Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Role of Feedback during Academic Testing: The Delay Retention Effect Revisited

Academic journal article The Psychological Record

The Role of Feedback during Academic Testing: The Delay Retention Effect Revisited

Article excerpt

The introduction of the teaching-testing machine by Pressey (1926) prompted the development of numerous techniques through which immediate feedback during multiple-choice and alternative-choice questions could be delivered. The teaching machine described by Skinner (1958) not only presented immediate feedback, but also transformed the role of the student from a passive gatherer of information to an active demonstrator of skills and knowledge. Programmed instruction by teaching machines was, in part, intended to maintain vigilance during the testing process, the benefits of which have been demonstrated across a number of tasks (see Kritch & Bostow, 1998; Miller & Malott, 1997; Tudor, 1995). Information supplied during programmed teaching can range from partial to complete, but almost as a rule, the presentation of feedback has been both immediate and on an item-by-item basis. When partial feedback is provided, students are informed that responses are either correct or incorrect. When complete feedback is provided, corrective information is coupled with an answer-until-correct procedure. During recent years there has been a growing recognition that some conditions that promote performance during training interfere with retention, and that some conditions that interfere with performance during training promote retention (see Gick & Holyoak, 1987; Schmidt & Bjork, 1992).

In the early 1960s, Brackbill and her associates (Brackbill, Bravos, & Starr, 1962) demonstrated that delayed feedback across brief intervals promoted the retention of meaningful material. This outcome was also observed when feedback was delayed for 1 to 2 days and retention intervals were lengthened to 7 days (e.g., Kulhavy & Anderson, 1972; O'Neill, Rasor, & Bartz, 1976; Surber & Anderson, 1975). Proponents of delayed feedback generally adhere to the interference-perseveration hypothesis proposed by Kulhavy and Anderson (1972): Initial errors do not compete with to-be-learned correct responses if corrective information is delayed, because errors are likely to be forgotten and thus, they cannot interfere with retention. The superiority of delayed feedback, known as the delay-retention effect (DRE), was supported when Anderson and his associates compared the accuracy of responses on a retention test with the accuracy of responses on the initial test (e.g., Kulhavy & Anderson, 1972; Surber & Anderson, 1975). Although the delay-retention effect has not been supported in several studies (e.g., Kippel, 1974; Newman, Williams, & Hiller, 1974; Phye & Bailer, 1970), delayed feedback has typically been as effective as immediate feedback.

Proponents of immediate feedback theorize that the earlier corrective information is provided, the more likely it is that efficient retention will result (Phye & Andre, 1989). The superiority of immediate feedback has been robustly demonstrated for the acquisition of verbal materials (Ammons, 1956) and motor skills (Anderson, Magill, & Seklya, 2001; Brosvic & Cohen, 1988), although Sassenruth (1972) contends that immediate feedback promotes proactive interference once participants commit themselves to an incorrect response. In theory, the amount of interference increases when participants must search repeatedly for a correct answer, and thus the amount of searching is a reasonable indicator that the learner neither knew the item initially nor acquired the correct response. However, Peeck and Tillman (1979) have presented convincing data that incorrect responses are not forgotten, and that they facilitate the acquisition of correct responses during feedback.

While there seems to be considerable agreement that feedback facilitates learning, there is little agreement as to what type of feedback is the most effective (Robin, 1978). Kulik and Kulik (1988) reported that immediate feedback is more effective than delayed feedback for applied, but not laboratory, studies. …

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