Motivating adult learners requires careful thought and planning. John Keller devised the ARCS Model of Motivational Design, which takes into account the characteristics of adult learners. Two articles by E-Learning Industry and Poulsen, Lam, Cisneros and Trust outline the components of ARCS, as well as practical applications for instructors. The acronym ARCS stands for the four areas of Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction that are expanded below:


Learners are motivated when their interest is piqued in the areas of perceptual arousal (surprise and uncertainty), inquiry arousal (challenges and problems to solve) and variability (variety). Some teaching methods to grab attention in these areas include:

  • using a variety of media, teaching methods and presentation styles
  • incorporating humour
  • presenting conflicting opinions that can be discussed
  • stimulating critical thinking with interesting questions
  • using real-life examples that learners may relate to
  • using active learning activities (hands-on learning, role-playing, etc.)


Learners are motivated when they can relate to the topics and are familiar with the language used. Keller used the techniques of motive matching (student reasons for taking course), familiarity (building on learners’ own knowledge and experience) and goal-orientation (how the course is useful) to establish relevance. Instructional strategies using these include:

  • Explain how skills or knowledge will help learners in the present as well as in the future
  • Draw connections between learners’ existing knowledge and the course content
  • Bring in an expert or role model related to the content
  • Explore the reasons each learner is taking the course and teach to these goals
  • Let the learners choose what they explore and the instructional strategies that are used


Learners that believe they will succeed are more motivated. This can be achieved by giving learners more control, clearly communicating objectives and giving feedback. Some examples of this are:

  • At the start of the course, clearly outline the evaluation criteria and what is needed for success
  • Give lots of positive and constructive feedback
  • Create opportunities for learners to be successful
  • Allow learners control over some of the learning activities
  • Nurture self-growth with small steps and visible progress


Learners are motivated if they get a sense of satisfaction from rewards and reinforcement. Rewards can be intrinsic (from within the learner) or extrinsic (from the instructor or classmates). Some methods to incorporate this are:

  • Provide opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills
  • Give praise and rewards
  • Give positive feedback
  • Make sure standards are consistent throughout the course

How will this impact my own teaching?

There are several things from the ARCS model that I would like to incorporate into my own teaching. To grab learners’ attention, I believe in using a variety of activities and teaching methods to keep things interesting. As a clinical instructor, this would involve group discussions, videos, demonstrations, as well as more traditional power points on occasion. As nursing education is very practical by nature, real-life examples of clinical issues and hands-on practice with patients are naturally part of the instruction. I like the idea of using conflicting viewpoints to stimulate interest, such as discussing the controversial issue over whether a client should get a feeding tube or not. To keep the learning active on a potentially dry topic such as wound care, I would use hands-on games with wound care products and pictures of various wounds.

To make the instruction relevant, I would get to know the specific nursing area that each student is interested in. Then, I could pair them with a ride-along nurse for that specific area, who might serve as a role model. I would give a choice of options for an assignment based on this interest, such as choosing between palliative care or chronic disease management for an essay. Another way to make things relevant is to explain the importance of paying attention to certain information, such as the possible consequences to the patient when medication is given incorrectly.

In order to instil confidence and satisfaction, I would clearly outline at the start of the term what is required for success. When evaluating a skill, I would give them a skills checklist ahead of time, so they know each step that is necessary. Positive and frequent constructive feedback is important, such as telling a learner that they’ve really improved their time-management on the hospital ward. As it is important that nurses become comfortable being responsible for their own learning, I would encourage them to practice taking ownership of skills they need to practice more often. I could have each learner make up a list of skills they wish to work on during the clinical rotation.



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