New paradigm feedback practices

The so-called new paradigm of feedback prioritizes active student roles in feedback processes. The term was first used in my book Excellence in University Assessment (Carless, 2015) to distinguish between an old paradigm of feedback as information mainly suggesting teacher inputs, and a new paradigm of feedback as interaction and uptake, prioritizing student outputs. Admittedly in practice, there are overlaps rather than sharp distinctions between inputs and outputs of feedback processes.

The emphasis on uptake is significant because feedback without action is rather lifeless or is just ‘dangling data’ in Sadler’s memorable phrase. In Designing effective feedback processes in higher education (Winstone & Carless, 2019), we took the new paradigm ideas a bit further and focused mainly on three student-focused elements: sense-making, learner generation of inputs and emphasis on student action. The role of teachers is then seen less as offering feedback themselves, and more in designing learning environments in which new paradigm feedback practices might flourish. Designs could include: well-implemented peer feedback processes; staged sequences in which student self-assessment is emphasized; and nested assessment tasks where there are ample opportunities for students to generate, process and act upon inputs of different forms.

Significant recent work by Nicol is congruent with new paradigm thinking. Nicol (2021) emphasizes the power of internal feedback in exploiting comparisons between students’ work-in-progress and other inputs, such as the work of peers or exemplars. Internal feedback is generated by the meta-cognitive processes stimulated by these kinds of comparison. This focus on students’ self-generation of feedback is important, not least because it offers an alternative to the old paradigm of teacher commentary which seems both relatively ineffective as well as unsustainable within massified higher education.

The new paradigm wasn’t tightly defined in Carless (2015) and Winstone and Carless (2019), so finally I propose a working definition. New paradigm feedback practices are defined as approaches which emphasize students generating and acting upon feedback inputs of different forms. These inputs are ideally self-generated or from peers, but they might also come from teachers or others.


Carless, D. (2015). Excellence in University Assessment: Learning from award-winning practice. London: Routledge.

Nicol, D. (2021). The power of internal feedback: Exploiting natural comparison processes. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 46(5), 756–778.

Winstone, N. & Carless, D. (2020). Designing effective feedback processes in higher education: A learning-focused approach. London: Routledge.