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Med Educ. 2008 Feb;42(2):189-97. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2007.02973.x.

What is feedback in clinical education?

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  • 1Centre for Research and Development, University Medical Centre Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



Feedback is important in clinical education. However, the medical education literature provides no consensual definition of feedback. The aim of this study is to propose a consensual, research-based, operational definition of feedback in clinical education. An operational definition is needed for educational practice and teacher training, and for research into the effectiveness of different types of feedback.


A literature search about definitions of feedback was performed in general sources, meta-analyses and literature reviews in the social sciences and other fields. Feedback definitions given from 1995 to 2006 in the medical education literature are also reviewed.


Three underlying concepts were found, defining feedback as 'information'; as 'reaction', including information, and as a 'cycle', including both information and reaction. In most medical education and social science literature, feedback is usually conceptualised as information only. Comparison of feedback definitions in medical education reveals at least 9 different features. The following operational definition is proposed. Feedback is: 'Specific information about the comparison between a trainee's observed performance and a standard, given with the intent to improve the trainee's performance.'


Different conceptual representations and the use of different key features might be a cause for inconsistent definitions of feedback. The characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of this research-based operational definition are discussed.

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