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What Are the ARCS Categories?

  • How do you keep your students motivated?

  • What are some of your favorite tactics?

  • Are there lessons that you really like to teach because you know there are interesting things for the students to do?

  • Are there other lessons that are boring for both you and the learners?

It is dangerous to use the phrase "most people," but nevertheless, I am going to say that most people can get into ruts. For example, one problem faced by many teachers is that they have specific “tried and true” tactics that they are comfortable using, but they may have trouble finding new ideas or a well-balanced set of ideas. For example, with respect to balance, I knew a teacher who was very good at presenting material in a manner that reduced the learners’ anxieties and made them feel comfortable in the classroom, but this same teacher had a rather boring style of presentation and everything he was going to do, with respect to learning activities and assignments, was totally predictable. In contrast, I knew another teacher who was very creative in her efforts to provide unexpected and novel approaches to teaching and learning, but her students were anxious; they were frequently confused about the teacher’s requirements and syllabus. One of the goals of motivational design is to prepare a set of motivational tactics that are in alignment with learners’ motivational needs and are complimentary with the overall instructional plan. In order to do this, it is necessary to have a good understanding of the different characteristics of learner motivation and to understand what kinds of tactics go with each characteristic.


It can be difficult to this because there are so many elements in a course that can affect motivation. They include the materials you use; your own behaviors as a teacher; the structure of a lesson which calls for different kinds of actions at the beginning, in the middle and at the end; and the overall structure of the course with its various units and lessons. But, the four categories of the ARCS model (Table 1) offer assistance in each of these areas. Each category has subcategories and they are supported by specific psychological constructs. For each of these components, there psychological concepts that provide the theoretical foundation for the component, and there is a list of questions that serve as a “job aid.” For example, the question pertaining to “motive matching” under Relevance asks, “How and when can I link my instruction to the learning styles and personal interests of the learners?” The complete list of questions can help you analyze your approach to teaching or preparing instructional materials and can be used as a checklist to analyze your current materials and lesson plans. The questions can also be used as a source of ideas for ways to motivationally enhance your teaching.


Table 1 ARCS Categories






A1 Perceptual arousal
A2 Inquiry arousal
A3 Variability 

  R1 Goal orientation

  R2 Motive matching  

  R3 Familiarity

C1 Learning requirements

C2 Success opportunities   

C3 Personal control

S1 Intrinsic reinforcement
S2 Extrinsic rewards
S3 Equity


My book contains complete descriptions of these categories and the motivational variables subsumed in each. Also, several of my article publications that cover the points listed above. They contain descriptions of the theoretical foundation for each of these categories, list the “process questions” for each subcategory, and provide some sample strategies. If you have trouble obtaining any of the journal articles listed below, please send an email ( and perhaps I can help.


Keller, J. M. (1987a). Development and use of the ARCS model of motivational design.Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2 – 10.


Keller, J. M. (1987b). Strategies for stimulating the motivation to learn. Performance & Instruction, 26(8), 1-7.


Keller, J. M. (1999). Motivation in cyber learning environments. Educational Technology International, 1(1), 7 – 30.


Keller, J. M. (2010). Motivational design for learning and performance: The ARCS model approach. New York: Springer.


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