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Decoding Learner Feedback Dissatisfaction: Frequency Issues

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

What are your learners' frequency-related feedback concerns?

*This multi-part series describes ten common learner feedback complaints and how to identify which ones underlie your learner's feedback concerns.

a calendar on a table with thumbtacks marking dates

The third type of feedback complaint is about the FREQUENCY the learner receives feedback. These complaints speak to “how often” feedback is provided during a specific time frame. (We will talk more about a related complaint–the TIMING of feedback, or “when” feedback is given–in the next post.)

FREQUENCY-related concerns focus on:

  • The rate of occurrence (e.g. think dates rather than numbers--daily, weekly, monthly, bi-annually)

  • The pattern of occurrence (e.g. whether feedback is given “regularly” or sporadically)

  • Whether the learner views the frequency of feedback as being "enough," "appropriate," or "helpful" to their learning process (e.g. this would speak to frequency and quality concerns)

How can you determine if your learners' feedback concerns are FREQUENCY-related?

FREQUENCY-related concerns are most often reflected in the statement, “I’m not getting feedback often enough.” They also may include comments like:

an ekg image of a frequency
  • “I only received feedback at the end of my rotation.”

  • “Our service was so busy, I only had two of the four ‘Feedback Friday’ conversations.”

  • “No one gave me feedback on that rotation.”

  • “I would do better if I received at least one comment at the end of each day.”

  • “I like the programs that have set schedules for feedback conversations. You don’t have to guess how often you’ll get comments because it’s built right into your week.”

FREQUENCY-related complaints often go hand in hand with QUANTITY-related complaints. If your learners are commenting about the number or amount of feedback or feedback conversations they are (or aren't having), ask for more details to determine which feedback element (or whether both elements) are at play.

How can you reduce FREQUENCY-related complaints?

In the Program Directors' Guide to the Common Program Requirements, the ACGME instructs faculty members to “provide feedback frequently throughout the course of each rotation” (226) but does not clarify what “frequently” entails. Some programs view a mid- and end-of-rotation feedback discussion as “frequent” feedback, yet many learners say this frequency is not enough.

FREQUENCY-related complaints, like many complaints about feedback, often boil down to differing and unspoken expectations. One way to gauge your learners’ perceptions about what counts as “frequent” feedback is to ask them. Consider having an open discussion about the learners’ feedback expectations and requests during a regularly scheduled meeting or by holding a special one.

Before the meeting, send an email requesting their participation in a brainstorming session to generate strategies for increasing feedback frequency. Ask them to come prepared to discuss ideas about how to improve the program’s current feedback measures so that feedback can be given more frequently with consideration of the constraints of the situation (busyness of the rotation, length of time spent with each attending, etc.)

At the start of the meeting, reiterate that you want to conduct a brainstorming session to increase the frequency they receive feedback. Throughout the meeting, make sure that you reinforce this goal by using the following strategies:

Demonstrate Your Sincere Interest in Their Ideas

  • Take notes on their thoughts (or ask a member of your team to be the assigned note taker.) Explicitly state at the start of the meeting that you intend to record the idea or comment and that you will not document who offered it. If you suspect that your learners won’t be forthcoming, consider using an anonymous polling tool like Poll Everywhere to gather their perspectives.

  • Demonstrate you are actively listening to their ideas by summarizing what they just said and asking for clarification of abstract or vague ideas (such as “what counts as ‘regular’?”). At the end of each question or discussion point, summarize the main themes you heard in the collective responses.

  • Do not use this time to refute their views or to tell them they are unrealistic. Remind yourself and them that this is a brainstorming session to generate ideas for consideration and that parts of “impossible” ideas may be developed into possible solutions. Tell them that you use these ideas to come up with potential solutions.

  • Encourage the conversation to be solution-oriented. If the conversation slips into a venting session or a person shares a list of problems, validate their concerns, and ask them what suggestions they have about how to address them.

Encourage Broad Thinking

  • Expand their definition of feedback. Ask them to consider what “counts” as feedback for them and how a more expansive definition (e.g. conversations “on the fly” may be useful feedback moments) may help to increase the frequency of feedback given.

  • Expand their view of who can (and already does) give them useful feedback. In addition to discussing ideas for faculty to increase their feedback, ask the learners to consider how their peers, seniors, and chiefs might help them obtain feedback more frequently and acquire a diverse perspective. You may need to remind them that student, peer, and chief evaluations are read and considered during learner reviews.

Encourage a Diversity of Views

  • Pay attention to the learners’ body language to see if there are individuals who want to speak but may be hesitant to raise their hands or interrupt others. A simple statement such as, “Taylor, was there something you want to add?” can give a learner the floor or the opportunity to decline.

  • Moderate the "over talkers." If someone is dominating the conversation, say, “I’d like to hear from someone I haven’t heard from yet.” If the person continues to dominate or uses the group’s silence as an opportunity to voice their concerns again, tell them that it is important that you hear from multiple people and encourage that person to follow up with you after the meeting. (Immediately after the meeting–or as soon as possible–follow up with the person in an environment where you can respectfully manage them and the conversation.)

Join the Conversation

How frequently do you think learners should receive feedback? How frequently do you think your learners want to receive feedback? How do your and their expectations compare and contrast? Share your comments or ask a question below.


What if the feedback issue is not FREQUENCY-related?

Are you providing feedback regularly, but your learners say they aren’t getting it at the right time? In the next post, I will discuss TIMING-related feedback concerns and how to spot them.

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