Motivation in Education: Relevance

Woman Student Typing
This royalty free image comes from

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


Three Ways to Become Student-Centered

Our eLearning Team is moving toward student-centered learning in our courses. This approach is often miles away from how the course existed in the past, or how the subject matter expert envisions the online course to be.

I have found three ways to help our team and SMEs move toward becoming student-centered in all of our course development projects.

First, provide onboard training for online/blended instructors. Next, build interaction into every course. And finally, establish and sustain teacher presence while facilitating the course.

1. Step into their shoes.

Image used with a creative commons license.

At the conclusion of the faculty training course that I facilitate for my university, participants consistently express value gained from “being a student” in the course. This constructive approach to training creates a safe space for future instructors to experience the nitty-gritty challenges that their students will also face. This is what they tell me:

  • Initially they are faced with their own misconceptions about online education and are forced to make time management decisions during the first week of training.
  • They experience gratification that comes from timely instructor feedback and encouragement.
  • They discover asynchronous momentum that develops in the discussion forum, and begin to research, practice, and develop strategies to create and sustain this kind of phenomenon in their own courses.
  • They experience tools within the LMS for the first time, and recognize the value of a Wiki activity, a Reflection journal, and publishing a video reflection in the Blog.

Being a student helps them understand the reasons for decisions made in the course design, and highlights strategies they must employ for students to have a successful online experience.

2. Design interaction.

Created using Adobe Photoshop.


Researchers find that designing the course to include social presence is a sure way to become student-centered. Creating opportunities for interaction and communication among members leads the way for social presence, which Richardson and Swan (2003) describe as: “The degree to which a person is perceived as ‘real’ in mediated communication. (p 70).

Julie and Kenneth Kendall, from the School of Business-Camden at Rutgers University, believe that storytelling works well to enhance social presence in an online course. When designing an online or blended course, consider presenting a scenario, a story, or case study through video, audio, or text. Then, ask students to share their perceptions, and interact with one another over them.

The Kendall’s found that four highly valuable functions result from this type of interaction in an online course:

  • members get a feeling for what has happened (experiential),
  • the decisions made and consequences that follow are explained (explanatory),
  • concepts, policies and strategies are validated (validation), and members are guided to a preferred outcome leading to success (prescriptive). (Kendall & Kendall, p. 68).

When designing an online/blended course, be upfront about why you are student-centered and make every decision accordingly.

3. Work hard at communicating.

Adobe Spark(3)
Meme created using Adobe Spark; quote attributed to Roy Williams.

Lala Hajibayova, writes in “Student’s Viewpoint: What Constitutes Presence in an Online Classroom?” that the Community of Inquiry framework informs presence in a practical way by recognizing that both instructor and student contribute to learning. Three types of presence work together in the COI framework: cognitive presence, social presence, and teacher presence.

Hajibayova believes that teacher presence buoys both cognitive and social presence, holding all three together for a strong student-centered online environment. She discovered that students perceive teacher presence when they receive regular communication through varying channels. Think engagement in discussion forums, email messages, course announcements, timely feedback on assignments, and thoughtful responses to questions they have asked. (Hajibayova, p. 22).

It takes considerable time in the first week of a course to establish instructor presence. You will stay busy answering questions via email, posting announcements to clarify expectations, involving yourself in the first discussion forum to model the type of activity students will need to embrace. Once students can trust that you are there, you can ease off a bit and rely on key instructor functions built into the course, like grading, feedback, facilitating discussion, and interacting with students in the private journal. As one training participant in my course put it:

“Teaching online is not a weekend job.”

These are just three strategies for becoming student-centered when designing online and blended courses—of course there are many more!

Our team would like to hear from you – what strategies have you found to be successful, and why do you think they worked so well? Do you have a story to share about teacher presence? Interaction? Putting yourself in your student’s shoes? Leave a comment to start the conversation!


Hajibayova, L. (2016). Students’ viewpoint: What constitutes presence in an online classroom? Cataloging & Classification Quarterly, 55:(1), 12-25.

Kendall, J. E. & Kendall, K. E. (2017). Enhancing online executive education using storytelling: An approach to strengthening online presence. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 15(1), 62-81.

Richardson, J., & Swan, K. (2003). Examining social presence in online courses
in relation to students’ perceived learning and satisfaction. Journal of Asynchronous
Learning Networks, 7(1), 68–88.


