ARCS Model and Instructional Design – Motivation in eLearning

ARCS Model and Instructional Design – Motivation in eLearning

ARCS Model

Engaging learners is always a challenging task. Many studies have researched in the link between engagement and motivation. In this post, we will analyze the ARCS model and instructional design strategies to increase motivation in eLearning.

What is the ARCS model?

John M. Keller (born March 5, 1938) is an American educational psychologist, best known for his work on motivation in educational settings. He is the father of the ARCS model of motivational design.


This model is a systematic approach to designing motivational learning. It consists of the following elements:

Element 1 – Attention: Keller suggested that attention could be obtained by perceptual arousal or by inquiry arousal.

For perceptual arousal, the learners’ attention would be gained by surprise, doubt or disbelief. Statements or facts that may be contrary to what the learner knows or believe to be true are a way to grab attention.

For inquiry arousal, the learners’ curiosity would be stimulated by challenging problems that needed to be solved.


Element 2 – Relevance: A successful course design must establish relevance in order to motivate learners. Learners should relate to the training via the language, analogies and stories.

Learners get more motivated if the course content has a practical application in real life.

Allowing learners to establish connections of the new information with pre-existing knowledge, is a very successful motivational strategy because it gives learners a sense of “continuity” and it makes learners realize that they are really expanding their knowledge base.


Element 3 – Confidence: Instructional designers should promote confidence in learners by helping them to believe that they can succeed. If learners feel they won’t be able to accomplish their goals, then they will have less motivation.


Element 4 – Satisfaction: The last component of Keller’s ARCS Model of motivation is satisfaction. The ARCS model presents a direct link between satisfaction and level of motivation, either intrinsic or extrinsic. Learners should be proud and satisfied of what they have achieved throughout the training.

This model has been used and validated by educators in different settings such as in elementary and secondary schools, colleges, universities, corporations, government agencies and non-profit organizations.


How can I apply the ARCS model in eLearning?

The ARCS model in eLearning can be applied as follows:


Specific Design Strategies

Attention –


Grab learners’ attention


Include games and role plays.

Use a variety of presentation methods.

Add multimedia elements.

Use humor.

Add visuals.

Ask questions.

Have learners solve problems.

Relevance –


Design with the question “What’s in it for me?” in mind


Use examples that learners are familiar with.

Relevant stories.

Provide reasons why the content is relevant.

Explain learning goals.

Explain the benefits of taking that course.

Explain what the course is fixing or how learners are expanding their skills after taking the course.

Ask about learners goals.

Create connection to pre-existing knowledge.

Communicate future uses of the new knowledge.

Present role models, stories of success as a result of applying the new concepts.

Design with flexibility in mind.



“Help your learners cultivate a sense of confidence”


Provide performance requirements and evaluation.

Communicate prerequisites in advance.

Communicate how evaluation and assessments will be conducted.

Provide feedback. Constructive feedback may reinforce positive behaviors and skills.

Allow learners to control their learning.

Show progress of the course (progress bar, % of progress).

Encourage learners to take small steps.



“Acknowledge efforts and successes”

Reward learners.

Provide opportunities to practice what has been learned with real problem solving activities, simulations or role-play activities.

Provide reinforcement.

Challenges in motivating students with eLearning

Some of the barriers to motivate students with online learning is the rejection to technology. Some learners have some type of fear of accessing training in a digital way.

In the corporate sector, for example, learners have the barrier of time. Not putting enough time to do the online training can affect the level of engagement of learners to complete their eLearning courses.

Another barrier of corporate learners is that they want to do the eLearning modules quickly, because eLearning is the lowest priority for them.


