Motivation in Education: Relevance

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Throughout this series, we’ve explored Keller’s ARCS Model for Motivation, which includes attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction—four components used in successful face-to-face, online, and blended learning environments.

In my last post, I shared different strategies to motivate students through gaining and maintaining their attention.

Today we’ll look at practical ways you can motivate your students through course content that’s relevant to them in and outside of the classroom.

How is this Relevant?

Keller (1987) believed that “relevance can come from the way something is taught; it does not have to come from the content itself” (1987, p. 7, author emphasis). He defines relevance as “a perception of personal needs being met by instructional activities or as a highly desired goal being perceived as related to instructional activities” (as cited in Chesebro & McCroskey, 2002, p. 83).

Chesebro and McCroskey expressed Keller’s definition in simpler terms: “we perceive something as being relevant if we perceive it is related to our personal needs (e.g., needs for affiliation, control, achievement) or our personal goals (e.g., career goals)” (2002, p. 83).

If students perceive your course content and activities as relevant to their personal needs, personal goals, or both, they will become motivated to learn and remember the course content long after your class ends.

Strategies to enhance content relevance include:

  • Value: Help students value course activities and make sure that they expect to succeed at the task.
  • Experience: Explain how the course content builds on students’ existing skills and knowledge; discover students’ interests and relate their interests to the course content.
  • Present worth: Explain why the course content is relevant and important.
  • Future usefulness: Explain how the course content relates to future activities and experiences that students will encounter, in and outside of class.
  • Need matching: Link the course content to students’ needs for affiliation, power, and achievement.
  • Modeling: Refer to alumni or professionals who demonstrate or model the value and relevance of the course content.
  • Choice: Provide meaningful alternative methods for accomplishing a learning outcome.
  • Engage: Ask students to determine why and how the content is relevant to them.

All of these strategies require “teachers to have some knowledge and understanding of their students” (Chesebro & McCroskey, 2002, pp. 88, 90).

One of my favorite Communication professors at Spring Arbor University helped her students recognize the value in class assignments. She showed us the future usefulness of the content we were learning, in and outside of class. In COM100: Introduction to Communication, our Relational Transformation assignments throughout the semester challenged us to improve our communication with others by intentionally communicating with people in new ways, or in ways that would challenge us to be better and more effective Christ-like communicators.

Once I saw how the course content was relevant to my personal needs and goals, I became more motivated to learn and remember the course content and as a result, excelled in my classes. I still apply the lessons I learned from those assignments in my communication with others to this day.

In my next post, I will discuss how to gain and maintain students’ motivation by improving their confidence.

Chesebro, J. L., & McCroskey, J. C. (Eds.). (2002). Communication for teachers. Pearson.
Keller, J. M. (1987). Development and Use of the ARCS Model of Instructional Design. Journal of Instructional Development, 10(3), 2–10. Retrieved from