Keller photo

Model of Motivation: ARCS Instructional Design

ARCS is an instructional design model and focuses on motivation. This model was developed by John M. Keller.

With the rise of online learning, there has been renewed interest in John Keller’s Instructional Model of Motivation. It is much more challenging to motivate students online than it is in class. Keller’s model offers ways to keep students on task throughout online instruction. It is based on expectancy-theory, that “assumes that people are motivated to engage in an activity if it is perceived to be linked to the satisfaction of personal needs (the value aspect) and if there is a positive expectancy for success (the expectancy aspect)” (Keller 1987).

John M. Keller photo
John M. Keller is an American educational psychologist.

Motivational design is defined as “the process of arranging resources and procedures to bring about changes in people’s motivation” (Keller, 2010). Keller’s Instructional Model of Motivation is also known as the ARCS Model, which is an acronym of the strategies used to ensure continued motivation: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. Each of these components is further broken down into three sub-categories, though all can be united into a systemic motivational process.

See also: Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction


The first letter of the Acronym, A, represents attention. Before any learning can take place either online or in the classroom, the instructor must have the student’s attention. Attention must be sustained throughout the entire process in order for meaningful learning to take place. It is important that the students are engaged in the topic; this can be accomplished by catering to the interests of the class. We can capture their attention using three specific strategies:

Perceptual Arousal: capture their attention by using the element of surprise. For example, the instructor may use an opaque bag with a question mark on it as a hook to a lesson.

Inquiry Arousal: ask questions to stimulate their curiosity. For example, the instructor may present a problem and have students come up with different ideas or solutions.

Variability: offer a range of media to accommodate various student needs and interests. For example, the instructor could first display tangible steps on a projector before breaking the students into teams to practice.

See also: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Education


The second letter in the ARCS model, R, refers to relevance. In order for learners to retain information, they must view the experiences as meaningful, or relevant. There are a few ways to ensure that the information taught is relevant to the students.

Goal Orientation: learning goals are clearly communicated to students to help them achieve the highest odds of success. For example, the instructor may explain to the students how the objectives are useful in their everyday lives.

Motive Matching: learning goals are matched to the motives of students. For example, the instructor offer accommodations to classwork, such as presenting their research in the form of a presentation or a written piece.

Familiarity: the information taught is related to the personal experiences of the learners. For example, the instructor may ask students to make connections from their own lives to the ideas taught in class.


The third section in the ARCS model, C, stands for confidence. This refers to the students’ own belief to accomplish something and confidence in their ability for success. Strategies for confidence-boosting instruction can be incorporated into everyday teaching in various ways.

Learning Requirements: learning goals and criteria are clearly outlined so students know what to expect. For example, the instructor may provide evaluation requirements ahead of time, as well as examples of student work from previous classes.

Success Opportunities: the tasks are challenging enough for the students and there is an opportunity for them to be successful. For example, the instructor offers constructive feedback after the students have synthesized meaningful information.

Personal Responsibility: acknowledge the link between success in class and the effort put forth by the student. For example, the instructor may offer feedback that praises a student on their hard work.


The last letter, S, represents satisfaction. Satisfaction is critical to continued success in learning. The students will be more motivated to learn if they are satisfied with the outcome. Instructors can promote satisfaction by implementing different strategies in class.

Intrinsic Reinforcement: the learning journey should be enjoyed. For example, the instructor has former students participate in the current class. They may offer encouragement and useful tips, or explain how this information was valuable in their own lives.

Extrinsic Rewards: constructive feedback and positive comments are the norm. For example, the instructor creates certificates for those who accomplish personal goals or contribute in class.

Equity: there are clear standards and criteria that are consistently enforced. For example, the instructor marks a project using the same criteria for everyone. Feedback is offered with the next steps directly related to the learning goal.

Not only does the ARCS model of motivation clearly identify different categories, each with different strategies to promote engagement, it also includes a 10-step process for motivational design. These steps help instructors identify weak points in the learning journey and address them appropriately to ensure student success.

From steps one to four, the instructor acquires and analyzes the data first presented in the course, which includes student motives and course content. They aim to identify potential issues that may occur throughout the learning process. Then, in steps five to eight, instructors try to identify potential strategies that may assist in motivating their learners. They try and engage students by incorporating these tactics into their teaching. In steps nine and ten, instructors develop the tasks themselves and then conduct an evaluation on the activity. They are looking specifically to see if the motivational strategies were effective in student learning. The ten motivational design steps are neatly summarized in the table below:

Motivational Design Steps


  1. Acquisition of course information
  2. Acquisition of audience information
  3. Analysis of audience motivation
  4. Analysis of motivational tactics in existing materials


  1. Description of motivational goals and assessment methods
  2. Identification of potential tactics
  3. Design of tactics
  4. Integration of motivational tactics with instructional plans


  1. Development of materials


  1. Evaluation of student reactions

ARCS Examples

K-12 Example: Recycling Unit

A: Create a display of landfill photos, barges, etc.

R: Keep a daily trash log, identity what each student throws out / recycles in a 24 hour period of time.

C: Create a plan for the class to lead a recycling program at the school.

S: At the end of the unit, tally up and report the amount of items that were RECYLED due to the class effort.

Training Example: Customer Service

A: Begin with a video fo humorous non-example.

R: Throughout the training utilize scenarios directly from the employees experience (possible pull these examples from a pre-training server or SME input).

C: Create a job aid to guide the desired structure / type of response. Easy to use and apply.

S: Role play behaviors in the training; provide specific praise to the steps as they are followed.


J.M. Keller. Motivational design for learning and performance: The ARCS model approach (1st ed.), Springer, New York (2010)

Keller, J. M. (1987a). Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2–10.

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