Keller's ARCS Model Research Paper Starter

Keller's ARCS Model

(Research Starters)

In the mid-1970s, Professor John Keller created an instructional design model to increase student motivation. Using four characteristics of learning (attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction), the ARCS model of motivation was created to construct class materials (lesson plans, homework assignments) that keep students motivated to learn. To his peers, Keller is considered a pioneer in the field of motivation design, and the ARCS model has been used successfully worldwide. Specific examples of how ARCS has been used are described here, including comments by Keller on the subject of retention.

Keywords: ARCS Model; Attention; Computer Based Instruction (CBI); Confidence; Instructional Design; Motivation; Relevance; Satisfaction


Motivation is subjective. Some people are motivated by an incentive to earn money or are inspired by a philanthropic cause. For John Keller, professor of educational psychology & learning systems at Florida State University, motivation is the means by which teachers can create (and restructure) course materials to encourage student success. According to Keller, a student's motivation to learn can be increased when course materials focus on four categories of learning:

  • Attention — course materials need to gain and hold students' attention.
  • Relevance — instructional content needs to be relevant to students' experiences and what they already know.
  • Confidence — as soon as a student becomes successful with new course material, he will gain confidence and continue to perform tasks related to the material (homework, for example).
  • Satisfaction — satisfaction with course material will increase when he is rewarded for that success, perhaps by receiving a good grade or a compliment from his teacher.

Motivation has been shown to explain up to one-third of the difference in student achievement (Huett, Moller, Young, Bray & Huett, 2008, p. 113). In other words, students who are more motivated achieve academic success at higher levels than their peers who are less motivated, in about 30% of cases. Keller's ARCS (Attention, Relevance, Confidence, Satisfaction) offers teachers a formula to create course information (materials, lectures, homework) that will increase student motivation. Keller created the ARCS model based on "a desire to find more effective ways of understanding the major influences on the motivation to learn, and for systematic ways of identifying and solving problems with learning motivation" (Keller, 1987, p. 2). Through many studies, both independent and collaborative, Keller has proven that the ARCS model of instructional design does increase student motivation and thus, student academic success. The model has been used worldwide, and Keller is noted as a primary influence in the field.

The ARCS Instructional Design Model of Motivation

There are many reasons why students aren't motivated in school. From the tone of a teacher's voice to the distance a desk is from a window, student boredom can be the result of just about anything. However, it is most common when course material cannot be applied or when it has little significance to the student. When looking at each category of learning, Keller created more specific areas on which teachers can focus instructional materials. Each area supports learning by helping to create or maintain student motivation. For example, attention is the primary stimulus to learning, and Keller suggests that it be gained by increasing a student's perception (Keller coins this "perceptual arousal") by doing something unexpected. Also, stimulating a student's sense of discovery by posing questions or creating problems for him to solve holds his interest as well. Inquiry arousal can be achieved by using films, Power Point images, or music in class; a more novel approach to inquiry arousal could use the classroom itself as the stimulus by alternating the light source, moving chairs/desks to different positions, or holding class outside for a day. Students will remain interested simply because the methodology is unique.

This approach was borne out in a study by Hodges and Kim (2013). They investigated the effectiveness of a technique designed to improve college algebra students’ attitudes toward mathematics. Keller’s ARCS motivational design model was used as a guide for the development of a motivational video, which was delivered online. The authors found that “statistically significant results were observed for improved attitudes toward mathematics” (Hodges & Kim, 2013).

Once a student's attention is gained, he will only remain attentive if course material has relevance to him. Following Keller's model, teachers should "apply a series of teaching materials, instruction techniques, and activities relevant to learners' past experiences, prior knowledge, current interests, future expectation, and career goals" (Hung-Chang, & Ya-huei, 2008, p. 55). Students also tend to master material when they teach it to someone else; tutoring other students in the class will benefit the student by ensuring he understands the material and becomes confident as a learner ("ARCS Model," 2009). A teacher can further develop that confidence in several ways. First, she can allow the student to help create evaluative materials for the lesson. Second, the teacher can offer opportunities for the student to learn in increments while the material increases in difficulty. Third, she can offer immediate feedback to the student's attempts at success. Saunderson (2013), referring to Keller, adds that “all learning should build up a person’s confidence to understand and perform the acquired knowledge and skills. They must feel they can accomplish the learning objectives, or motivation will wane. That’s why spelling out the learning objectives and requirements for success ahead of time is essential” (Saunderson, 2013).

