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Background  Effective feedback may be defined as feedback in which information about previous performance is used to promote positive and desirable development. This can be challenging as educators must acknowledge the psychosocial needs of the recipient while ensuring that feedback is both honest and accurate. Current feedback models remain reductionist in their approach. They are embedded in the hierarchical, diagnostic endeavours of the health professions. Even when it acknowledges the importance of two-way interactions, feedback often remains an educator-driven, one-way process.

Lessons from the Literature  An understanding of the various types of feedback and an ability to actively seek an appropriate approach may support feedback effectiveness. Facilitative rather than directive feedback enhances learning for high achievers. High-achieving recipients undertaking complex tasks may benefit from delayed feedback. It is hypothesised that such learners are supported by reducing interruptions during the task. If we accept that medical students and doctors are high achievers, we can draw on some guiding principles from a complex and rarely conclusive literature. Feedback should focus on the task rather than the individual and should be specific. It should be directly linked to personal goals. Self-assessment as a means to identify personal learning requirements has no theoretical basis. Motivated recipients benefit from challenging facilitated feedback from external sources.

A New Model  To achieve truly effective feedback, the health professions must nurture recipient reflection-in-action. This builds on self-monitoring informed by external feedback. An integrated approach must be developed to support a feedback culture. Early training and experience such as peer feedback may over time support the required cultural change. Opportunities to provide feedback must not be missed, including those to impart potentially powerful feedback from high-stakes assessments. Feedback must be conceptualised as a supported sequential process rather than a series of unrelated events. Only this sustained approach will maximise any effect.

Medical Education 2010: 44: 101–108