Feedback regimes and the challenge of change

To what extent are university learning environments conducive to the implementation of useful and valuable feedback processes of different forms? Are the social contexts in which feedback operates a significant barrier, and if so, how might related challenges be tackled or reduced?

In his book about prospects and levers for changes to teaching and learning in higher education, Paul Trowler talks about social contexts of change, and the relationship between context and innovation in terms of harmonies or disjunctions that arise. He uses the concept of teaching and learning regimes to represent a constellation of rules, procedures, assumptions, practices and relationships, comprising elements, such as power relations, implicit theories and conventions (Trowler, 2020). Such regimes imply an underpinning set of rules and assumptions that impact on practice.

Given that assessment and feedback practices are often proceduralized within accountability forces, it made sense to me in my most recent paper to put the concept of regimes to work. I define feedback regimes as the procedures, routines, assumptions and relationships influencing the social practice of feedback (Carless, 2023). Feedback regimes represent the socially constructed organizational level of procedures and assumptions that influence the practices of teachers.

The notion of feedback regimes contributes to understandings of teacher feedback literacy by reinforcing sociocultural and ecological influences on practice resonating with Chong (2021). Feedback regimes are enacted within ecological systems in which individuals interact with social learning environments containing situated assumptions, practices, opportunities and constraints to useful feedback processes. The way feedback regimes are currently structured contributes to explanations of why the feedback literature has been moving forward but standard practices often do not (cf. Dawson et al., 2019). Structures impeding feedback change, include transmission-focused views of feedback; procedures, routines and accountability pressures; and lack of compelling incentives for change (Carless, 2023).

In a recent talk that I did for the HERDSA Assessment SIG, one of the audience members pointed out that the idea of a regime carries images of authoritarian forms of government. This seems like a salient point and perhaps indicative that current feedback regimes in universities are far from ideal, possibly not particularly collegial or democratic, and would benefit from change initiatives.

Change elements of salience, congruence and value are used as a lens to cast light on prospects for structural change to feedback regimes (Carless, 2023). Salience refers to the significance of feedback within the priorities of existing regimes. The most salient aspect of feedback is its potential for enhancing student learning, so reconfiguring feedback regimes beyond ritual and compliance in a learning-focused direction would contribute to reclaiming the pedagogical salience of feedback. In terms of congruence, teachers are probably most likely to implement feedback practices that can be integrated within their own belief systems. Value in feedback regimes includes making feedback practices satisfying for teachers as well as useful for students, and so a value perspective includes a strategic reduction in ineffective time-consuming practices, such as detailed summative commentary at the end of courses when it is too late for students to act.

Feedback regimes represent an alternative terminology to feedback cultures because ‘culture’ is a slippery concept with various meanings, including national cultures as well as micro, meso and macro cultures. Importantly, the analysis of feedback regimes can draw on the conceptual apparatus of teaching and learning regimes elaborated by Trowler, including social practice theory. The negative connotations of ‘regime’ may represent a challenge, or even an impetus for reform.

There are of course questions for further research. How can teacher feedback literacy be leveraged to contribute to the broader development of learning-focused feedback regimes? How might feedback regimes evolve to support or incentivize the enhancement of feedback practices? How can value perspectives on change support the development of more useful, and less wasteful, feedback regimes? (Carless, 2023).

Spoiler alert: Coming soon on HBO, ‘The Regime’, Kate Winslet leads a European dictatorship in a dystopian future.


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

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

Dawson, P., Henderson, M., Mahoney, P., Phillips, M., Ryan, T., Boud, D., & Molloy. E. (2019).
What makes for effective feedback: Staff and student perspectives. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(1), 25-36.

Trowler, P. (2020). Accomplishing change in teaching and learning regimes: Higher education and the practice sensibility. Oxford University Press.