12 Tips for Using ARCS in Employee Training

Keeping learners motivated can be a challenge, especially in distance learning. Find out how to use the ARCS learning model to create motivating, high-impact employee training programs.

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One thing I'll take away from this pandemic is a deep dislike of online meetings. Sorry, Zoom, but there's nothing quite so distracting as staring at your own face in a little box for an hour straight while trying to listen to a rotating lineup of other people in tiny boxes, some of whom are rocking a beach background or commanding the helm of the Enterprise.

I've developed a terrible habit, a kind of mental tick, of trying to piece together the real room behind someone's wallpaper by staring at the gaps around their headphones.

Needless to say, none of this helps me pay attention to the material, no matter how interesting and relevant to my life.

Holding someone's attention through an important meeting or class is every instructor's Everest, but it is especially difficult in a remote setting. It's in the very word "remote," as in "I am not remotely interested."

Fortunately, there are tricks to help you get and keep your audience's attention, no matter how distant. Many are encapsulated in the ARCS model of motivation, arguably the most comprehensive model out there for captivating a captive audience.

ARCS is a treasure trove of ideas for spicing up your employee training no matter how you're delivering it. And that's well worth your full attention since a dynamic employee development program can enhance employee engagement and even boost retention.

Here's a deep dive into ARCS and what it can do for your company training program.


Overview: What is the ARCS model?

ARCS is an instructional design theory developed by educational psychologist John Keller that focuses on motivating students to learn. ARCS is an acronym for four components of motivation: Attention, Relevance, Confidence, and Satisfaction.

Keller posited ARCS as a motivational design theory, noting that instructional design is focused on enhancing learning effectiveness rather than motivation. The two go hand in hand, however, since learning cannot happen without attention and motivation.

You can apply ARCS to any learning setting, whether remote, in-person, or asynchronous.


The 4 categories of the ARCS model

These are the four key components of the ARCS model along with subcategories proposed by Keller. We'll take a look at each subcategory and provide tactics for addressing them in the next section.

Attention

You can't teach a thing until you have your students' full attention. Keller's theory proposed that attention is driven by perceptual arousal, inquiry arousal, and variability.

Relevance

Students are naturally motivated by subjects that relate to their personal lives, ambitions, and desires. This includes goal orientation, motive matching, and familiarity. More on those below.

Confidence

Learners can't stay motivated if they don't believe they're capable of mastering the subject. Keller proposed that confidence is built by learning requirements, success opportunities, and personal control.

Satisfaction

Learners are also motivated by satisfying experiences, which Keller breaks down into intrinsic reinforcement, extrinsic reward, and equity.


How to utilize the ARCS model to motivate employees

Let's walk through each of the elements mentioned above — Keller’s 12 subcategories of motivation — and examine strategies for using them to engage employees in your company training programs.

All of these strategies will be easier to implement with a learning management system (LMS) such as Canvas.

A sample video lesson in Canvas LMS.

A learning management system (LMS) can help you deliver more engaging courses. Source: Canvas LMS software.

1. Perceptual arousal

Perceptual arousal simply means grabbing your learners' attention. This could involve:

  • An ice breaker that engages learners personally
  • A humorous anecdote
  • A story connecting to the lesson
  • An intriguing physical object
  • A brief video
  • An arresting photo
  • Surprising statistics
  • Counterintuitive facts
  • Arguments and conflicts

The key here is interest. An ice breaker that asks everyone to tell their names, while it introduces the participants, isn't all that captivating. Look for an opening that disarms, charms, or alarms your learners into paying attention.

2. Inquiry arousal

Inquiry arousal means making your learners curious about your subject. Some tactics for this include:

  • Ask students to brainstorm solutions to a problem.
  • Let them role-play relevant scenarios.
  • Provide hands-on activities to illustrate concepts.
  • Pose thoughtful questions.

Inquiry learning techniques involve your students in critical thinking and problem-solving, which is inherently engaging.

3. Variability

Variety really does spice things up. By varying your delivery methods throughout the course, you can keep your learners engaged with the material. Some examples include:

  • Break courses into microlearning units.
  • Use a mixture of video, text, and other media.
  • Intersperse polls and quizzes throughout the lesson.
  • Include interactive elements such as skills practice.
  • Use social learning tools such as discussions and forums.

LMSes are especially useful for including a variety of learning experiences in your courses.

A sample flipcard in Lessonly.

Interactive elements such as flip cards can make online learning more engaging. Source: Lessonly software.

