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


Revising My Design Document

This week, my peers in CECS 5510 and I are to reflect on our experiences revising our instructional design documents based on peer feedback. The peer who reviewed my design document was very kind in his feedback and could not find much to critique. However, the two suggestions that he did provide did help me improve my design.

The first was a question regarding the Common Core State Standards. I referenced the standards in my Purpose, and his question made me realize that I should elaborate on what the Common Core State Standards are for those who are not familiar with them. The second suggestion helped me incorporate environmental aids for visually impaired students. With online technology becoming more prevalent in education and the Department of Justice’s ever growing dedication to enforcing ADA in online educational environments, it is more important than ever to make accommodations for students with disabilities (Cooley LLP, 2015). Applying my peer’s recommendation, I added a Braille version of Fahrenheit 451 and a screen reader to the environment for students who may need them.

My instructor also provided some helpful feedback in improving my design document. He recommended that I format my citations in APA format, eliminate the use of first person, avoid ending a paragraph with a citation, and reconsider my chosen assessment for one more aligned with my chosen learning theory. He also recommended that I provide a more thorough discussion regarding my course’s learning theory, purpose, and problem. He reminded me that because this document is oftentimes the only thing that gets to the decision maker, it needs to provide a good argument for its approval.

After seeing the detailed and well-supported descriptions provided in the design document that I peer reviewed, I clearly saw how my design document was lacking. In writing the first draft of my design document, I had simply followed the formatting I had submitted for CECS 5210, and the instructor for that class had not taken the time to provide the helpful feedback that Dr. Faulkner provided.  I revised my design document with Dr. Faulkner’s comments in mind, and I can now see how much stronger my design document is. There is always room for improvement, and I am grateful that in my final semester in this master’s program, I have a professor who will help me improve.


Cooley LLP. (2015). DOJ puts pressure on schools and ed techs to provide accessible educational technology. Retrieved from

First Blog Post for CECS 5510

It’s now the Fall 2015 semester, and I’m now two courses away from completing my master’s degree! One of these courses is CECS 5510, Technology-Based Learning Environments, and this week’s assignment is to read and reflect on three articles: an instructor-assigned article, a self-selected article, and a peer-selected article.

The instructor-assigned article is “Problem-based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework” by John R. Savery and Thomas M. Duffy. It characterizes constructivism by outlining three primary propositions (“Understanding is in our interactions with the environment;” “Cognitive conflict or puzzlement is the stimulus for learning and determines the organization and nature of what is learned;” “Knowledge evolves through social negotiation and through the evaluation of the viability of individual understandings” [Savery & Duffy, 2001, p.3-4]). It then outlines eight instructional principles associated with constructivism and explains how the problem-based learning model successfully applies the instructional principles.

For the self-selected article, I chose “Online learning: Constructivism and conversation as an approach to learning” by Ken Allen. In it, he discusses how Talk 2 Learn, an online community that facilitates conversation, can support constructivism and Wenger and Vygotsky’s cognitive interactionist philosophy. He emphasizes “that before adopting any new educational technology we should first clarify the pedagogical basis on which we wish to proceed” (Allen, 2005, p. 254). The article reaffirms the advantages to a constructivist approach in teaching and learning. According to it, “collaborative learning, authentic tasks, reflection and dialogue, and the promotion of identities and learning communities” enables learners “to solve problems they are immediately facing and places an emphasis on everyday knowledge” (Allen, 2005, p. 254).

For the peer-selected article, I chose the article selected by my classmate Keri: “Understanding the ways in which design features of educational websites impact upon student learning outcomes in blended learning environments.” This article outlines the results of a study on the instructional design features of websites used in blended courses. The study found that “implementation ought to include features in which students engage in learning activities or discussions of content through the website” and that “functions which just present information do not seem to impact upon learning outcomes to any great extent” (Kember, McNaught, Chong, Lam, & Cheng, 2010, p. 1191).

All three articles support a constructivist approach in instructional design. This motivates me to further investigate how constructivism can be effectively applied to the course I will be developing this semester. In order for students to want to complete this course (or any other course I design), they will need to see how it will help them in the real world.

Savery and Duffy (2001) state that “learning must have a purpose beyond ‘It is assigned.’ We learn in order to be able to function more effectively in our world” (p. 5). This statement made me think about the majority of my learning experiences in K-12. I completed all of those assignments simply because they were assigned, without really thinking about how those tasks would help me in the real world, and I think this was largely because little to no emphasis was placed on how those tasks would help me in the real world. I think about many of classmates who hated classes like English. They could not see the point of reading and analyzing The Grapes of Wrath, for example, and, therefore, did not invest the time to study it. But if you really think about it, reading and textual analysis are essential skills in life. You must be able to read and interpret the directions on a tax return form. You must be able to read between the lines and understand what the terms in a job offer letter really mean. You must be able to read people, and figure out if they are really as trustworthy as they seem. If we can help our K-12 learners see the usefulness of what is taught in Reading and English Language Arts, then they will put forth more time and effort in mastering the skills, and we will begin seeing stronger readers and writers in our workforce and a more productive society. As a result, I think I will attempt to create such a course this semester. I’m thinking a ninth grade course on Fahrenheit 451. I’ll keep you posted!