Realizing such success builds satisfaction within the student. When a student achieves success because he worked hard and applied what he learned, he is likely to repeat the same learning strategy. Reinforcing the positive behavior that creates success is a teacher's primary responsibility. That responsibility is achieved when a student can apply new material in practical experiences and have it evaluated positively. For example, a student can learn a geometry lesson by measuring a site for a school garden. A lesson in nutrition can have that same student plant vegetables, and a lesson in science can provide the task of caring for the crop once it is planted. The practicality of this experience provides a reward that is both intrinsic (personal pride) and extrinsic (admiration from other students and school personnel). Positive feedback from an instructor acts as a bonus to the student who is already satisfied with what he has achieved.

Convincing Faculty

The problem with any instructional design model is that unless it is actually used by faculty, it offers little value. While Keller created ARCS to design instructional methods to increase student motivation, Surry and Land (2000), used ARCS to focus on faculty. Their aim was to increase faculty motivation to use technology in their courses:

Many university administrators now view technology as a cost-effective and innovative solution to many of higher education's problems. Higher education faculty have, as a result, been given greater access to innovative technologies … [yet] faculty utilization of innovative technologies has remained low (p. 145).

To pinpoint the reasons faculty have not jumped on the technology bandwagon is impossible, simply because every instructor is different. However, these researchers believe that even the smallest use of technology in class will benefit both faculty and students, and they offer the following strategies as examples.

  • Electronic mail is an easy way for faculty and students to communicate. That communication can include a notice that class has been cancelled or it can be more private, discussing grades or personal issues students may be having. Email can also act as a way for a class to communicate with each other for class discussions or peer reviews (p. 146).
  • The World Wide Web (WWW) makes researching topics and managing large classes practical and simple. "While use of the Web in this sense does not represent a dramatic shift or redefinition of teaching and learning practices, it is nonetheless used to solve very real and pragmatic classroom problems" like assessing the reliability of a website or collecting "live" (real-time) data like stock market gains (p. 146).

More recently, Michael Green wrote of the relevance of ARCS to designing a Web-based laboratory class (2011). He argued that the flexibility of the ARCS motivation model “is a good fit for Web-based course design because it supports activities that facilitate consistent student engagement and self-directed experiential learning” (Green, 2011).

  • Course management systems like Black Board™ allow for minimal or maximal use by faculty in that teachers can simply post student grades to the system (so students always know how they are doing in the class) or teach classes in an entirely online format. While both minimal and maximal use offers convenience for faculty and students, setting up either situation requires training and a fluent knowledge of the system's capabilities.

Surry and Land (2000) recommend that ARCS be used to motivate faculty when the following is considered:

Attention-gaining strategies are designed to make faculty aware of the different types of technologies available to them and to demonstrate the power and potential of those technologies. Relevance strategies are designed to make the use of technology relevant to the needs, hopes, desires and goals of the individual faculty member. Confidence building strategies are designed to provide the faculty with the skills they will need to master the use of technology … Satisfaction strategies are designed to provide rewards to faculty who use technology and incentives to faculty who don't (p. 149-150).

Students use technology every day — sometimes several times a day — so it follows that it would be good practice to utilize technology as an instruction method (or supplement) whenever possible, especially when it can improve student success. School administrations may need to offer release time, financial bonuses, and paid training to faculty to motivate the use of technology in classes. Most faculty already use email, so sending messages to students isn't a huge leap toward a new way of teaching; neither is making students use the Web to search for information. Course management systems offer faculty the ability...

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