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ARCS Design Process

"Design is a Process of Making Dreams Come True."

from The Universal Traveler

The ARCS motivational design process is a systematic problem solving approach that requires knowledge of human motivation and progresses from learner analysis to solution design. More specifically, the process includes:


  • Knowing and identifying the elements of human motivation,

  • Analyzing audience characteristics to determine motivational requirements,

  • Identifying characteristics of instructional materials and processes that stimulate motivation,

  • Selecting appropriate motivational tactics, and

  • Applying and evaluating appropriate tactics.


Thus, motivational design includes a systematic process that contains these steps and results in the preparation of learning environments that contain tactics, or activities, that have a predictable influence on the amount and direction of a person’s behavior. Motivation consists of the amount of effort a person is willing to exert in pursuit of a goal; hence, motivation has magnitude and direction. Consequently, 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. Will, for example, the students want to continue pursuing the same or similar goals?


Instructional design, by contrast, is concerned with factors that influence how well a person will be able to acquire, recall, and use new knowledge and skills. These are the factors that together with effort, the outcome of motivation, have a direct influence on the quantity and quality of a person’s performance.


From a broader perspective, learning environment design requires one to consider both motivational and instructional influences on learners, and both of these activities require consideration of learner goals and capabilities together with cultural and environmental factors that affect attitudes and performance. It is no wonder that the design of effective, efficient, and appealing learning environments is a complex enterprise. Even though there is a growing “technology,” in the sense of systematic knowledge of how to create learning environments, there is also an art to being able to successfully design and teach. The art of design and teaching is based on both knowledge and experience and refers to the necessity for personal judgment and problem solving. Many of the challenges faced by teachers and designers cannot be solved “by the book.” They can be solved by a combination of systematic problem solving and personal judgment based on one’s overall experience and professional expertise. However, by learning and applying systematic problem solving processes, and by learning how to recognize and classify various types of problems, one can increase one’s expertise and judgmental capacity. This process will not lead you to automatic answers to motivational problems, but it can help you systematically and predictably improve the motivational qualities of your instruction.


For more detailed information about this process, the following are examples of relevant publications. If you have trouble obtaining any of these items, please send an email ( and perhaps I can help.


Keller, J. M. (2008). An integrative theory of motivation, volition, and performance.Technology, Instruction, Cognition, and Learning, 6, 79-104.


Keller, J. M. (1987). The systematic process of motivational design. Performance & Instruction, 26(9), 1-8.


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

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