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The ARCS Model of Motivation

It is erroneous to assume that adults are solely accountable for their motivation in the classroom. Although adults are driven by internal motivators – professional development, job security and extra-curricular interest, for example – the instructor must acknowledge and foster that motivation. The ARCS Model of Motivation (John Keller) was developed to address the influences on motivation to learn and, consequently, to solve motivation problems in the classroom. Field testing at the time of development reveals that this model was compatible with instructional design models. (Keller, 1987) This essay looks at John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation, its application in the classroom and its effect on the teaching process and on learner response. The essay will also forecast the results of implementing the ARCS Model of Motivation in a Conversation Workshop for Beginning ESL Students which I will be leading from March 2 to April 6, 2009.

The motivation to learn must be promoted and sustained if the adult learner is expected to achieve maximum benefit. According to John Keller, there are four steps in this model: attention, relevance, confidence and satisfaction. Keller proposes perceptual arousal and inquiry arousal as two methods of gaining attention in the classroom. Adults should be drawn into the topic being taught through unusual or unconventional means. Relevance is the second step in the ARCS Model of Motivation and is essential in the instruction of adults. Adult motivation is driven by need; therefore knowledge taught must be tied to practical application. The third step in Keller’s model is confidence. Unlike children, adults are participating in classes with students of a mixed ability and age range. This can lead to self-consciousness and feelings of inadequacy. Instructors, then, must foster the competence of all students so that each student feels that they have derived something from the learning. All three of the steps outlined thus far, if effectively implemented, will pave the way for the final step of the ARCS Model of Motivation, which is satisfaction. Upon completing a course, and indeed after each lesson, students should come away with concrete knowledge that reassures them that their learning is worthwhile.

John Keller highlights methods for each of the steps in the ARCS Model of Motivation. Active participation, variability, humour, incongruity and inquiry are Keller’s five suggestions for gaining attention. Create or simulate a classroom environment which awakens interest so that students will be inspired to think critically. Variations in delivery prevent boredom and cater to different learning styles which students have. Humour and incongruity reaffirm the blurring of the hierarchical teacher-student dynamic. Inquiry acknowledges the experience that adults bring to the classroom by asking questions which allow them to get involved in the teaching process. Keller has six strategies for bringing relevance to learning which revolve around present and future worth, practical application and modelling or presenting evidence of learning being applied. Adults will be more motivated by a guest speaker in the subject area than by a textbook. In the ARCS Model of Motivation, confidence in the classroom means making success meaningful, providing feedback but not patronage and allowing the learner some control upon their learning. Satisfaction is the feeling which results from honest praise and feedback and engagement born of intrigue and relevance.

I will be leading a Conversation Workshop for Beginner ESL Students at the beginning of March and I believe that the ARCS Model of Motivation will enhance the experience of those attending. There will be no more than 20 students in the group. They are women who are not only struggling with life in a new country and language barriers, but who are dealing with abusive relationships. The learning environment is one where they feel comfortable to seek support. My first attempt at gaining their attention, therefore, is to come to them instead of making them attend classes in unfamiliar territory. I will use their input during the first session to determine conversation topics and vocabulary on which they want to focus. I will learn their names so that they feel acknowledged and included. The questions I ask will center on current events, childcare and resource discovery so that the language they practice and retain will contribute directly to the lives they lead. As a woman of a minority race, and having a disability, I hope that my independence and success will provide a real life example of the fact that women can rise above obstacles to accomplish the goals they want. I will conduct informal assessments to ensure that they are benefitting from my instruction. With this group of students, I feel that feedback is extremely important to boost their confidence and self-image. I want to give them a sense of satisfaction in having learned successfully.

John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation is especially useful in an andralogical learning environment. The four steps mentioned in this essay echo Wlodkowski’s four conditions for culturally responsive teaching. Instructors must recognize that the adult learner needs to be engaged and involved in their own learning. Allowing peers to teach each other, employing a variety of media and delivery methods and conveying constructive feedback through formal and informal assessments will create a positive and motivating learning environment. Implementing the ARCS Model of Motivation in my classroom setting will ideally cultivate and maintain my learners’ interest and feelings of self-worth. The model will also enhance the meaning and application of my instruction.

(c) Kristy Kassie, February 16, 2009


Learning Theories Knowledgebase. 2009. Learning-Theories.com. 15 February 2009. http://www.learning-theories.com/

Motivation Design 2006 John M. Keller. 20 July 2006. http://www.arcsmodel.com/home.htm

Keller, John M. “Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design.” Journal of Instructional Development 10.3 (1987); 2-10

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