The Feedback Paradox: Why Don’t Students Seek What They Need?

Stephanie Young

Active engagement with feedback is crucial for student learning and development in higher education (Carless & Boud, 2018). By actively seeking feedback and utilizing it to identify strengths and weaknesses, students are empowered to make informed adjustments to improve their academic work. A recent blog by Zhou Huiling and Juuso Henrik Nieminen explored the ways and motivations behind student feedback-seeking. However, a question remains: why do some students still hesitate to seek feedback?

Imagine this: You’ve just delivered a captivating lecture, and you are excited to share your insights with your students. Yet, as you scan the room, you observe a sea of unengaged faces. No hands shoot up, no questions break the silence, and the room clears out the second the clock strikes dismissal. What reasons lie behind this lack of engagement? Understanding these barriers is key to unlocking a more dynamic learning environment for university students.

I’m Stephanie, a recent graduate from HKU’s double degree program in English and Education. While building my expertise in the field, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Professor David Carless on my dissertation, which has recently been published as a research article entitled “Investigating variation in undergraduate students’ feedback seeking experiences: towards the integration of feedback seeking within the curriculum”.

We conducted an interview-based study with 24 undergraduates to understand their experiences of feedback seeking. Our goal was to uncover the motivations and perspectives that influence how much and why students seek or don’t seek feedback. Using a phenomenographic approach, we identified five distinct categories of student feedback-seeking behaviors: (1) feedback seeking as unnecessary, (2) feedback seeking through monitoring, (3) feedback seeking as impression management, (4) feedback seeking for academic achievement, and (5) feedback seeking for broader learning.

Our research highlights feedback literacy as a key factor influencing how students seek feedback. Students in category 5, characterized by mastery goals, a growth mindset, and adaptability to feedback, displayed promising signs of strong feedback literacy. This aligns with the proposition of Leenknecht and Carless (2023) that feedback seeking and literacy are mutually reinforcing. Fostering feedback literacy is key. By equipping students with the skills to actively seek out feedback, interpret it effectively, and utilize it for improvement, educators can empower them to maximize the benefits of feedback.

Our findings also revealed how students’ perceptions of feedback directly impact their willingness to seek it. This resonates with the ‘appreciating feedback’ dimension of the Carless and Boud (2018) student feedback literacy framework. Students weigh the perceived benefits (improved learning, better performance, personal growth) against the perceived costs (fear of criticism, negative evaluation). By creating a supportive classroom environment, educators can emphasize the benefits of feedback and address student concerns. This can help alleviate anxieties and encourage students to actively seek feedback, ultimately contributing to personal growth.

Building a culture of feedback seeking starts by weaving it directly into the curriculum. Frequent feedback exchanges within a supportive program culture encourage students to actively seek feedback. One way to do so is by integrating feedback opportunities throughout a course, which allows students to apply feedback to their ongoing work, aligning with the recent focus on maximizing feedback uptake (Carless & Young, 2023; Wood, 2023).

A sense of psychological safety is also key to unlocking students’ willingness to seek feedback. Feeling comfortable and supported makes them more likely to reach out to teachers and peers. A key factor in creating a safe learning environment is when students view knowledge gaps as opportunities for growth. Encouraging students to see knowledge gaps as learning opportunities is crucial for creating a safe learning environment. To create this safe space, educators can establish open communication, build trust, and foster a culture of non-judgmental feedback.

The rise of generative AI opens doors for exploring personalized feedback systems that could enhance students’ learning experience. AI-powered feedback systems can become valuable tools for students. Have you ever wished that you can receive personalized guidance that adapts to your specific needs? AI potentially provides this kind of targeted support, delivered in a prompt manner. 

This research contributes to ongoing conversations about fostering a culture for productive feedback processes. By understanding student perspectives, we can develop more effective strategies to support student learning and achievement. To delve deeper into the five distinct categories of feedback-seeking behaviors we identified, and explore our research findings in greater detail, check out the paper.


Baartman, L., H. Baukema, and F.J. Prins. 2023. “Exploring Students’ Feedback Seeking Behavior in the Context of Programmatic Assessment.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 48 (5): 598–612. doi:10.1080/02602938.2022.2100875.

Carless, D., and D. Boud. 2018. “The Development of Student Feedback Literacy: Enabling Uptake of Feedback.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 43 (8): 1315–1325. doi:10.1080/02602938.2018.1463354.

Carless, D., and S. Young. 2023. “Feedback Seeking and Student Reflective Feedback Literacy: A Sociocultural Discourse Analysis.” Higher Education. doi:10.1007/s10734-023-01146-1.

Leenknecht, M., and D. Carless. 2023. “Students’ Feedback Seeking Behaviour in Undergraduate Education: A Scoping Review.” Educational Research Review 40: 100549. doi:10.1016/j.edurev.2023.100549.

Johnson, C., J. Keating, and E. Molloy. 2020. “Psychological Safety in Feedback: What Does It Look like and How Can Educators Work with Learners to Foster It?” Medical Education 54 (6): 559–570. doi:10.1111/medu.14154.

Wood, J. 2023. “Enabling Feedback Seeking, Agency and Uptake through Dialogic Screencast Feedback.” Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 48 (4): 464–484. doi:10.1080/02602938.2022.2089973.

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