Learning Theories



Watch overview videoAn brief overview of the ARCS Model (6:18)


The ARCS Model of Motivational Design was formulated by John Keller in 1983. Keller was interested in exploring how we might design learning experiences to create and to sustain student motivation in learning new content.  Keller was interested in the concept of motivational design because it could systematically produce replicable results over time in improving a learner’s motivation to learn. Keller (2016) defines motivational design as a “process of arranging resources and procedures to bring about changes in motivation.” According to Keller (1983), the ARCS Model of Motivational Design suggests that an instructional designer can routinely improve a learner’s motivation to learn by focusing on Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction (ARCS).

Guidelines for Use

Guideline 1 – Attention

The first step in instructional design for motivation is to capture the learners’ attention through either perceptual arousal or inquiry arousal. Using surprise, novel, engaging, and incongruous events at the start of a lesson will create perceptual arousal in learners and captivate their attention. Stimulating curiosity, wonder, and questioning by stating challenging problems and questions will create inquiry arousal in learners and capture their attention through intellectual or cognitive engagement. Key Question: is the content catching and keeping the learner’s attention?

Methods to Activate Attention:

  • Active Participation: encourage active participation by using games, roleplay, simulations, and other hands-on strategies to involve learners.
  • Variability: use a variety of modalities (e.g. video, infographics, audio, short lectures, discussion groups) for presenting content.
  • Humour: use cartoons, humourous anecdotes to maintain interest.
  • Incongruity and Conflict: use debate and play the devil’s advocate with comments that go against the learners’ past experiences.
  • Specific Examples: provide specific examples of the content through images, stories, and biographies.
  • Inquiry: Ask questions, present problems or dilemmas for the learners to grapple with and discuss.

Guideline 2 – Relevance

Finding ways to connect the content to the learner’s world ensures that the learning process is useful. Relevance helps connect the content to the real world. You can help establish relevance by using concrete language and examples that the learners will be familiar with. To establish relevance, you need to consider how the content connects to the learner’s goals, motives, and past experiences. Key Question: Why should the learner care about this content and how does it connect to the learner’s world?

Methods to Activate Relevance:

  • Experience: show learners how new learning will use their existing skills and experience.
  • Present Worth: help to show how the content will be immediately useful to them.
  • Future Usefulness: help to show how the content will be useful to them in the future.
  • Needs Matching: show how the content connects to the learner’s needs.
  • Modeling: show learners how to apply the learning and what to do. This helps them to walk the walk, so to speak. Other strategies include guest speakers, videos, and having learners function as tutors once they have the content.
  • Choice: Build in choice so learners can use different ways of showing what they know. It allows them to play to their strengths.

Guideline 3 – Confidence

Learners have to feel they can succeed. If a learner perceives the content as being too difficult, they may not even try to learn the content, or they may not try their hardest because they expect to fail. If the difficulty is too high, motivation will decrease. The content has to be organized in such a way so that the learner feels they have the skill and ability to accomplish the task or understand the content.  Key Question: does the learner feel like they can succeed in learning this content?

Methods to Activate Confidence

  • Provide Objectives & Prerequisites: objectives & prerequisites empower learners to estimate their likelihood of success. Objectives let learners see what is expected of them by the end of the learning. Prerequisites empower learners to self-check if they have the prerequisite knowledge or skills. Learners can then take steps to address any deficiencies.
  • Plan for Meaningful Success: scaffold and organize the learning so learners can experience success. The success should be substantial enough, so it is meaningful and represents some accomplishments. There is a fine balance between too hard and too easy.
  • Grow the Learners: scaffold and organize content so the learning increases in difficulty. This allows for growth in the learner.
  • Feedback: provide feedback that supports the learner in attributing their effort to their success with learning the content.
  • Learner Control: learners should have some degree of control over their learning path and assessment. They need to see that their success is a direct result of their choices and effort.

Guideline 4 – Satisfaction

Learning should be rewarding and satisfying for the learner. Satisfaction comes at the end of learning the content as the learner meets the goals and objectives as well as has their needs met by the learning. Satisfaction can also come from achievement and praise.  Key Question: does the leaner feel good about their accomplishment in learning this content?

Methods to Activate Satisfaction

  • Intrinsic Reinforcement: encourage the pleasure of learning for its own sake or to achieve personal goals. Learning should be useful and beneficial to the learner. Help them to see this benefit by applying the learning in a real-world setting.
  • Extrinsic Rewards: give unexpected rewards and direct encouragement to learn.
  • Equity: keep standards high so learners know they are achieving. Do not over-reward simple tasks.

Good Examples of Use

Example 1 – LinkedIn Learning (Formerly Lynda.com)

Linkedin Learning provides over 15, 000 online courses on subjects related to technology and industry. You can learn how to analyze big data, develop an app, or leverage digital storytelling and multimedia to communicate a message. Linkedin Learning courses are designed to activate a learner’s attention through active participation in several hands-on activities, variability in modality of content delivery, and by providing specific examples of how and where to use skills and content in a real-world context.

Example 2 – Prodigy

Prodigy is a research-based, online mathematics platform that gamifies the learning of mathematics. The platform assesses the level learners are at with their number sense and numeration skills, and then differentiates content for learners based on that initial diagnostic assessment. Prodigy activates satisfaction by extrinsically rewarding students with in-game content and micro-credentials. Prodigy activates intrinsic motivation by allowing students to set their own goals and seeing growth in their mathematical proficiency.

Helpful Resources

Resource 1 – ARCS: A Conversation with John Keller (Video)

This 1 hour 13-minute video is a recording of an interview with John Keller. In the interview, Dr. Keller explains the ARCS model and its grounding in research.

Resource 2 – ARCSModel.com (Website)

This website was created by Dr. John Keller to share the concept of the ARCS Model of Motivational Design. There is a section explaining the model in detail, as well as a section documenting and explaining various research themes around the contemporary study of the ARCS Model of Motivational Design.

Resource 3 – The ARCS model of motivational design: applied in practice (Blog)

This blog was posted by Alexander Todorov, and workshop presenter, that teaches learners how to code. The blog is a reflection piece that shows how the presenter tried to employ the ARCS Model of Motivational Design as he presented a workshop on coding.


David L. (2014) ARCS Model of Motivational Design Theories (Keller). [Web page]. https://www.learning-theories.com/kellers-arcs-model-of-motivational-design.html

Keller, J. M. (1983). Motivational design of instruction. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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

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

Keller, J. (2016). ARCS Model. [Web page]. https://www.arcsmodel.com


Submitted by: Chad Mowbray
Email: chad.mowbray@uoit.net
Web Page: https://elearning-essentials-2020.weebly.com
Bio: A graduate student exploring and learning about 21st Century teaching and learning.



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