You Should use the Word “You” in Instructional Materials

You, the learner, are the most important person in any learning or training experience. Not the teacher, not the textbook, not the technology. You.

According to learner-centered instruction, the focus needs to be on what information you retain, the lasting insights you create, and the skills you are able to perform after the training event is over.

Your instructors are too often tempted to “cover” material — to give you a glorified “book report” to show off all the great information they know about a given topic. When they do this, they focus on what they have to do — the presentations they have to give, the topics they want to cover, the activities they have to build and lead — and they forget about you.

If you walk out of this training without having learned what you were supposed to learn, the teacher has failed. The training experience was a waste of time and resources if you didn’t achieve the learning objectives.

What — there were never any learning objectives defined? They just said “we’re going to teach them about X” and then made you sit through hours of training, listening to them drone on, bullet point by bullet point, with no clear role for you to participate? This is more common than you think.

If your instructors phrase their objectives using SMART goals, they might create an explicit measure of your learning, such as

“You will be able to recall and recite the five key characteristics of learner-centered instruction.”

Being this explicit and direct with the objectives means that we can easily measure whether you have, or have not, been successful at the objective. Can you recall and recite those five key characteristics? Yes? Great! No? Maybe more review or remediation is needed.

If you can recite those key characteristics before the training starts, do you really need to sit through the four hour training, or can you use your time more effectively somehow?

You-Focused Learning Materials

In the learning experience itself, using “you” keeps the focus on what you can do, what you might want to know, and what you’ll need to think about as you do your other work and take care of your other responsibilities in life. When you watch a video tutorial that uses language like “here’s what you’ll want to do” or “this is a trick that will help you accomplish your goal of X”, you can see yourself in the process and know more clearly what actions you’re expected to take.

In contrast, when a more passive tone is used, confusion may arise about the relevance of the information, especially if no subject is named and no action is explicitly suggested.

As you can see, using “you” in learning materials adds an immediacy that more passive language just can’t match. Especially if you have challenges directing your attention (whether you have a clinical attention disorder or if you’re just busy and distracted like the rest of us!), you pay better attention when the materials feel like they’re talking to you directly.

Can you see the value of using “you” in your instructional materials? In the end, you will decide whether this approach works for you and your learners. Hopefully, you will put the needs of your learners ahead of your own, and define your success according to their success in achieving your learning objectives.

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