By Chapin Brinegar
Senior Manager of Instructional Design
Ever signed up for a training that sounded interesting and relevant—but then found your attention wandering? That’s happened to me plenty of times, and I imagine to most of you. Keeping learners’ attention is always a challenge in professional development. The good news is that there is a problem-solving approach that, when designing trainings, can be used to both stimulate a learner’s motivation and sustain it throughout the learning experience and beyond. It’s called the ARCS Model of Motivational Design.
While most training professionals are familiar with design models such as ADDIE and Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Evaluation, many have never heard of ARCS, which was developed by John Keller in 1979. I was introduced to ARCS while enrolled in a master’s program for instructional technology and instantly found myself inspired by its simplicity and the reports of its effectiveness. After taking an elective summer course on ARCS, I crafted my thesis around it (more on this later) and discovered for myself how powerful this strategy can be.
Four areas of focus
ARCS provides a simple framework with concrete tactics for increasing a learner’s motivation in four areas: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. Let’s dig a little deeper and explore exactly how ARCS can be used in conjunction with other instructional design models to increase engagement and ensure a satisfactory and effective learning experience.
While it’s important to gain attention at the start of a learning experience, it’s more important to sustain that attention throughout.
Some strategies you can use to increase and maintain attention1:
- Present a “hook” at the start of the experience, such as an interesting statistic or a compelling quote.
- Include engaging exercises, such as simulations, games, and role plays.
- Use variability in the pace of the instruction, the media used, and/or the format of the experience.
- Incorporate, if appropriate, humor or pop culture references.
- Create opportunities for inquiry by posing questions to the group or offering brainstorming activities.
Relevance is achieved when learners feel the experience is directly applicable to their role and responsibilities, interests, organizational culture, or personal aspirations. When the content, media, and application exercises are relevant, the learner is more motivated to participate.
Some strategies that can help you ensure relevance1:
- Present the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) that explains to learners how this new experience will help them and explicitly states the value.
- Tell learners how this new experience will build on existing skills. Remember, adults learn best by building on present knowledge.
- Incorporate realistic imagery and terminology specific to the learners’ environment.
- Create opportunities for choice where learners can use different methods and pathways to pursue their work (branching scenarios, non-gated modules, etc).
- Model appropriate skills and behaviors. This can be done by the facilitator or through guest speakers, such as learners who’ve already completed the program.
Confidence is achieved when learners feel they can successfully achieve the learning goals.
Some strategies you can use to instill confidence1:
- Make the learning requirements, goals, and objectives of the experience known up-front.
- Sequence the experience so that it increases in difficulty.
- Create a safe environment with multiple opportunities for practice.
- Attribute learner success to effort.
- Allow learners to become increasingly independent.
Satisfaction is achieved when learners leave the program feeling good about their accomplishments, see the instruction as worthwhile, and want to continue learning.
Some strategies you can use to increase satisfaction1:
- Allow learners to use their newly acquired skills and knowledge in settings that are true to life and in which they will likely be successful.
- Arrange for learners who have mastered a skill or task to assist other students, when appropriate.
- Incorporate unexpected or surprising rewards.
- Provide personalized feedback immediately following a task or exercise.
- Create opportunities for frequent reinforcement, especially when a new task is being learned.
Does it really work?
I first saw the power of the ARCS model while completing my master’s thesis. In my work, I redesigned an online self-directed professional development course for beginning teachers using ARCS. My goal was simple: I wanted to see if applying ARCS to the course would increase learner attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.
My results—which compared the survey responses of teachers who took the original course with those who completed the redesigned ARCS version—clearly demonstrated that the experimental group showed higher levels of motivation. The learners who completed my redesigned course proved to be more engaged and left it feeling a higher level of satisfaction.
These results convinced me to bring ARCS outside of the classroom and into all my professional work. I recommend it to anyone developing educational and training materials. It may take some self-learning or expert guidance as well as practice, but you’ll be rewarded by seeing learners walk away eager to apply their newly acquired skills.
- Keller JM. Motivational Design for Learning and Performance: The ARCS Model Approach. New York, NY: Springer; 2010.
Chapin Brinegar holds a Master of Science in instructional technology and has more than 10 years of experience in education, corporate training, and instructional design. She has a proven track record working with a variety of clients in the pharmaceutical and life sciences marketplace. As an instructional design professional for Encompass, Chapin works closely with her clients to uncover their specific needs and to design, develop, and deploy a range of learning solutions.