Motivation in Education: Attention

Engaged students at computers
This image has been shared under a creative commons license ( via Jisc (

In my last post, I introduced John Keller’s ARCS Model for Motivation. The ARCs model has practical application in face-to-face, online, and blended learning environments. To recap, Keller’s ARCS Model has four parts:

  • Attention
  • Relevance
  • Confidence
  • Satisfaction

This post focuses on how you can gain a student’s attention to increase and improve his or her motivation to learn.

Liao and Wang (2008) discovered that incorporating Keller’s ARCS model in instructional design and classroom instruction allows instructors to “early spot students’ learning problems and make an early instruction intervention to further appropriately modify teaching strategies to meet various learners’ needs” (p. 56).

Did you catch that? If used in course creation and instruction, Keller’s ARCS Model for Motivation helps teachers to be more aware of their students’ learning problems. This awareness helps you adjust the curriculum and your teaching style to meet their learning needs.

Gaining Your Student’s Attention

Chesebro and McCroskey (2002, p. 90) found that “making eye contact and smiling at students, calling them by name, and using vocal variety and appropriate humor” are effective strategies to increase and maintain students’ attention in face-to-face learning environments. The character, John Keating, exemplifies these teaching strategies in the film Dead Poets Society (Weir, 1989).

Morrison (2012) offers some key strategies to increase and maintain students’ attention in online and blended learning environments: “provide timely feedback on assignments, respond to students within 24 hours, include constructive and personalized feedback on assignments, craft a weekly message, acknowledge academic challenges, and comment strategically within the discussion boards.”

When my professors used these strategies, they increased and maintained my attention. In turn, my motivation to learn and do well in my classes increased as well.

For example, in my online MA in Strategic Communication program at Liberty University, one of my professors consistently responded to my questions within 24 hours or less. He provided timely and personalized feedback on assignments. His weekly announcements and videos prepared us for the topic(s) that week and reminded us of what was due. He asked questions and responded to students in the discussion board. By engaging students in the discussion board, my professor made the discussion lively and active—encouraging students to participate.

In my next post, we will discover practical ways to motivate your students by making your course content relevant to them in and outside of the classroom.


Chesebro, J. L., & McCroskey, J. C. (Eds.). (2002). Communication for teachers. Pearson.

Jisc. (2015, August 21). [Gaining students’ attention]. Retrieved from

Liao, H.-C., & Wang, Y.-H. (2008). Applying the ARCS motivation model in technological and vocational education. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 1(2), 53-58.

love2b1. (2007, April 14). Dead poets society-3 [Video file]. Retrieved from

Morrison, D. (2012, August 31). How to motivate students in the online learning environment. Retrieved April 26, 2017, from Online Learning Insights website:


I’m Wondering: Is There a Better Way?

Wonder-thinker pixabay

I spend a lot of mental energy wondering.  I wonder if I did this … I wonder why they did that … I wonder if others wonder.  I often find myself wondering what helps people learn – including myself.  For example, I’m not very mechanically minded.  I have spent a lot of sleepless Christmas Eves trying to assemble that awesome present that looked fantastic in the store.  I often wonder if there is a better way for me to learn.


Could I be more effective if I attended a class on Some Assembly Required or perhaps watched a YouTube video of Super Handyman? Maybe I should pick up a copy of Assembly for Dummies on my next trip to the hardware store.

Wondering-instructions pixabay

Seems I am not alone.

One of the first studies asking the questions I asked above was conducted in the 1940’s by the US Army who had a bunch of guys who needed to learn basic calibration procedures in a short time.

They wondered if it would improve the process if they used a variety of ways to teach.  They tried three different methods – the traditional classroom, a book and a film.  After the trainings, they evaluated each group and found no significant difference in outcomes between them.

Sixty-four years later.

Years later the introduction of the personal computer and the World Wide Web gave rise to an explosion of online education.  Back in the 1990’s when I began developing online courses I wondered if online learning could be as effective as the familiar traditional classroom.  Others wondered the same thing.  In 2004 a meta-analysis report from Bernard and colleagues accumulated many research studies where they compared learning in face-to-face classes to online courses.

The majority of differences were quite small – meaning that just as in the Army research – learning was equally effective from face-to-face and online versions.  With the considerable evolution in technology since 2004 – like the smartphones and cloud-based technologies – I wonder if this is still true.

The US Department of Education wondered the same thing.

In 2010 the US Department of Education did another meta-analysis. This report summarizes experimental comparisons among purely face-to-face, purely online, and the new kid on the block – blended instruction.  Just like in 2004, this study concluded online learning was as effective as conventional classroom instruction and neither significantly outperformed the other.

Wondering-blender pixabayHowever, this time they found blended instruction to be significantly more effective than both online and face-to-face.

Blended? I wonder why.

