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Decoding Learner Feedback Dissatisfaction: Timing Issues

Updated: Nov 13, 2023

What are your learners' timing-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 clock

TIMING is the fourth type of learner feedback complaint. These complaints speak to “when” feedback is provided and focus on:

  • How close to the event feedback is provided (e.g. immediately after an occurrence, or at the end of the rotation, when the rotation assessments arrive)

  • Whether feedback is given at a time that the learner perceives as being most useful (e.g. correcting a procedural error as it occurs, delaying difficult feedback until both parties are calm, not providing feedback at the end of a 24-hour shift)

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

TIMING-related concerns are often easy to spot because they are reflected in the statement, “I’m not getting feedback at the right time.” They are often expressed with a tone of frustration as learners vary in their preferences for when they want to receive feedback.

They also may offer comments like:

  • “The attending gave me feedback right after I said something. If I had one more second, I would have corrected the error myself.”

  • “I knew I made a mistake. It would have been nice to have some time to cool off and process before being told what I did wrong.”

  • “I hate waiting until Fridays for feedback. Please tell me when it happens so I can correct it earlier in the week.”

  • “I am exhausted at the end of a 24-hour shift. I am not in the right mindset to receive and get and process important feedback.”

  • “It doesn’t make sense to wait until the end of the rotation to find out I was doing something wrong the whole time.”

  • “If I am doing a procedure wrong, tell me right away. But if it is something else, please wait until we leave the patient’s room.”

  • “I like to receive feedback earlier in the week so I can show my attending that I corrected my mistake.”

a clock blurring into a page of a calendar

TIMING-related complaints may be confused (or combined with) FREQUENCY-related complaints. If it is a “when” issue, think TIMING. If it is a “how often” issue, think FREQUENCY. It is not uncommon to hear both TIMING and FREQUENCY complaints when learners share that they are not getting enough feedback (a QUANTITY concern).

How can you reduce TIMING-related complaints?

The most frequent TIMING-related complaint I hear is that learners receive feedback too late for them to be able to apply it effectively. The best strategy for reducing this complaint is to offer feedback as close to the occurrence as is reasonable. This may be right away (immediate feedback) or a few minutes, hours, days, or weeks later (delayed feedback).

When considering your feedback timing, remember that feedback's goal is to help individuals improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Finding out at the end of the rotation that you made a mistake at the beginning of the rotation (and, continued to do it because you thought it was correct) is both unhelpful and discouraging. Additionally, the late notice does not give the learner ample opportunity to review their practices, correct the mistake, get useful feedback about different practices, or “show” their attending that they know how to complete the task effectively (which is important to many learners). There are, of course, a few occasions when more specific timing advice is useful:

  • If the patient is currently being unnecessarily harmed or is about to be harmed if someone does not intervene on the patient’s behalf, offer immediate feedback. Urgent situations require immediate feedback. These may include the learner incorrectly inserting a needle or tube, manipulating a body part into an incorrect or painful position, or intending to administer an incorrect dosage. In these situations, the patient’s health should take precedence over other concerns.

  • If the learner makes a mistake and the patient is not in immediate danger, give the learner a brief window of time to correct themselves before offering feedback. Consider waiting until you leave the room so you can discuss the topic without potentially embarrassing the learner or undermining their credibility in front of the patient. Additionally, the lesson will “stick” more if the learner can self-correct.

  • If the learner has shared incorrect information with a patient, has had a chance to self-correct, and has not done it, either offer a quick correction to the patient at that time and provide feedback to the learner after you have left the room OR provide feedback with the learner outside of the room and ask them to revise their statement to the patient.

  • If the learner has completed a 24-hour shift or appears extremely exhausted, consider providing feedback later that day or the next day. This will allow the learner to get some rest and be more cognitively present and less defensive when they receive your feedback.

  • If the learner made a significant mistake, the situation is abnormally stressful or tense, or you and/or the learner are worked up, consider providing feedback after you and the learner have had a chance to cool down. Both you and the learner may benefit from the extra time and space away from the issue.

Join the Conversation

In your experience, what kinds of feedback or circumstances are appropriate for providing feedback “in the moment” or “on the fly”? What types of feedback or topics should wait until a later time? Share your comments or ask a question below.


What if the feedback issue is not TIMING-related?

Maybe your learners’ feedback concerns aren’t about when feedback is given, but rather about how the feedback is given. In the next post, I will discuss STYLE-related feedback concerns and how to spot them.

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