Explaining Kellers' ARCS with Knowles' Assumptions

Have you ever had trouble motivating your learners? Motivation is key to get buy in and achieve success with your learning initiative. Keller and Knowles are legends in the learning community regarding how to motivate your learners. The ARCS model by Keller and the six assumptions of Knowles are learning theories I uses every day when making training for my learners. Each model takes a different approach to motivation, but at the end of the day they have motivating learners at their core. This article will take a look at ARCS and match the 6 assumptions to each part.

A - Attention

Gaining learners attention comes in three main areas: perceptual, inquiry, and variability. When building training, the designer can use real world examples, humor, conflict, activities, media, and questions to gain the learners attention. What does Knowles say about this? Give me the why or give me the experience. Designers use the attention phase to provide their learners with the reason why to learn, or they will link the learning to past experiences to make it important.

R - Relevance

When making learning relevant, goal orientation, motive matching, and familiarity can be used. Present your learners worth, future usefulness, or match it to their needs. Knowles agrees with this. You must provide your learners with the need of the learning and bring out their internal motivation. These two assumptions are powerful movers of motivation.

C – Confidence

Build your learners confidence through learning requirements, opportunities, and control. Make sure the learners are aware of the objectives and paths to learning, provide opportunities to practice and give feedback and guidance on how to improve, and put them in control of their own learning. Knowles discusses problem centered learning and a since of self-concept. Use problems in your training that the learners will see on the job. After successfully navigating them, they will be more confident than ever. With building confidence, comes dreams. Allow your learners to have autonomy over their learning paths and build their dreams how they see fit.

S – Satisfaction

Encourage, reward, standardize. The power of positivity is amazing. Encourage and praise your learners for a good job, reward them for going the extra mile, and make sure you keep the standards for success the same. What better way to fulfil Knowles’ why? The feeling of success and praise is a powerful mover.

It is important to remember that different situations will result in different matches. The purpose here is to illuminate the similarities between these two gigantic theories. Overall, you are leaps and bounds ahead when you choose either theory.


Keller, J. M. (2009). Motivational design for learning and performance: The ARCS model approach. Springer Science & Business Media.

Keller, John M. “Development and use of the ARCS model of instructional design.” Journal of instructional development 10, no. 3 (1987): 2-10.

Knowles, M. S. & Associates. (1984). Andragogy in Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.