Virtual Training and the ARCS Model of Motivation

Guest Author: Kimberly Isley-Pesto

Kimberly Isley-Pesto 2015 Graduate, MATD

Kimberly Isley-Pesto
2015 Graduate, MATD

Picture this: It’s 9:00 am and you are preparing to deliver training via WebEx. The session is scheduled to last one hour and you’re expecting 70+ participants. You begin having nagging thoughts about the challenges you might face in facilitating a synchronous session, and panic sets in. You won’t be able to read body language as you would in a classroom, so you worry this will impair your ability to adjust your facilitation style to engage distracted learners. You’ll have to vie for your participants’ full attention given a plethora of distractions— phone calls, emails, work tasks, social media alerts and co-workers etc., and you won’t know if they are motivated and engaged.

As a frequent facilitator of online training, I know far too well the obstacles faced when trying to connect with learners you can’t see. When it comes to motivating online learners, the struggle is real. So, how do you motivate your learners to stay fully engaged when using web conferencing tools like WebEx or AT&T Connect to deliver learning?

John Keller’s ARCS Model can go a long way in creating training experiences aimed at motivating and engaging learners. In this blog post, I’ll share how to apply the four steps in the ARCS Model to encourage and sustain learner motivation when delivering training using synchronous learning tools:

Attention – Techniques for commanding participant attention include the use of:

  1. Active participation –Use the web conferencing tool’s interactive features such as raise hand, polling questions, chat functions and the whiteboard to get the learners involved.
  2. Mix it up – To reinforce a topic’s relevance and account for the variety of individual learning styles, vary methods when presenting material. For example, you might have guest speakers join in for part of the presentations, including stories or case studies,  and ask open-ended questions.
  3. Humor – A humorous anecdote can generate positive energy and create immediate motivation. Just be sure to use stories that will not offend your participants and don’t overdo it. A little humor goes a long way in virtual training.
  4. Conflict – Presenting information contrary to what the learner already knows can spark their attention and bait their interest, making them want to know more.
  5. Keep it real – Use visual examples, videos, and images.

 Relevance – Techniques to make the training content meaningful include:

  1. Connect to previous experience – Guide your learners to build upon their current knowledge so that they’ll understand how the training is expanding upon what they already know and how this new information will improve or enhance their current knowledge or skills.
  2. Present value – Give the learners WIFM, or “What’s in it for me.” They’ll be motivated to pay attention if they perceive the training will help them immediately deal with a real-life problem or specific situation.
  3. Future value – Communicate from the beginning how the training content will assist your participants with future challenges.
  4. Modeling – Give your participants examples of others who have successfully applied the knowledge or skills presented. This could be in the form of guest speakers, stories and/ or case studies.
  5. Choice – This can be accomplished by asking your learners to share ideas during the session on how they plan to apply what they have learned. (i.e. via web conference features such as raise hand, chat or soliciting open-ended questions for virtual large group discussion).

Confidence – Include activities that will increase confidence in applying new knowledge and skills. If participants feel they can accomplish the learning goals, their motivation will increase.

  1. Facilitate learner growth – Allow for incremental steps of growth during the learning by allowing participants to contribute in ways that demonstrate their progress. Use the breakout session functionality to set up small private groups away from the main training session. Assign small-groups discussions, case study review, and other collaborative activities to allow your participants to apply what they have learned in the session.
  2. Provide the learning objectives – Let your participants know in advance what they are expected to achieve as a result of attending the online training session. Knowing what is expected and how they’ll be evaluated can motivate them to stay engaged throughout the entire session.
  3. Give feedback – Even with large groups of participants, it is possible to give feedback. In past sessions, I have made it a point to comment positively when learners participate. This encourages others to chime in during large group discussion and drives greater engagement with all learners during the session.
  4. Give learners control – Provide your participants with some control over the learning experience to give them a sense of ownership. Give them choices about learning methods that they’ll find useful. Recently, I used polling to solicit real-time feedback on how the participants wanted the training content to be covered during the WebEx session.

Satisfaction – Following are strategies on how to connect participant satisfaction to learning motivation:

  1. Rewards – Present rewards in the form of a sense of accomplishment or words of praise to increase learner satisfaction and sense of achievement with recognition of participation during the session. You might also give out prizes. In a recent session, I advised the participants that I had five Starbucks gift cards to give away during the training. All they had to do to win was be the first to answer a question correctly via chat.
  2. Quick application back on the job – Encourage participants to apply their newly acquired knowledge and skills immediately when they return back to the workplace. Again, breakout sessions are a great way to engage learners by allowing them to collaborate through problem-solving activities.

I’ve given you much to consider for the next time you design and virtual training by using the ARCS Model of Motivation. Can we keep all participants engaged during the synchronous session? Perhaps not, but I do believe using ARCS can increase your odds.

Having read through the strategies and techniques shared here, what would you do—or have you done to motivate and engage your learners in virtual session? Which ARCS techniques would you use of in your next facilitation of synchronous learning?  Leave your comments or questions below to continue the discussion.

For more information about John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivation check out his book “Motivational Design for Learning and Performance: The ARCS Model Approach.”


