What is the ARCS Model, what does ARCS stand for, and who developed it?  To be correct it is the ARCS Model of Motivation.  The ARCS Model is an instructional design approach that focuses on the motivational aspects of the learning environment.  The model was created by John Keller over a period of about 10 years and first appeared in 1979 with further development up to 1987 which culminated in the model that we know today.

What is the ARCS Model?

There are two parts to the ARCS Model.  The first covers the categories that comprise the 4 motivational elements.  The second covers the processes that assist training designers in creating appropriate motivational elements for the intended learners.

In a quote from 2006 John Keller wrote “Motivation consists of the amount of effort a person is willing to exert in pursuit of a goal; hence, motivation has magnitude and direction. Consequently, motivational design is concerned with connecting instruction to the goals of learners, providing stimulation and appropriate levels of challenge, and influencing how the learners will feel following successful goal accomplishment, or even following failure”.

The ARCS motivational design process is a problem solving approach that requires a bit of knowledge of human motivation.  It progresses from learner analysis through to the design of the training solution.

More specifically, the process includes:

  • Knowing and identifying the elements of human motivation
  • Analysing audience characteristics to determine motivational requirements
  • Identifying characteristics of training materials and processes that stimulate motivation
  • Selecting appropriate motivational tactics
  • Applying and evaluating appropriate tactics

An effective trainer must not only gain a learner’s attention but hold it throughout the course or lesson.   We learn more when we are motivated to learn and we are more likely to absorb and retain the information.

What does ARCS stand for?

ARCS stands for

  • Attention
  • Relevance
  • Confidence
  • Satisfaction

Let’s take each element in turn.


Gaining the attention of the learners and sustaining it is a critical element in training.  Getting the balance right between boredom and hyperactivity is also critical.  The balance between arousing their curiosity and desire to seek further knowledge and information and overload is a fine line.  Increasing complexity and variety of tasks is one way and the introduction of colour, sound and animation works as a stimulus to the brain.

Try these:

  1. Conflict: Use contradictions, play “devil’s advocate”.
  2. Reference: Use visual representations, anecdotes and biographies.
  3. Variety: Change – tone of voice, movements, training format, media, layout and design of the material as well as the pattern of interaction to appeal to the different learning styles.
  4. Humour: Use puns, analogies & anecdotes – be careful with jokes.
  5. Inquisitiveness: Use constructive problem-solving activities.
  6. Participation: Use games, simulations, role-play, etc.


The instruction needs to meet the present and anticipated needs of the learners.  It also needs to demonstrate that it is relevant to their jobs.  For example, getting a team to build a raft on an outdoor pursuits course has to have a link back to the reason they are doing that particular exercise.  One of Keller’s claims is that the relevance can not only come from what is taught, but also from how it is taught.  Curiosity, creativity, and higher-order thinking are stimulated by relevant, authentic tasks of optimal difficulty and novelty for each learner.

Try these:

  1. Familiarity: Use terminology and expressions that they are already familiar with and build on them to introduce new pieces of knowledge.
  2. Experience: As with point 1, emphasise that the new learning will incorporate some of their existing skills and use analogies to relate the new learning to previous experience.
  3. Goals: Present the objectives of the session clearly and involve the learners in defining future goals for when they are back at work to help reinforce the value of the learning.
  4. Knowledge sharing: Encourage learners to share experiences and needs with other learners to create a mutually supportive group feeling.


Confidence can be defined as a belief in your abilities and the expectation of success.  Success oriented individuals generally believe that success is attributed to their abilities and the amount of effort they put in.  They accept risks, apart from really high risks that are too chancy or low risks that offer too little challenge.  Conversely there are failure oriented individuals who are low in self-motivation.  They accept really low risks because they have a chance of success, or really high risks as failure is a more certain outcome but this can then be blamed on external factors.  Motivating the failure oriented individuals and those with over confidence provide a challenge for the trainer.

Try these:

  1. Requirements: Ensure that the goals and objectives are made clear so that learners are aware of the performance requirements as well as evaluation methods for critical exercises.
  2. Difficulty: Build the knowledge assimilation and exercises so that confidence is boosted by early success in the less taxing exercises. Set realistic, relevant targets.
  3. Graded Challenges: It may also be worth considering building challenges with differing achievement levels that allow learners to set personal goals or standards of accomplishment, as well as performance opportunities that allow them to experience success. Try exercises where the success of one person means that the next person can continue the exercise and so on.
  4. Feedback: Provide feedback that supports the level of success and ability of each learner.  Build on the positive and give confidence boosting support.


How good do people feel about their accomplishments?   Keller claims the ‘satisfaction’ category involves the normal reinforcements for work well done, but also contends with issues of learner control.   If a learner must accomplish a goal to get a teacher-derived reward as opposed to an already-existing intrinsically satisfying reward, control of the learning situation is lost to the learner.   In these cases, learning satisfaction actually decreases.  The more motivated you are to learn, the greater the feeling of satisfaction when you succeed.

Try these:

  1. Natural Consequences: Allow learners to practise and use their newly acquired skills in realistic (real or simulated), successful settings.  Knowing that the skill is useful or beneficial will increase the success rate and therefore satisfaction.
  2. Rewards: Learning must be rewarding or satisfying in some way, whether it is from a sense of achievement, praise, or mere entertainment. Do not over-reward the easy tasks, but consider including a surprise reward for some of the more complex tasks.
  3. Feedback: Provide feedback and reinforcement to sustain the desired behaviour and level of achievement immediately. When learners appreciate the results, they will be more motivated to learn.


You could be forgiven for thinking that Change Management and Training consists of a series of acronyms.  We have recently covered ADDIE, ADKAR, TNA and now ARCS, but they are all extremely useful guidelines for the change manager or trainer.

Keep motivated to learn!

You will find the ARCS Model referred to in our training courses shown below.

  • Training Skills For Better Performance
  • Instructional Design – ADDIE
  • How To Design E-Learning

View all the courses we offer by category – Change Management or Train The Trainer – for further details.

09 December 2019


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