Feedback literacy revisited

In the wake of Carless and Boud (2018), there has been a steady stream of articles addressing various aspects of student feedback literacy. Some highlights include an empirically-derived student feedback literacy framework (Molloy et al., 2020); an ecological take on feedback literacy (Chong, 2021); sociomaterial perspectives as a challenge to humanist conceptions of the feedback literate student (Gravett, 2022); and reflective approaches to feedback literacy (Coppens et al., 2023). Just over a year ago in July 2022, we offered a critical review of the existing literature (Nieminen & Carless, 2023) and now seems an appropriate time to revisit selected issues.

In line with the argument that students should be at the centre of productive feedback processes, it seemed logical to focus first on the students whilst acknowledging teachers’ significant roles in providing opportunities for student feedback literacy to develop. Following this line of thinking, teacher feedback literacy is a pertinent facilitator for student feedback literacy. Our initial framework published in June 2020 proposed design, relational and pragmatic dimensions of teacher feedback literacy (Carless & Winstone, 2023). This starting-point was taken further by Boud and Dawson (2023) who proposed teacher competencies at three levels indicating the scope of responsibilities: macro (programme design); meso (course design); and micro (feedback on student assignments). Teacher reflective literacy is a further pertinent dimension, denoting a critical engagement with previous feedback practices, and willingness to refine practices in the light of experience (Carless, 2023). And in other recent work, we also offered some initial thoughts on supervisor feedback literacy in doctoral education (Carless, Jung & Li, 2023).

Generic feedback literacy frameworks represent a starting-point for further more contextualized disciplinary research. A notable strand of disciplinary feedback literacy research lies in medical education where Noble and colleagues have illustrated some of the contextual factors and complexities at the heart of attempts to develop medical students’ feedback literacy in situ (Noble et al., 2020, 2023). Feedback literacy development can be seen as an interdependent process that occurs through reflective practice, takes place over time and is shaped by context (Noble et al., 2023). English language education, English for academic purposes and the journal Assessing Writing also seem to evidence, considerable interest in the concept of feedback literacy (e.g. Boggs & Manchón, 2023).

Carless and Boud (2018) is now being cited at the rate of around 400 citations per year or more than 1 per day which is high by the standards of educational research. Regularly cited is the definition of student feedback literacy as: understandings, capacities and dispositions needed to make sense of information and use it to enhance work or learning strategies. The use of ‘information’ rather than ‘feedback information’ requires some critical reflection: the advantage of the former is that it allows for a variety of inputs from materials, the self, and a variety of human or non-human actors, whereas its all-encompassing nature risks a certain amount of vagueness. A further potential critique of the definition is its emphasis on sense-making could imply somewhat passive roles for students. Although composing peer feedback was highlighted as a key strategy in the development of student feedback literacy, it is probably fair to say that the Carless and Boud (2018) definition underplays the potential of students generating feedback for themselves rather than working with feedback from others. The role of student feedback seeking also merits greater emphasis in feedback literacy research (Joughin et al., 2021), and it is encouraging to note the prominent role of feedback seeking in current instructional models (de Kleijn, 2023). Taking feedback seeking more explicitly into account, a revised definition of student feedback literacy is proposed as “the capacities and dispositions to seek, generate and use information for enhancement purposes” (Leenknecht & Carless, 2023, p.10). These authors also suggest that feedback seeking and feedback literacy are interdependent and mutually reinforcing (Leenknecht & Carless, 2023).

A second aspect of Carless and Boud (2018) that has generated a lot of citations is the framework of appreciating feedback; making judgments; managing affect; and taking action. These dimensions seem to generate widespread support in many subsequent publications, although possibly indicative that more critical approaches are needed. It seems to me that working with the emotions (Molloy et al., 2021) is probably a more apposite phrasing than ‘managing affect’ in that ‘working with’ suggests a somewhat more positive nuance than ‘managing’. Whilst emotional responses to feedback are often a barrier, they can also act as a spur to improvement (Ajjawi, Olson & McNaughton, 2022).

