Using John Keller’s ARCS model to motivate online learners

You may have come across John Keller’s ARCS model for student motivation. It’s not a model that I’ve used myself, at least not consciously, but I stumbled upon it again recently and thought it provided a good summary of the issues to be considered when designing a learning intervention. In particular it makes sense to me when putting together a live online learning event. Let’s take a look at the four elements:

Attention: Clearly it is essential to grab the learner’s attention because, without this, the other three elements will not be considered. Keller suggests the use of sensory stimuli (online that includes the use of sound, animation and webcam video), thought-provoking questions and variability in the use of exercises and media.

Relevance: Attention is just a starter; then you make absolutely clear how the session is relevant to the learner’s real-life problems and interests. However interesting your content may be to you, it won’t engender much response from the learner if they can’t see how it relates to them. Attention and relevance work the same way in learning as they do in advertising – make your communication stand out from all the other competing noises, then explain as clearly and simply as you can how your offering can help to solve a problem they are likely to have.

Confidence: Learners will only start to put energy into an activity if they feel there’s a good chance that this energy will bring reward. They need confidence in your method and in their own ability to take advantage of this. So, explain up-front what the process will be and how long it will take; and express your own confidence in the likelihood that they will succeed, ideally using evidence from previous interventions.

Satisfaction: Do what you can to make sure the learner achieves some reward if they successfully complete your intervention. This may, of course, be intrinsic, but if it isn’t don’t hold back on the praise.

ARCS is a useful checklist, which draws upon some well established research. And, given the doubts many trainers feel about delivering online, where they can’t establish face-to-face contact, it’s probably more useful in this context than anywhere.

About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 244 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

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  1. says

    You’ll find many excellent examples of Keller’s ARCs at work, with a minimal amount of Web searching. Trainers and teachers who have come up with strategies that work are not shy about posting their ideas for applying the model, and it is a good idea when all of us who read this blog do the same. A rich area of potential for sharing is in Attention. It is in this area that Challenge is often effective (depending on your audience). Challenge may be something as simple as showing a photograph and saying “Bet you can’t pick out the…” This can be done for example in Rail safety with a photo showing a potential hazard and saying “Bet you can’t be first to pick out the trackside hazard here”, or in Estate Agency training with “Bet you can’t pick out the ideal place to locate the For Sale board in this picture”.

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