What is it about blended instruction making it more effective?   I wonder if it’s simply because blended learning allows students to do passive activities like listening asynchronously at home and use face-to-face time for reinforcing interactions.

Maybe it’s because blended learning caters to different learning styles, like visual or kinesthetic.   Or could it be because it allows delivery of content through a variety of mediums?  I really wonder if it might be because blended gives the faculty time to be more creative making learning more interactive and fun.  I wonder if the truth might be that all of these factors contribute to making blended learning one of the most effective ways for students to learn.

So much to wonder about.   


Bernard, et al (2004). How does distance education compare with classroom instruction? A meta-analysis of the empirical literature. Review of Educational Research 74, 379-439.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, Evaluation of evidence-based practices in online Learning: A Meta-analysis and review of online learning studies, Washington, D.C., 2010.

Images: used with permission from (creative commons licenses).


Motivation in Education: Overview

motivation-imageMotivating students is one of the most difficult tasks for a teacher. Don’t believe me? How many students are like Jeremy in this Zits Comic? A student’s motivation does not rely solely on his or her own effort, but also on the teacher’s behavior and the way he or she presents content. John Keller understood this when he created his ARCS Model for Motivation in 1983.

As a student studying to be a professor, I cannot stress enough the impact Keller’s ARCS model has had not only on my motivation to learn but also on the way I plan to teach and motivate others. Keller’s ARCS Model can be practically applied in face-to-face, online, and blended learning environments. The model has four parts:

  1. Attention
  2. Relevance
  3. Confidence
  4. Satisfaction

A combination of the four elements increases and maintains student motivation in and outside of the classroom. Teachers can use attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction in their classrooms to help students become motivated, remember the content, and do well in class.

In his research, Dupont (2012) noted that Keller’s motivation principles:

“have been shown to be valid and stable over the years in virtually all cultures and at all levels of education, even though there are many differences in the practices used to achieve them” (p. 28).

The key phrase is “there are many differences in the practices used to achieve them.” The world of education is changing. Face-to-face is no longer the only type of learning environment and students’ learning styles are ever-changing. More and more students seem to be psychomotor (hands-on) learners rather than cognitive learners. Teachers need to be aware of these trends and adapt their instruction accordingly, depending on the subject that they teach and the students they are teaching.

Remember, there’s a myriad of ways to implement and apply Keller’s ARCS Model in your teaching style and lesson plans. Over the next few posts in my Motivation in Education series, we’ll look at each of the ARCS components so you can think about how you can implement and apply each of them in your learning environment—whether it’s face-to-face, online, or blended.

DuPont, J. S. (2012). Nursing faculty motivation to use high-fidelity simulation: An application of Keller’s ARCS model (Order No. 3547010). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1267836282). Retrieved from

Scott, J., & Borgman, J. (2016, January 3). [Motivation in education]. Retrieved from

Journey of a Teacher

Even though it was decades ago, I vividly remember my first high school science classroom. I was right out of college and totally terrified. My professors opened a new world for me, and I wanted more than anything to step into that classroom and show students the beauty of what I had learned. If God gifted you with the heart of a teacher, you understand what I am talking about. I conquered my fear, walked into that classroom, and enthusiastically started my journey of a teacher.

Sometimes on life’s long road it is helpful to pause and reflect on the journey. Marcina Wiederkehr in her book Behold Your Life: A Pilgrimage Through Your Memories (2000) encourages us to reflect on our memories so we can move into the future with new wisdom and strength. As I look back and reflect on my journey of a teacher, two memories surge to the surface.

The first memory is my growing awareness that no two classrooms of students are the same—each classroom has its own personality and characteristics. If I was going to be an effective teacher I couldn’t always do things the same way.

I needed to change along with my students. I needed new strategies.

The second memory is the realization that in my classroom, I was the novice. My students were growing up in a world that was dramatically different than the one I knew. The students arriving in my classroom only knew of a world with computers—the internet, smartphones, Google, and cloud technology swiftly following.

I was not the expert in everything—I was ignorant too. I needed a teacher.

But in my journey, the one constant was my heart of a teacher with its love of learning. And I still want more than anything to share the beauty of what I have learned.

If you have been on the teacher’s journey, I am confident you relate to the transformational insights I shared about my own personal journey. I am also assured of your love of learning.

The truth is we all need new strategies. We find ourselves novices in many areas, and we need a teacher. This is why the eLearning team is taking time to create this blog. It is our attempt to come along side you to provide tips, strategies, and information that might be helpful as you continue your journey of a teacher.

Welcome to Model eLearning.