4. Goal orientation

It's human nature to hone in on anything that relates to us personally. You can demonstrate the relevance of your material to your students' lives with these tactics:

  • Ask questions about your learners' goals.
  • Connect concepts to current jobs.
  • Link content to future career goals.
  • Include activities that translate into useful job skills.
  • Invite learners to talk about how the subject applies to their work.

According to adult learning theory, adult learners are especially motivated by content that is relevant to their daily lives.

5. Motive matching

Motive matching involves tailoring instruction to your learners' individual learning styles and needs. Consider these strategies:

  • Assess initial subject matter knowledge and learning styles.
  • Ask learners about their motivation and interest in the course.
  • Adapt training methods to meet your learners' needs.
  • Allow learners to choose certain learning activities.

For example, say you have a final group assignment. If you give each group a choice between giving a presentation, creating a 3-D model, or writing a paper, your learners can choose the activity that best aligns with their learning needs and styles.

6. Familiarity

To appreciate the power of familiarity, think of a hit song. The more familiar it becomes, the more we tend to like it (or hate it) and remember it. You can leverage this in a training program with these tactics:

  • Ask learners to talk about their life and work experiences.
  • Talk about company events that illustrate your point.
  • Connect the lesson to familiar cultural events or figures.

7. Performance requirements

Uncertainty is the enemy of confidence, and that's why students love a syllabus. Learners want to know where you're taking them and what your expectations are. To do this, you can:

  • Provide a written guide to your training on day one.
  • Include deadlines and deliverables.
  • Show how you will measure performance.
  • Lay out any behavioral expectations.

Beyond encouraging your students, it's important to be able to stand up in front of your classroom and say, "By the end of this training, you will be able to . . . "

8. Success opportunities

You can build confidence throughout your course by setting up your students for success. Once again, microlearning is a great asset to you, as it provides milestones along the way that your students can mark and move on.

Some examples of success opportunities you can build into a course include:

  • Frequent, short quizzes and graded activities
  • Group exercises that promote vicarious learning
  • Opportunities for retesting or revising work
  • Clear learning milestones marked throughout the course

An LMS makes it easy to mark achievements and document the learning journey for each student. eFront and WorkRamp, for example, have excellent assessment tools — and they even do the grading for you.

A map with clickable areas to identify South America and Australia.

WorkRamp LMS provides interactive test elements such as hot spots. Source: WorkRamp software.

9. Personal control

Authority naturally builds confidence. You can leverage this if you:

  • Provide leadership opportunities to all learners.
  • Give them a choice over activities and methods.
  • Allow them to evaluate their own performances.
  • Provide guided peer feedback opportunities.
  • Observe and adjust to your learners.

Confidence is a personal issue. Some students may need a lot of support and encouragement. Some may not be ready to lead a group or give a presentation. You can build confidence by being sensitive and adapting to your students' needs.

10. Intrinsic reinforcement

Intrinsic reinforcement means igniting that internal desire to learn. This can be difficult because it hinges so much on the learner. Some people love taking classes, while others simply don't. You can try, however, to encourage that intrinsic motivation in your students. Here are a few tools for fanning the flames:

  • Talk about your subject with real passion.
  • Hold stimulating discussions.
  • Encourage personal reflection through activities such as journaling.
  • Invite exploration and innovation.

11. Extrinsic rewards

Extrinsic rewards are the ones you bestow on your students, and they are powerfully motivating for many people. These include:

  • Grades and written feedback
  • Credits and certificates for completing a course, path, or curriculum
  • Badges, awards, and certifications
  • Portfolios
  • Individual and group competitions

Many LMSes include gamification features such as badges, certificates, and leaderboards to motivate and reward learners. Some examples include SkyPrep and TalentLMS.

Sample badges for communication and certifications provided in the software.

TalentLMS rewards learners with badges for learning achievements. Source: TalentLMS software.

12. Equity

Fairness is essential to keeping employees and learners motivated. This means equitable learning opportunities in your company and the classroom. You can build faith in your learning program through:

  • Clear expectations and goals in all courses
  • Transparent systems for measuring and rewarding achievements
  • A fair system of learning and development opportunities in your company
  • Accessible learning tools and systems
  • Anonymous course surveys
  • Responsive instructors and leadership

Remotely interesting training

It isn't easy holding anyone's attention today, and distance learning just adds to the challenges. But borrowing from the ARCS toolbelt should help you create an engaging employee training program, regardless of whether you're delivering it from a virtual beach or a real classroom.

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