Allen, K. (2005). Online learning: Constructivism and conversation as an approach to learning. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 42(3), 247-256.

Kember, D., McNaught, C., Chong, F.C.Y., Lam, P., & Cheng, K.F. (2010). Understanding the ways in which design features of educational websites impact upon student learning outcomes in blended learning environments. Computers & Education, 55(3), 1183-1192.

Savery, J.R., & Duffy, T.M. (2001). Problem based learning: An instructional model and its constructivist framework. Indiana University: CRLT Technical Report No. 16-01.


The Importance of Consistency


One attribute that instructional designers must consider in the design of a course is consistency. A course should be consistent in its use of background elements (e.g., format, writing style, and visual design elements). This reduces cognitive load and allows users to focus on what they need to learn.

Habituation and Learning

Imagine an Internet browser that changed its appearance every time you opened it up. The vertical scroll bar might appear on the left one day and on the right the next. The address bar might appear at the bottom instead of the top. What if Google decided to change its search rules, requiring your search to have proper spelling and capitalization in order for results to display? Such changes would be annoying and meaningless, right? You would probably stop using the browser and Google altogether and move on to a better tool.  Typical users want to open up the browser and quickly find what they want on the Internet. It may have taken some time when they were younger to learn how a browser and Google worked, but nowadays, the task can be performed by only thinking about what they want to find.  Because of habituation, you no longer think about where the address bar and scroll bar are. The same thing happens when a learner interacts with an online course. It may take some time for the learner to grow accustomed to the course’s look and feel, but the more the same look and feel is presented, the faster habituation will occur, freeing up space in working memory and allowing the more important stuff (the content) to take the stage.

In her book Design for How People Learn, Julie Dirksen (2012) makes three points:

  1. Consistency can be useful.
  2. Too much consistency is bad.
  3. Annoying variability is bad, too (p. 87).

The trick is to take advantage of the brain’s tendency for habituation: use consistency for background elements (e.g., format, writing style, and visual design elements), and variability for capturing attention and keeping the learner focused on important, meaningful material.

Examples for Consistency vs. Variability

Instead of using “the same type of feedback in the same location every single time” or having a feedback box “randomly pop up in different areas of the screen,” Dirksen (2012) recommends having different types of feedback “appropriate to the different types of content you are presenting, or to use a variety of different learning activities to keep things interesting” (p. 87).

Don’t clutter the language of the course with inconsistent usage of terms. If you name a section “Glossary,” refer to it as “Glossary.” Calling it “Terms and Definitions” later on may confuse readers and cause a loss of focus. Using language that follows standard punctuation and grammar rules prevents distraction as well. Misspellings and atypical usage can cause users to question the professionalism and trustworthiness of the course contents.

Tom Kuhlmann (2009) offers some tips for maintaining consistency in visual design elements in his Rapid E-Learning Blog. He recommends considering the impact of the visual design, using a uniform visual design related to the central theme, using matching meaningful graphics, guiding attention appropriately with contrast, and using appropriate fonts.


Dirksen, J. (2012). Design for how people learn. Berkeley, CA: New Riders.

Kuhlmann, T. (2009). 5 Common Visual Design Mistakes. Retrieved March 29, 2015, from

An Introduction to CECS 5211

This semester is off to an interesting start. I am enrolled in CECS 5211 (Instructional Systems Design II), but I am the only student in the course. This resulted in my being grouped with CECS 5210 (Instructional Systems Design I), the course that I completed last semester. I wasn’t sure what to expect at first, and I was worried that I would have to complete the same assignments again. But fortunately, my instructor has reassured me that this will not be the case. In fact, she has a special project in store for me.

The Learning Technologies Department would like my assistance in converting a doctoral level online course from Canvas to Blackboard and making improvements to the course along the way. I’ll be able to interview instructors who have taught the class in Canvas and analyze the course in order to suggest and design improvements and then develop those improvements in the conversion to Blackboard.

My being the only CECS 5211 student tasked with this project is a bit daunting. Unlike the other classes I’ve taken in this program, this class provides no assignment overview, no learning modules, or no fellow colleagues for me to work with. I wonder what CECS 5211 has typically been like for other students, whether the format for the course is like this simply because I’m the only one taking the class this semester or whether it is always like this. I’m actually very surprised that CECS 5211 isn’t a more popular course, considering that it’s one of the required courses for UNT’s Instructional Systems Design Certificate.

Regardless, the challenge of improving a doctoral level online course excites me. In fact, the hardest part of the task is what I think I’ll enjoy the most: going through the doctoral level content and learning the content myself. Becoming familiar with the content so that I could better understand how best to teach the content will likely be the most time consuming part, and I hope the content won’t be too far over my head, considering that I’m only a master’s student at the moment.

I am also looking forward to broadening my toolset by learning more about Canvas and Blackboard. I have not had the opportunity to view instruction in Canvas or create instruction in Blackboard before, and seeing Blackboard and its capabilities from an instructor’s viewpoint will be enlightening. I’m delighted that I have this opportunity to improve the learning experience of doctoral level students. I’ll do my best not to disappoint!

