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The Magic of Learner Motivation: The ARCS Model
by Kevin Kruse

Motivation is the most overlooked aspect of instructional strategy, and perhaps the most critical element needed for employee-learners. Even the most elegantly designed training program will fail if the students are not motivated to learn. Without a desire to learn on the part of the student, retention is unlikely. Many students in a corporate setting who are forced to complete training programs are motivated only to "pass the test." Designers must strive to create a deeper motivation in learners for them to learn new skills and transfer those skills back into the work environment.

As a first step, instructional designers should not assume they understand the target audience's motivation. To analyze needs, the designer should ask prospective learners questions such as:

  • What would the value be to you from this type of program?
  • What do you hope to get out of this program?
  • What are your interests in this topic?
  • What are you most pressing problems?

The answers to these types of questions are likely to provide insight into learner motivation, as well as desirable behavioral outcomes.

Keller's ARCS Model for Motivation

John Keller synthesized existing research on psychological motivation and created the ARCS model (Keller, 1987). ARCS stands for Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. This model is not intended to stand apart as a separate system for instructional design, but can be incorporated within Gagne's events of instruction.

Attention The first and single most important aspect of the ARCS model is gaining and keeping the learner's attention, which coincides with the first step in Gagne's model. Keller's strategies for attention include sensory stimuli (as discussed previously), inquiry arousal (thought provoking questions), and variability (variance in exercises and use of media).

Relevance Attention and motivation will not be maintained, however, unless the learner believes the training is relevant. Put simply, the training program should answer the critical question, "What's in it for me?" Benefits should be clearly stated. For a sales training program, the benefit might be to help representatives increase their sales and personal commissions. For a safety-training program, the benefit might be to reduce the number of workers getting hurt. For a software-training program, the benefit to users could be to make them more productive or reduce their frustration with an application. A healthcare program might have the benefit that it can teach doctors how to treat certain patients.

Confidence The confidence aspect of the ARCS model is required so that students feel that they should put a good faith effort into the program. If they think they are incapable of achieving the objectives or that it will take too much time or effort, their motivation will decrease. In technology-based training programs, students should be given estimates of the time required to complete lessons or a measure of their progress through the program.

Satisfaction Finally, learners must obtain some type of satisfaction or reward from the learning experience. This can be in the form of entertainment or a sense of achievement. A self-assessment game, for example, might end with an animation sequence acknowledging the player's high score. A passing grade on a post-test might be rewarded with a completion certificate. Other forms of external rewards would include praise from a supervisor, a raise, or a promotion. Ultimately, though, the best way for learners to achieve satisfaction is for them to find their new skills immediately useful and beneficial on their job.

The success or failure of any e-learning initiative can be closely correlated to learner motivation. Remembers the ARCS model when designing any program.

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1. 10 Tips For Online Learning
2. Evaluating e Learning
3. The Magic of Learner Motivation
4. The Benefits and Drawbacks of e-Learning
5. Marketing e-Learning
6. Measuring the Financial Returns of e-Learning
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