Instructional Design

Instructional Design Vs. Learner Motivation: Applying the ARCS Model

The ’80s meant acid wash jeans, bad hair and a lot of neon. But way back in 1987 John Keller came up with a theory known as the ARCS model. Keller is currently professor of instructional systems and educational psychology at the University of Florida and his ARCS model is essentially a way to marry instructional design with learner motivation for the best possible result. Of course, Keller’s model was created for traditional teachers and instructors – those standing face-to-face with their students. But although it’s over 30 years later and there have been serious changes to the classroom and instruction, the ARCS model still applies.

The ARCS model stands for four components of learner motivation – attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction. These four components were just as important in the ’80s as they are today. By checking your courses and instruction against the modern ARCS model, you may find yourself tweaking your material and methods to make sure your eLearners actually, you know, want to learn.


Of course you want your students to sit up and take notice – but how? The ARCS model uses attention first because it’s the first experience your students will have with the instructional design. Whether it’s a digital invitation to a company-wide course or utilizing graphics to present an old idea in a new way, you only get one chance to make your first impression. Do it right and students are excited about the prospect. Fail and you could have disgruntled learners rolling their eyes at the idea of another course. By using the design to hype the class or course, you have a better chance at getting willing bodies in the e-classroom.


Let’s face it. In a corporate setting, the interest employees have in courses and classes boils down to one concept: What’s in it for me? In the eLearning arena, your best bet to grab a student’s attention is to highlight the benefits and how it relates to the individual, rather than the organization. Whether it’s the knowledge and certification to move forward in a career, better communication or learning new standards to become compliant with the industry, learners need to understand the why behind the course or risk losing interest. If instructional design is such that learners don’t connect with the material, your course could fall flat.

When creating relevant course eLearning material, you have a number of assets at your disposal to help a learner connect with the material and get more from the experience. While the content and writing help your students get the facts, it’s the graphic design – pictures, graphs and multimedia – that help your learners better connect with the material on a more personal level. You need both to increase eLearner motivation and relevance.


Here’s where a flipped model of instruction can really work in your favor. When a student feels confident about the material and the instruction, he’s more motivated to try again. When you simply read off of a paper or complete a lecture, you miss out on the opportunity for students to test their new found skills and knowledge. By asking students to view course material online before class, you can then use class time as a way to role play, test and discuss the new concepts. Case studies, group discussion and even game play can help your students feel better about the application of new ideas. This can help your learners feel more comfortable with the material and ready to put it to work in the real world – after all, that’s the point of the course.


Your students invest time in eLearning, so the least you can do is make sure they leave feeling satisfied and as though their time was well spent. This often means putting new concepts to work as soon as your students leave the classroom. If you just completed course material based on improved sales tactics, for example, you could immediately send out a case study to which students can apply their new knowledge. Further activities, follow-up and even group projects can further help your students see the difference the course material makes in the real world, amping up satisfaction and interest in future courses.

So while Keller created his model way back when acid wash was actually cool, a few modern twists can help you apply his theory to instructional design. By creating course material based around the factors that keep your learners motivated, you help increase interest and retention for a more effective education.