ID and Course Reflections

CECS 5210 has been an enlightening journey. Working with a real client to solve a real problem through instructional design has enabled me to learn the following things:

  1. Things rarely go as planned. I had set some lofty goals for myself during the first meeting with my client. What first began as an online course with different modules for front desk training (scheduling appointments, answering phones, verifying insurance), clinical training (taking case history, performing a visual field, applying insurance benefits to contact lens purchases), and optical training (frame styling, lens options, applying insurance benefits to glasses purchases) quickly turned into an online course for just lens options alone. What first began as an online course in SmartBuilder quickly turned into a built-from-scratch website with Captivate presentations and activities.
  2. It’s important to be flexible. With things rarely going as planned, it’s important to be flexible. I had originally decided to build a SmartBuilder course because it was a free authoring tool that also offered free hosting. But after spending an entire day trying to learn how to use SmartBuilder (and not getting very far), I realized that I should probably invest this time learning an authoring tool that a large majority of companies like to use: Adobe Captivate. The $299 price tag for the student edition was money well spent. I was able to learn the program much more quickly since I was already proficient in other Adobe products, and I was able to quickly produce presentations and activities. (Being able to add Adobe Captivate to my resume was another bonus, too, of course.)
  3. If a topic of instruction is new to a designer, he or she must perform a great deal of research to create effective instruction. Due to my inexperience, I greatly underestimated the time it would take me to create an online course on lens options because it took me a lot longer than I anticipated to learn about all of the different lens options. The more I learned the more I realized that there was a lot left to learn. As I learned about the purpose of each lens option, I realized that the optometric assistants also had to understand the availability of lens options; how to select them based on a patient’s prescription, preferences, hobbies, and daily activities; how to properly communicate the lens options based on the patient’s personality type; and how to calculate the pricing. I could not create meaningful practice activities without learning about each of these aspects first.
  4. The client often takes longer than you like to respond. Regardless of who the client is, it is likely that he or she has many urgent priorities and that answering your email for a training project isn’t one of them. My subject matter expert for this project, for example, is an office manager for a busy optometric practice. Being the omniscient one of the office, she’s constantly having to put out fires, addressing employee and patient issues and managing vendors. Even though she would love an online training course for lens options as soon as possible, answering one of my emails just isn’t at the top of her priority list. Who has the time to answer an email when a disgruntled patient is standing right in front of her? They’ve lived without the training for years already; how could putting it off a little longer hurt? Fortunately, the instructor of our class is very understanding. She warned us from the very beginning that we should try to accommodate the client’s schedule as much as possible, and that she would work with us to iron out any kinks. One meeting with my subject matter expert helped me see exactly how busy she (and the office) really was. With her working well over forty hours a week, I did not want to add to her stress at all. In the end, we agreed that quick meetings and phone calls instead of emails worked best, and the plethora of information available online helped reduce the number of questions I had to ask her.

Armed with the lessons learned from this class’s two instructional design projects, I’m ready for more. What does CECS 5211 (Instructional Systems Design II) have in store for me? I’ll keep you posted.

Designing Instruction

Designing instruction is a lot like writing. You must take into account a topic, an audience, and a purpose to construct a work of art with the right language. When the elements are orchestrated well, the audience walks away changed. Such a task requires empathy, foresight, resourcefulness, organization, a passion for learning, and a strong understanding of how people learn.

In order to meet the needs of a learner, you must understand the learner and see where the learner is coming from. Empathy allows you to place yourself in the learner’s shoes, so that you can reduce the chances of boredom or miscommunication. Instruction with forced audio and no skip button, for example, may frustrate learners who already know the material and want to skip forward to a more unfamiliar section. Multiple-choice questions are too often written with no empathy. Take this example provided by Vanderbilt University. The writer considers answer choice D to be correct, but answer choices A, B, and C could also be considered correct by some since a cell with 46 chromosomes also contains 12, 18, and 32 chromosomes.

Foresight is required to prepare for the unexpected. Technology may fail during a lesson, or an activity may be too simple for a particular audience. Having the foresight to incorporate flexibility can prevent wasted time and money. Resourcefulness is another time and money saver. With projects commonly having tight deadlines and budgets, instructional designers must be able to use what they are given to create the maximum effect.

Although pictures, audio, and videos can enliven a piece of instruction, they can be distracting and nonsensical as well. An organized approach to designing instruction ensures that all of the necessary elements (e.g., the content, the practice activities, and the feedback) are there and aligned with the goal(s).

A passion for learning enables instructional designers to gain the knowledge and skill themselves, and a strong understanding of how people learn enables them to pass them on.  I have worked with writers and instructional designers who do not take the time to learn the process themselves, and the result is an inaccurate product of no use that can only be resolved with several more rounds of feedback and revisions (and several more rounds of frustration and waste).  As Herbert A. Milliken states in his paper on “The State Certification of Music-Teachers,” “one cannot teach without knowledge, but many cannot teach who have it.”

Let us salute all of the instructional designers out there who manage to constantly learn new things and create effective learning with empathy, foresight, resourcefulness, and organization. Corporate America needs you!