Giving Feedback on BAD courses

Mar 23, 2011

I've been asked to give some feedback on a course that has tons of text, really bad, irrelevant clipart, and a robotic text to audio narration track.   We here all know how bad this is but the sponsors of the course love it and the person who designed it is quite proud of it.  

My question is how would you give them the feedback that it's awful but do it in a way that they would not hate you for doing so.  Is that possible? I don't even know where to start but I know that something along the lines of "That's one of the worst things I've ever seen!" probably isn't going to go over very well. 

Any suggestions or should I just let it go? 



9 Replies
Steve Flowers

I'm known to eviscerate, so don't listen to me But if they were genuinely interested in feedback [in the sense that feedback is a gift that pays positive dividends on future endeavors]...

I would really lean towards providing (1) feedback on any high points, if there was anything you genuinely liked about it, (2) illustrative examples of how things could be done better (before and after style) and (3) pose some questions that will help them evaluate the output themselves.

I probably wouldn't spend a lot of time tearing it appart. Pick the biggest high point to complement and the biggest low point to offer alternatives. If it's finished it's really too late to fix this one. The best you can hope for is helping the guy/gal with the next one.

Sheila Bulthuis

Mike, I have the exact same situation!  In fact, I'm browsing the forums as a way to procrastinate on putting together my feedback email. 

I think one key thing is to be clear on why they're asking for feedback, or what kind of feedback they're asking for.  Do they really want to know what you think, or are they just looking for a rubber stamp "looks great"?  And, are they planning (or even able) to do anything with your feedback?  If the course is done and about to be deployed, there may be little that can be done even if they want to.  On a related note, if you suggest eight things they could do better, are you going to be the one fixing those eight things?  (that could be bad or good, depending on your viewpoint!)

If the course is really still in development, you could use the "This is a great start" approach - I find that often works well to protect people's egos but still give constructive feedback.  "This is a great start.  There might be some things you could do with the content you have to make it more engaging, maybe we could brainstorm some ideas together."

James Brown

Nice post Sheila.. It's always hard to tell someone that their awesome creation isn't so awesome but in a way that you don't upset them or sound condescending. Sometimes no matter how well you try and sugar coat things, there are those individuals who take everything you says as criticism and an attack on their being. If you read the book, "the Color Code" you will know what I mean. Red's are like this but if you are a red and understand you personality type is a red, than you are capable of taking criticism from others and learning from it.  However those who are red's and do not realize they are reds may be rather difficult to work with.

Ruth McElhone

Part of my job is to show people how to design and build online courses and then give feedback. I do have a review a lot of 'bad' stuff!!

I agree with James about 'tact'. What I try and do is make a copy of their slide and show them how if could be done in a 'different' but ultimately better way!  Usually they get the subtle message.I also give my feedback like a sandwich...first bit postive, middle part negative( if needed) and end with a positive. Again that's part of my job description so I don't know if that will help you Mike.

I think the course designer needs to understand that not everyone will view/interpret the course the same way he/she does and that when your content is put out 'live' to the public it's always open to a certain amount of scrutiny.

Mike Taylor

Thanks to everyone for the advice.  This is a course that was previously about an hour long with locked navigation, so the best part is that it's now only 15 minutes and people can freely navigate to the quiz and test out.  So that in itself is pretty significant progress and maybe we'll work on the rest for next year...I have a feeling not many people will be in there any longer than the 47 seconds it takes to take the quiz.....but THAT is another conversation unto itself. 8-)   

Paul Lush


Your last post certainly sheds light on the subject.  While not a great course, it's possibly a significant improvement over the previous material they were using, thus why they are excited about showing it to you for feedback.  I have also encountered a similar situation where we create content for an industry that is proliferated with mediocre content.  As a result, so many people have a low standard.  My thoughts would be to look at the information from the eyes of the end user and even create "rough sketches" of some ideas that could really enhance the course.  No need to "rip apart" the current material, give thoughts about improving it from the eyes of the user, in otherwards, increasing the ROI factor (Just a note - every manager loves hearing about ways to increase ROI).  I think the evidence of requesting your opinion shows that they potentially trust you and appreciate your feedback as a professional.  Who knows, maybe they're expecting constructive criticism.

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