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The Lost Art of ARCS?


The Lost Art of ARCS?

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By Andrea Giugni
Editor, MindEdge Learning

Self-motivation is tricky.

Often, we can intellectually understand the reasons that drive us toward a task. We can even grasp the importance of the task. But getting started feels like an uphill battle for both the mind and body. If you’ve ever worked from home or taken an asynchronous online course, the concept of self-motivation is all too familiar. With no time-bound requirements, your approach to the work is your own—both a blessing and a curse.

On one hand, you have the ability to learn on your own timetable, enjoying flexibility and making room for the unpredictability of balancing life. You can take the time you need to absorb new information without feeling pressured to move on to the next topic instantly. Along with a thoughtful online course, you can make learning more accessible for you and your learning needs, exploring new concepts with more time and practice and in different formats.

On the other hand, you are solely responsible for showing up to the virtual classroom on a timeline that is appropriate for you. And sometimes, that can be a problem.

Personally, I find the pros of increased flexibility outweigh the cons, and with some tools to structure self-motivation, you can get started on your learning journey sooner than you think!

One such tool is John Keller’s instructional ARCS model, which has been used in instructional design spaces since its development in 1987. The model identifies four critical factors that contribute to learner motivation: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction. While Keller originally envisioned this model as a tool to help teachers with instruction, I find it can also be useful to approach the ARCS model as a learner. Being aware of the factors that shape our self-motivation can help us form habits and mindsets that positively support independent, asynchronous learning.

The model’s first component is Attention, understood as the ability to grasp and hold sustained interest in a topic. Keller further breaks this component down into three separate facets of a learner’s attention: perceptual arousal, inquiry arousal, and variability. Perceptual arousal is what hooks a learner when they first approach a topic. Consider what draws your attention away from a distraction and toward the information you hope to learn. Real-world examples, small amounts of humor, or an unexpected perspective can break up the expectations you have for a course and get you involved. What catches your attention?

Once you’re hooked, inquiry arousal starts to kick in. In this stage, you go from being loosely interested in an assignment to forming individual questions about the topic and thinking about its connection to your own experiences. And finally, variability—engaging with a number of different formats or examples—can help sustain attention when learning.

In an information-driven environment such as the internet, attention is a highly valued commodity. Engaging in thinking that activates inquiry arousal can help you get over the initial hurdle of getting started.

The second component in Keller’s model is Relevance—a factor that is especially important for adult learners, who want to apply knowledge across various areas. Keller also breaks this component down into three facets: goal orientation, motive matching, and familiarity.

Goal orientation aligns learning objectives with the learner’s present and future career or personal goals. For this process to work, of course, you need to be clear about what your goals are in the first place.

Motive matching involves identifying what pushes you towards your goals; this is helpful when you consider what learning style(s) work best for you and your needs. Familiarity involves thinking about how you already apply new information and concepts to your current experiences, which in turn can help you brainstorm how to improve real-world situations.

The third component—Confidence—comprises learning requirements, success opportunities, and personal control. Being clear about your learning objectives, standards, and evaluation criteria can help you know which boxes you’re ticking as you gain new information. Similarly, you can help foster a feeling of personal growth by engaging with success opportunities, such as assessment feedback and progress evaluations, throughout the course.

Online learning in general provides learners with a high level of personal control over their learning process. But any time you can make a direct connection between your personal control and your positive learning results, you will be more motivated to continue your learning.

Finally, Keller deals with learner Satisfaction, which he defines in terms of extrinsic and intrinsic reinforcement. Extrinsic reinforcements—such as positive feedback, equity, and consistent course standards—can help motivate your progress. But it is intrinsic reinforcement, which can only come directly from the learner, that is the primary driver of learner satisfaction. That feeling of a job well done, when you’ve genuinely learned something new that can help you in your life and your career—that is the ultimate reward.

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