A further issue meriting some discussion relates to the use of the singular form ‘literacy’ or the plural form ‘literacies’. Literacy in the singular seems to follow logically from research on assessment literacy, whereas literacies plural follow from Sutton’s starting point of academic literacies. There is a strong case for the plural form feedback literacies as dynamic and situated entangled by spatial, temporal and agentic factors (Gravett, 2022), although feedback literacy (singular) is currently somewhat more common in the literature. These social and material forces invoked by (Gravett, 2022) represent a useful critique in that feedback literacy as conceptualized by Carless and Boud (2018) tends to assume more agency than students (and teachers) often possess, and then lack of agency risks implying deficit models of inadequate feedback literacy.

All in all, Carless and Boud (2018) seems to have stimulated a vibrant level of activity in feedback research and practice. In my view, a key focal point for future research and practice lies in teachers and students working together in the mutual development of feedback literacy. Impactful aspects of such partnership approaches include recognition of different perspectives on feedback; and when students express expanded notions of feedback these can shape staff understandings and practices (Matthews et al., 2023). There is also considerable interest in measuring student feedback literacy, perhaps in combination with interventions to evaluate progress over time. The most promising scale for feedback literacy is probably that of Dawson and colleagues (2023). It seems safe to conclude that the vibrant quantity of feedback literacy research is set to continue, and let’s hope for an attendant rise in quality (cf. Nieminen & Carless, 2023).


Ajjawi, R., Olson, R. & McNaughton, N. (2022). Emotion as reflexive practice: A new discourse for feedback practice and research. Med Educ 56: 480-488.

Boggs, J. & Manchón, R. (2023). Feedback literacy in writing research and teaching: Advancing L2 WCF research agendas. Assessing Writing.

Carless, D. (2023). Teacher feedback literacy, feedback regimes and iterative change: Towards enhanced value in feedback processes. Higher Education Research and Development.

Carless, D. & Boud, D. (2018). The development of student feedback literacy: Enabling uptake of feedback. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 43(8), 1315-1325.

Carless, D., J. Jung & Y. Li (2023). Feedback as socialization in doctoral education: Towards the enactment of authentic feedback. Studies in Higher Education.

Carless, D., & Winstone, N. (2023). Teacher feedback literacy and its interplay with student feedback literacy. Teaching in Higher Education, 28(1), 150-163.

Chong, S. W. (2021). Reconsidering student feedback literacy from an ecological perspective. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 46(1), 92-104.

Coppens, K., van den Broeck, L., Winstone, N. & Langie, G. (2023). Capturing student feedback literacy using reflective logs. European Journal of Engineering Education.

Dawson, P., Yan, Z., Lipnevich, A, Tai, J., Boud, D. & Mahoney, P. (2023). Measuring what learners do in feedback: The feedback literacy behaviour scale. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.

De Kleijn, R. (2023). Supporting student and teacher feedback literacy: An instructional model for student feedback processes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 48:2, 186-200.

Gravett, K. (2022). Feedback literacies as sociomaterial practice. Critical Studies in Education, 63(2), 261-274.

Joughin, G., Boud, D., Dawson, P., & Tai, J. (2021). What can higher education learn from feedback seeking behaviour in organisations? Implications for feedback literacy. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 46(1), 80-91.

Leenknecht, M. & Carless, D. (2023). Students’ feedback seeking behaviour in undergraduate education: A scoping review. Educational Research Review.

Matthews, K., Sherwood, C., Enright, E & Cook-Sather, A. (2023). What do students and teachers talk about when they talk together about feedback and assessment? Expanding notions of feedback literacy through pedagogical partnership. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education.

Molloy, E., Boud, D., & Henderson, M. (2020). Developing a learning-centred framework for feedback literacy. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 45(4), 527-540.

Nieminen, J.H. & Carless, D. (2023). Feedback literacy: A critical review of an emerging concept. Higher Education, 85, 1381-1400.

Noble, C., Billett, S., Armit, L., Collier, L., Hilder, J., Sly, C., & Molloy, E. (2020). “It’s yours to take”: generating learner feedback literacy in the workplace. Advances in Health Sciences Education, 25(1), 55-74.

Noble, C., Young, J., Brazil, V., Krogh, K., & Molloy, E. (2023). Developing residents’ feedback literacy in emergency medicine: Lessons from design-based research. Academic Emergency Medicine: Education and Training.