by feedback with an eye on opportunities viewed through ‘solution-focused’ lenses.

Now, human being are much smarter than flies. Just compare diets for a start. However, sometimes in moments of blinkered persistence we behave like the fly or else give up altogether. Babies are like little scientists performing experiments and that’s how they manage to learn so much in short a short space of time.

Babies learn; flies use your food as their lavatory. What do you want as your role model?


[Adapted from Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It]

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Experiments in Personal Development: Feedback Not Failure!

All too often we don’t chase our goals through fear of failure. Sometimes we feel its easier to spare the disappointment by not trying at all. However this approach is based on a faulty assumption that when things don’t work out the first time it is failure. However more often than not it’s not failure at all. It’s feedback!

As infants learning to walk you didn’t give up the first time your butt hit the floor. Rather, you sat there thought about it a while and tried again. More importantly you tried something slightly different until you found something that worked. You learned from the mistakes and built on your successes.  Now just think of the amazing capacity for learning that we have as babies. As adults we kind of forget the ‘feedback not failure‘ approach and as a result we miss opportunities to learn.

As a coach, I use the concept of ‘personal experiments‘ which offers my clients a low-threat strategy for pursuing their goals. So, if you want to make a life change,  tackle it as a personal experiment. Try the first step as a personal experiment. Try it on for size and get some feedback. If it works out, that’s great. Move onto stage two. However if it doesn’t quite work out, then use the feedback to adjust your plan. What do you need to do slightly differently to get closer to the result you’re looking for? It’s not a ‘one-shot deal’, it’s a process. So, repeat this process, just as you used to do as a child.

As you can see, with this approach there is no intrinsic sense of failure. It’s all feedback and nothing to fear.

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Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It

Changez Votre Vie!

So How Did You Get This Far? Solution Focused, Strengths Focused Learning

If you got 40% and passed a test, what would be your first question? Would it be:

  1. What happened to the other 60%, or
  2. What did I do to pass and get 40%

If it’s answer 1, then you’re taking a ‘weakness focused’ approach.

If it’s answer 2, you’re taking a ‘strengths focused approach’

Personal development often focuses on improving weaknesses but there’s a body of research that argues a ‘strengths-based’ approach is more effective. In short, we can’t all be fabulous at everything.To attempt to do so would require massive effort. It’s more economical to invest more time in what we are already good at, so we can specialize and excel (we can then manage the weaknesses).

I remember hearing of a child who arrived home with a staggering 96% on a maths test. The response of one of the parents was ‘What happened to the other 4%?’ Whereas they should have be celebrating the 96%. The questions they should have asked are:

  • What did you do to get that result?
  • Was there anything that you really think helped that you can do more of next time?
  • What strengths and qualities helped you get this far?
  • What did you do differently this time?
  • Is there something that you use to do that you stopped doing this time?
  • What can you let go of that didn’t help?
  • What else did you do?
  • What else?

With the strengths focused approach you concentrate on what you have already attained and then build on it, whether it’s 96%, 57%, 40% or 22%. This makes sense as it is the same approach we use with babies. After witnessing a baby’s first step, surely you wouldn’t dream of saying ‘And why didn’t you run around the coffee table?’ No, you’d praise them, encourage them to try again and focus on how they managed to take that first step. Now think about the staggering amount that babies manage to learn in a very short space of time.

You can apply the same to any goal you’ve set and tried for. If you didn’t get that 100% result, try focusing on what you have actually achieved and how you got there. Using the above questions you will use the feedback to build on strengths. If you obsess over what you didn’t get, you’ll probably lose motivation and give up! So go back and review previous attempts at goals and apply the strengths-focused questions. You have everything to gain.

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Don’t Wait For Your Ship To Come In. . . Swim Out To Meet It!