Does feedback help children with DLD learn?

Arbel, Y., Fitzpatrick, I., & He, X. (2021). Learning With and Without Feedback in Children With Developmental Language Disorder. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research : JSLHR, 64(5), 1696–1711. https://doi.org/10.1044/2021_JSLHR-20-00499


Aim of the paper


Feedback forms part of many interventions and teaching methods that are used for children with DLD. However, little research has evaluated whether feedback processing is impaired in children with DLD. Brain studies suggests that the areas of the brain required to learn from feedback, such as the basal ganglia, are abnormal in those with DLD. Therefore, feedback processing may be impaired. This study looked at whether school age children with and without DLD learn better with (feedback-based) or without (feedback-free) performance feedback. They also measured feedback processing using electroencephalography, which is a way to measure electrical activity in the brain.


In the feedback-free task, participants were shown two images of novel objects and heard a name (nonword). The correct image was marked with a green border. To move onto the next trial, participants pressed a button, and no feedback was provided.


In the feedback-based task, participants were also shown two images of novel objects and heard a name (nonword). They had to select the correct object associated with the name. They were given positive feedback when they were correct (three green check marks on the screen) and negative feedback when incorrect (three red Xs) before moving onto the next trial.


After each task, participants were then tested on images of novel objects with no feedback (immediate test). They were also tested one week later (follow-up test).


What was found


  • In both the immediate and follow-up tests, children without DLD were more accurate regardless of task, compared to the children with DLD.

  • Accuracy was higher on the feedback-free task than it was on the feedback-based task in the both the immediate and the follow-up test, for both those with and without DLD.

  • Learning increased steadily for those without DLD, whereas the group with DLD reached a plateau after 5 blocks of trials.

  • Following negative feedback, children were as likely to repeat an error as they were to correct it.

  • Following positive feedback, children without DLD were more likely to repeat a correct response compared to children with DLD.

  • The electroencephalography showed that those without DLD had greater activation in response to negative feedback, compared to positive feedback. The DLD group did not show a difference in activation in response to positive and negative feedback.


What does this mean?


The study found that a feedback-free environment is beneficial for children with and without DLD. Additionally, negative feedback was found to be less effective than positive feedback. The results suggest that children with DLD have impaired feedback processing, as they performed worse on the feedback-based task. Although they performed better on the feedback-free task, they still had poorer results compared to those without DLD. This suggests that something else also contributed to poorer learning outcomes in this group. Therefore, interventions that involve learning using performance feedback requiring negative feedback to be processed may not be helpful for those with DLD. Future research should further investigate how beneficial feedback-free learning is for those with DLD.

Where can I read this paper?


This paper is not open access. If you wish to read the full paper, please email E-DLD@bath.ac.uk and request a copy of the paper.