Principle #3g – Feedback. Feedback is the means by which learning is directed toward a specific target of attainment. All intentional or directed learning is aimed at the attainment of some target. Feedback is the means by which the learner, or any other agent directing the learning process, ascertains whether or not progress is being made toward the end goal, and whether or not the goal has been reached. Feedback may come in many forms but, when effective, always provides an indication of (a) whether or not the target has been attained, (b) whether or not the learner is making progress toward the objective, and (c) what needs to happen in order for the learner to move forward.
It is also true that feedback also plays a role in incidental learning—i.e., learning in which the target is not intentional, but rather, is incidental to circumstances to which the learner is subjected. By this definition, there are two cases to consider. First is the case in which a person has no intention to learn, but engages in various activities for some other reason (e.g., to earn money, to pursue pleasure, to get a high score, to avoid negative consequences, or to get something for nothing). In this case, the feedback that person will be attending to is feedback regarding whether or not they are meeting their goals. Under these circumstances adjustments may be made that result in an increase of capacity or establishment of habit, and thus, learning will occur. As an example, many people have little interest in technology per se, but are very interested in maintaining social connections and interacting with their friends. In pursuit of new means by which to engage, they incidentally acquire knowledge about, skill to use, and habits of engaging with mobile devices and online social networks. The second case where feedback plays a role in incidental learning is when a person is actually working towards a predetermined learning target (i.e., an intentional target), but makes incidental attainment of other targets along the way which may or may not be incremental steps toward the end goal itself.