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ARCS model of motivation

The ARCS model was originated by John Keller (Keller, 1987) and considers how to gain attention and keep it during the learning process.

The elements of the ARCS model are:



A number of approaches can be used to gain attention.

Perceptual arousal

This approach relies upon the idea that people pay attention to sudden or unexpected changes in their environment (the orienting reflex). Some tactics include:
  • Changing voice levels
  • Changing light levels
  • Introducing surprising facts, telling jokes
  • Introducing personal, emotional content

Perceptual arousal tends to be transient. It may not be content related and in the case of changing environmental stimuli, habituation can occur.

Inquiry arousal

Inquiry arousal arises from a problem situation that can be resolved by knowledge-seeking behavior or discovery. Tactics can include:
  • Asking questions
  • Creating paradoxes
  • Providing thinking challenges/brainstorming events

Variability is more about keeping attention than gaining it and refers to changing up the type of learning objects you are using. For example, a mix of lecture, story-telling, simulations, physical activities, may be used during a single class-room or synchronous learning event.


Learners need to believe that there's a point to their learning experience. Different approaches to establish relevance include:
  • Goal matching (ends vs means oriented; e.g., this course will help me get a job) Tactics can include:
    • Using job-related examples or case studies
    • Explaining connections and allow students to voice their own perceptions of the connections
    • Providing narratives or examples of the usefulness of a particular instruction
    • Presenting goals or have users help define them
  • Motive-matching (understanding the motives of your learners) provides avenues for success for different types of learners. For example, learners can include:
    • High achievers who like to define goals and have personal control over their success and relish opportunities for personal achievement, leadership responsibilities
    • Affiliation seekers who may prefer group projects and enjoy cooperative activities and opportunities to negotiate outcomes
  • Familiarity matches the content to the learner. Tactics can include:
    • Allowing learners can choose their own projects
    • Providing examples that relate to the learners' own experiences
    • Including human figures in graphics
    • Telling stories that relate to real-world experiences
    • Allowing students to share their experiences
    • Asking student's names

Confidence arises when course requirements are objective and clear (i.e., learners believe that success is achievable). Tactics for increasing confidence include:
  • Providing opportunities for success, and adjusting pacing as the student becomes increasingly competent so that there is a balance between effort and results
  • Providing students with personal control over success, for example, by:
  • Using short answer vs multiple choice tests
  • Allowing students to choose their own way(s) of solving problems
  • Providing corrective feedback (formative as well as summative)
  • Allowing students to attribute success to personal effort (attributive feedback)

Satisfaction comes from being able to see the impact of learning.

Natural consequences

The student is able to use knowledge in real-world situations. Tactics for increasing satisfaction include using case studies or simulations and showing that the learner can perform in these situations.

Positive consequences

Approaches to demonstrate positive consequences include:
Providing extrinsic rewards (e.g., opportunities for advancement, certificates, raises)
Using verbal praise
Letting student present the results of their efforts to increase a sense of accomplishment (e.g., "show and tell")


Tactics for ensuring equity include:
  • Ensuring that course outcomes match stated objectives (for example, test on what you teach)
  • Maintaining consistent standards and consequences for task accomplishment


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