Why do learners choose to learn? What keeps them going in an eLearning course? We all want our courses to be engaging and effective. We want our learners to want to take our courses. In other words, we want them to be motivated to learn.

To boost motivation in your learners, John Keller’s (1999a, 1999b, 2008) classic ARCS model of motivation is a great little tool. This model consists of four elements:

  • Attention: getting learners’ attention (obviously), but also sparking curiosity and building engagement
  • Relevance: making connections between the course and the learner’s environment
  • Confidence: giving learners a sense of self-control and the expectation that they will succeed in the course
  • Satisfaction: leaving learners with positive feelings about the course and encouraging further learning

The model assumes that if learners have a personal reason for learning the material, they will be motivated to succeed and will be satisfied with their newly acquired skills. As we know from adult learning theory, learners do indeed have personal reasons for learning.

Gaining learner attention begins with making the course visually appealing. Use a simple design with easy-to-read text and eye-catching (but relevant) graphics. Use animations, screen text, audio narration, and interactive elements such as branching and scenario-based examples to appeal to a range of learning preferences. A variety of interactions and well-designed page layouts will help you gain and maintain learner interest.

It is important to demonstrate to each learner the relevance of the training to his or her role in the organization. Use real-world examples and scenario-based interactions to show learners how the course is relevant to their job and will help them do it better.

To give your learners confidence in using the skills you are teaching, consider using a guided practice approach to learning. Of course, provide measurable performance criteria (goals and objectives) at the beginning. Use knowledge checks and performance-based simulations to reinforce learning and enable learners to demonstrate mastery. Use tailored feedback on wrong choices to guide students toward the correct ones. Within each lesson, include topic summaries to reinforce learning and provide transitions to upcoming material.

To enhance satisfaction, provide opportunities for learners to apply newly acquired knowledge and skills in the context of real-world, scenario-based examples. Summarize the learning in the course conclusion in order to assure learners they understand course content and will be able to use it back on the job. To encourage continual learning, consider developing communities of practice and other informal learning opportunities.


Keller, J. M. (1999a). Motivational systems. In H. D. Stolovitch & E. J. Keeps (Eds.), Handbook of Human Performance Technology (2nd ed., pp. 373-394). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Keller, J. M. (1999b). Using the ARCS motivational process in computer-based instruction and distance education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 78, 49-47.

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

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