Custom elearning, Learning Design

The ARCS Model of Motivational Design

Sep 16, 2020
Suresh Kumar DN

When it comes to the efficacy of learning, other than course content and instructional design elements, what matters a lot is learner motivation. Well, you cannot control the learners’ motivation but you can influence their levels of motivation for sure. You can either motivate the learners to learn or entirely kill their interest. As a learning experience designer, your influence is unlikely to be neutral.

In this article, we will look at motivational design and specifically the ARCS model of motivational design.

What is Motivation?

“Motivation refers broadly to what people desire, what they choose to do, and what they commit to do” (Keller, 2009). Philosophers have been pondering over the exact definition of motivation since ancient times. However, documented research exists only for a few hundred years. There are numerous theories that attempt to explain motivation and its attributes. Keller (2009) groups them into four categories.

The first one explores motivation through human physiology, genetics, and neurology. The second takes into consideration behavioral approaches, such as operant and classical conditioning, incentive motivation, and environmental influences. The third group delves into cognitive, attributional, and competence theories. The fourth group focuses on studies of emotion and affect.

Such categorization is useful for organizing and demarcating areas for research, but they keep researchers confined to a category and prove to be a hurdle when it comes to developing a holistic theory of motivation.

What is Motivational Design?

Motivational design, as shown in Figure 1, does not occur in isolation from other influences like instructional design and the learning environment design.


Figure 1. Motivational Design as a Subset of Instructional and Learning Environment Design (Keller, 2009)

According to Keller (2009), “Motivational design aims to enable the dream of educators, other behavioral change agents, and managers of human performance to stimulate and sustain people’s efforts to make positive changes in their lives.” From a learning experience designer’s perspective, “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” (Keller, 2009).

The ARCS Model of Motivational Design

ARCS is an acronym for Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. Each of these components can be easily explained with a question. You can see the questions alongside the definitions in Figure 2.


Figure 2. ARCS Model Categories, Definitions, and Process Questions (Keller, 2009)


In a learning context, attention has more to do with managing and directing learner attention. However, before managing or directing attention, it has to be acquired, which happens in the domain of motivation.


“Why do I have to study this?”; “Will I ever use this in real life?” – Haven’t we all had such questions back in school? After motivation is acquired, it is necessary for the learners to feel connected to the learning and find it relevant to their personal and professional goals.


Simply being motivated to learn and finding the topic relevant might not help your learners if they are underconfident or overconfident about a topic. They might have preconceived notions about certain topics that deter them from learning them effectively, or on the contrary, they might feel that they know everything about it already.


When the first three motivational goals are achieved, learners will be motivated to learn. To ensure continuous learning, learners must have a sense of satisfaction with the process or outcome of learning.


To conclude, the four components of the ARCS model give us the major factors that influence a learner’s motivation to learn. While designing or preparing to deliver a course, Keller suggests that we ask these two questions:

What will you do to make the instruction valuable and stimulating for your learners?
How will you help your learners succeed and feel that they were responsible for their success?
If you’re looking forward to designing and develop effective learning experiences, we at Tesseract Learning can help you do that. You can share your ideas with our Instructional Design strategists, who are the experts in the field, and they will work with you to bring your ideas to life.

For more information on how we can work with you in implementing digital learning solutions, contact us or write to me at


Keller, John M. (2009). Motivational Design for Learning and Performance: The ARCS Model Approach.Springer Science + Business Media, New York, USA.

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