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An Explanation of Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design

Module by: Karen Sanford. E-mail the author

Summary: This module is a summary of John Keller's ARCS Model of Motivational Design. It describes the four categories that must be present for a learner to be motivated as well as a brief overview of a lesson plan template.

An Explanation of Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design


Karen Sanford

EDPS 794

Fall, 2010

The ARCS Model of Motivational Design is a theory created by John Keller rooted in analyzing the motivational characteristics of learners. It is “a problem solving approach to designing the motivational aspects of learning environments to stimulate and sustain students’ motivation to learn (Keller, 1987). This theory describes what must happen during the learning process if the learning is to become authentic and meaningful and is composed of two major components. First, Keller identifies four categories of conditions that must be met in order for a learner to be completely motivated. These categories include attention (A), relevance (R), confidence (C), and satisfaction (S). Second, Keller describes the systemic design process that assists individuals in “creating motivational enhancements that are appropriate for a given set of learners” (Keller, 2006). These two components combined allow individuals to identify the elements of student motivation as well as describe the motivational characteristics of student learners in a given learning environment.

The first requirement for learner motivation is attention. Keller believes that attention (A) can be gained in one of two ways. The first method is called perceptual arousal. Perceptual arousal uses the element of surprise, the unexpected, or uncertainty to gain the learners attention. For example, a teacher suddenly dropping a book to the floor or writing a word backwards or upside down on the board are two examples of using perceptual arousal. The second method of gaining a learners attention is called inquiry arousal. Inquiry arousal stimulates the learners’ curiosity by asking challenging questions or presenting the learner with complex problems to be solved. This strategy is often useful as new information or skills are being introduced to students at the beginning of a lesson.

Keller’s second condition for motivation is called relevance (R). Relevance involves ensuring that the content being presented by the teacher has perceived value to the student learner. Content relevance results from the process of linking the goals of the learner to the content of the instruction. It includes tapping into learner learning styles and interest as well as building a bridge between what the learners already knows and what he or she is about to learn.

Keller’s third requirement of motivation is confidence (C). In order to develop student confidence it is necessary to have students experience success as well as have clearly defined expectations for what success mean. Confidence includes setting clear objectives, providing frequent opportunities for the learner to believe in his or her own ability to achieve, sharing meaningful feedback, and allowing the learner to make personal choices about the content to be learned, the learning objectives, as well as the instructional activities (Shellnut, 1998).

Keller’s final requirement for motivation is called satisfaction (S). Satisfaction involves providing learners with positive consequences for learning that include both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. The learners should also feel that the content or skill learned is useful and will benefit them in their real life. Last, satisfaction assures the rewards are equitable; and they reasonable match the level of student achievements.

Attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction make up the first part Keller’s ARSC model as the four categories that provide a foundation for a learner’s motivation. The second part of the ARCS model involves a ten-step method of design that details how to create lesson plans that motivate students in a variety of settings. The steps of this lesson plan outline are summarized as follows:

  1. Identify the course description and rationale/purpose, setting, and method of delivery
  2. Gather necessary audience information (level of knowledge, skills, and attitudes towards material)
  3. Identify what has motivated the audience to be part of the learning. What has influenced their decision to be there?
  4. Preview the materials and identify both positive and negative aspects
  5. List the goals, objectives, and method of assessment
  6. List the possible methods of instruction
  7. Select the best method of instruction
  8. Integrate the selected methods of instruction with a motivational system
  9. Create the necessary materials
  10. Evaluate yourself based on student reaction and revise if necessary

Motivation is essential when it comes to student learning. Motivation involves helping a learner want to learn as well as providing opportunities for the learner to develop in ways that is authentic and satisfying. Keller’s theory suggests that if teachers utilize his four categories of learning (attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction) and incorporate a design system which links the instructional content to this theory student motivation will positively increase.


Keller, J. (2006). What is the ARCS model?. Retrieved from

Keller, J. (1987). Development and use of the ARCS model of motivational design.

Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2-10.

Keller, J. (February, 2000). How to integrate learner motivation planning into lesson

planning: The ARCS model approach. Paper presented at VII Semanario,

Santiago, Cuba.

Shellnut, B. (1998, October 15). John Keller: A motivating influence in the field of

instructional systems design. Retrieved from

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