The ARCS Model

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a theory is “an idea or set of ideas that is intended to explain facts or events,” and a model is “a set of ideas and numbers that describe the past, present, or future state of something (such as an economy or a business)” (Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, n.d.). Jihyn Lee and Seonyoung Jang (2014) describe models as follows: “In a general sense, models are simplified representations of reality, which includes factors, structures, functions, systems, tasks, events, orders, or processes. An ID model, then, can be defined as a set of core factors and tasks by which instructions can be designed. As a systematic tool, an ID model assists designers in understanding related instructional variables and/or guides them through the process of analyzing, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating instructional products. In this sense, an ID model can provide guidance on both conceptual and procedural levels, and can serve as an essential component of ID theory” (p. 743). With these definitions in mind, I see an instructional design theory as a broad set of ideas intended to explain how people learn and an instructional design model as a more basic and concrete map, helping to guide an instructional designer’s process in designing an effective learning experience.

Both ID models and ID theories are effective and necessary in an instructional designer’s work, and the distinction is important so that an instructional designer doesn’t seek a step-by-step process in a theory or a broad set of principles in a model. A client may be interested in such differentiation if both a model and a theory are presented in a design document, and providing applicable supporting evidence for each may help convince the client to accept the design.

One model that I recently learned about is called the ARCS model. It was created by John Keller, who defined the model in his 1983 article titled “Motivational design of instruction.” I wasn’t able to get a copy of this article, but I was able to obtain a copy of a different article written by him titled “First principles of motivation to learn and e3-learning.” In it, John Keller (2008) describes the model’s theoretical foundation in the “first principles of motivation that are common to all learning settings:” “In brief, we can say that in order to have motivated students, their curiosity must be aroused and sustained; the instruction must be perceived to be relevant to personal values or instrumental to accomplishing desired goals; they must have the personal conviction that they will be able to succeed; and the consequences of the learning experience must be consistent with the personal incentives of the learner” (p. 176). The ARCS model was developed to represent this theory; it helps guide instructional designers in motivational design. The letters in the acronym stand for each principle listed in the aforementioned quote: attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction.

The instructional design model that I’m most familiar with is the ADDIE model. The ARCS model is different from ADDIE in that it focuses on only the motivational factors of learning instead of the entire instructional design process. It is similar in that it is also an acronym that guides the instructional designer in designing learning. I can see the ARCS model in being helpful in the design of the course I’m working on for CECS 5510. I want my course to motivate students to read literature, and if I can capture the students’ attention, make the content relevant, maintain the students’ confidence, and help them meet their learning goals, then my course will be that much more successful.


Keller, J. M. (2008). First principles of motivation to learn and e3-learning. Distance Education, 29(2), 175-185.

Lee, J., & Jang, S. (2014). A methodological framework for instructional design model development: Critical dimensions and synthesized procedures. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62(6), 743-765.

Model. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, Retrieved September 13, 2015, from

Theory. (n.d.). In Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, Retrieved September 13, 2015, from


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