Strategies you could consider to overcome these barriers

Some of the strategies to overcome these barriers are:

  • Make eLearning bite-sized or micro-learning modules of short duration. Small modules allow learners get the information one step at a time and promotes scaffolding techniques that are so good for retention.
  • Include quizzes and exams throughout the eLearning course. Including a test at the end can cause stress and reduce confidence in learners. Having smaller and different knowledge check points help to ensure that the learners have successfully absorbed the information before moving onto the next section, and will allow them to review key terms and ideas prior to acquiring new knowledge or skills.
  • Use stories and characters to make it relatable. To create a connection with the learners will inevitably help them to more effectively retain knowledge.
  • Use storytelling in eLearning and create characters to connect more with your learners.
  • Use an avatar or narrator to draw attention to key points. The avatar can offer tips to the learners or ask them thought-provoking questions throughout the eLearning course.
  • Integrate interactive elements and activities with the use of a variety of multimedia, such as videos, music, and images, can appeal to different learning needs and boost knowledge retention.
  • Create eLearning scenarios that tie into real world applications. eLearning scenarios give learners the opportunity to see the real world applications. They can also test out the information they’ve learned by making decisions within the scenario that lead to consequences or rewards. This will help them to automatically see how to apply the skills and the new information acquired.

In Summary

Designing motivational learning is a challenging task but if we address each element of Keller’s ARCS model of motivational design then we are increasing our chances of having highly motivated learners.

The elements to take into consideration are:

Attention -> Elicit learners’ interest and curiosity.

Relevance -> Show the importance and usefulness of the content.

Confidence -> Include challenging but doable activities.

Satisfaction -> Make the overall learning experience positive and worthwhile.

Additionally, remember that adult learners don’t like to take eLearning courses that have no value for them. That’s why we need to outline beforehand the benefits of taking the training.

While instructional designers have no control over learners’ motivation, we certainly have control over the design of the training.

So let’s design the best possible way to engage and motivate our learners.

What other strategies would you include to increase the motivation levels in eLearning?

See you next time 🙂


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10 Responses

  1. Kenechi says:

    Building of motivational learners could really be such a challenging one and there are factors that can determine this. There are things that can make it challenging and on the other hand, there are things that can make the challenges to be conquered. My take, we should stand tall no matter what we have to face. 

  2. Geoffrey wurz says:

    Thank you for the very informative post on how to make eLearning more exciting. To be able to keep the learner’s attention. This is a Great article for anyone trying to teach something online. Which you could translate in to say writing a blog and trying to keep your customers attention. Great article I’m going to try and follow this method.   

    • Thais says:

      Hi Geoffrey,

      You are right! you could translate this knowledge into how to engage your readers 😀 I never thought about it.

  3. Kinggold19 says:

    This is really cool about this article. The world is now technologically advanced and now a global village. Most learning are done online and following the ARCS ruled five a positive result on the learner. The best thing to do to engage learners online are discussed and explained better here, and the advice given here that lecture should be micro byte base of short duration and short quizzes and exams are the best choice to engage learners that wants to add values to themselves. Thank you for this awesome review. Good job here. 

    • Thais says:

      Thanks so much for your comment 😀 that’s right! shorter quizzes and evaluations throughout the course are very effective strategies to engage and consolidate knowledge, especially for adult learners in the corporate sector.

  4. Alblue says:

    I was actually searching for some tips for helping my friend (he is a teacher), but I found your article can be applied to general learning condition as well. In my company, we sometimes create workshops (offline) and webinars to help people understand about gamification. We may revamp our presentation method based on ARCS system. Thank you for writing this helpful article 🙂

    • Thais says:

      Thanks so much! Like you said, you can apply the ARCS motivational learning model for face to face courses, online learning, webinars, etc.

  5. Seun Afotanju says:

    Thanks for this informative  post, as it helped me to understand the process of arranging and procedures to bring about changes in motivation which focuses on motivational designs to learn the strategies principles and processes for making instruction appealing which helps to facilitate learning effectively. I must say this was very helpful to me. 

    • Thais says:

      Hi Seun, that’s good 🙂 I’m glad you found the post helpful. It is important to design with motivation principles in mind to construct appealing learning experiences.

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