  1. Motivational design for learning and performance. The ARCS model approach. By John M. Keller. New York; Springer 2010


  • Kimberly,
    Fabulously written piece. I have never given an online presentation, but have been a part of many and it does take a lot of effort to focus! I find all of your advice to be very valuable. The points I particularly respond to are the polling during the presentation; storytelling and personality (don’t just read from the powerpoint we are all looking at); participation from others during the presentation (presenters and attendees); I would be lying if I didn’t include liking the prize part too. Mostly what I want is something less than 30 minutes (the presenter talking, not including Q&A or participation) and to know before we start how this investment of my time will make my life better. If I ever have to present online I will use this as a guide.
    I am curious about the other side – what is one “lesson learned” you could share with us about what NOT to do (hoping for something less obvious here).

  • Very well written, and you give us a lot to consider! I love the ARCS model, and I feel like it is spot-on for use in synchronous sessions such as the one you describe. I think that providing learning outcomes is key because when I get online for a synchronous session, I want to know exactly what we are here to learn, how long it is going to take and the variety of options I have for responding to/within the session. I love the reward idea – little gift cards can go a long way! Thanks for an excellent post.

  • Great article of Virtual TRAINING AND THE ARCS MODEL OF MOTIVATION, I can relate to be online with any kind of activity or learning can be hard to stay engaged into. however with learning these strategies of staying more attention, confidence, satisfaction, Relevance can assist me in my needs of online for school, i like these wonderful tip. I would consider to try and practice these tips as well as past them down to college students who just starting to be online or maybe in the profession with working with people on website or hosting meeting across the web.

  • These are great techniques to drive engagement in the virtual classroom and helpful as I am currently applying for a new position at work as an Home Base Agent Sr. Trainer and it is all 100% virtual via webex or AC9. I have been building a few virtual rooms and completing teachback sessions and its a whole new world doing it virtual but I believe having the WIIFM and polls will definitely encourage energy and willingness to participate. great article.

  • Great post. It is a challenge to keep the learner’s attention and to know if they are engaged during an online presentation. I like to use polls and chunk the presentation into smaller sections that end with a question. I think that keeping the presentation short and to the point is also helpful. Whenever we go over a half an hour, I get feedback that the session was too long. I really liked your ideas to keep the learners involved in understanding their “what is in it for me” throughout the training.

  • This was awesome….. I am currently assisting my manager with trainings both virtual & face-to-face, this was definitely helpful in terms of creating a platform and keeping employees interested. Also I’m in the online MAOD program, these are definitely tips and great habits I can use to keep myself engaged.

  • Great article on the ARCS model that can be used for any work presentation, not just online training, The biggest drawback from virtual training and meetings are interruptions so I think structuring is critical to holding participant engagement. I will use Attention/Active Participation and Satisfaction/Quick Application Back on the Job because they are easy methods that will enhance the training/meeting experience and generate sustainable practices after the session is over.

    Thank you!


  • Implementing a technique such as the ARCS model could certainly increase the chances of keeping the audience engaged and motivated. When considering adult online learning, the students may be exposed to daily distractions in their personal lives. Yet, utilizing the ARCS models approach appears to focus on more than one tactic to keep students intrigued which would surely lead to those very students absorbing the provided information along with being able to actually apply what was learned.

  • I realize that last year, before I got a promotion at becoming a virtual Sr. Trainer, that I replied to this same post. The difference is now that I have advanced from a brick & mortar trainer to the virtual AC9 and WebEx facilitation, I can truly understand this article. When before the ARCS model was something that I translated in the face-to-face concept, but now I can apply these skills virtually.

    I have had the benefit to learn many of these skills but some of the highlights that I took away from above are still true today: I really liked the choice to allow autonomy of the learners to take control of what they feel is important and share their own best practices. Plus, learners love to learn from their own peers that are on the job role to see what’s working in real world experiences.

    I also really like to use the humor and think that this is an important call out. As I have noticed from observing some of the other trainers in the virtual world and they like to play it very safe; thinking that humor doesn’t have a place in the virtual setting…but it is a MAJOR part as it was shown in this article. So I am glad that it was mentioned here as a tip. I will be printing this article out for future review as I believe this was a great way to sharpen my saw.

  • This is a great post. I am a TRDV student in the Learning Technologies class. We are learning about synchronous and asynchronous training. I am making note of the ARCS model! My last assignment was to view a webinar and evaluate its characteristics. After reading more about the ARCS model I have a clearer understanding of how the webinar was organized. Thank you for this great post!

  • Great post. I agree that it is always challenging to keep your learners engaged during the training but you need to increase your efforts especially if it is to keep them involved during an online session. The strategies suggested in this article regarding the ARCS Model will surely increase the chances of getting a good time designing and delivering an online session next time. Thanks for sharing.

  • I have to agree that breaks to discuss and encourage learners to bring back their new learned information is vital. As you conclude the training session it is essential that they leave the session with an understanding not only to retain, but to implement. Great article thank yoU!

  • Ginger Ulloa-Enright

    I like Kimberly’s idea on using appropriate humor during online training. Technology presents unexpected difficulties and humor is helpful in not taking the hiccups seriously. I’m attending virtual sessions for a trainer certification and we experience technical goofs frequently. Our trainer never skips a beat. She uses humor to get over the obstacles and uses it as a teaching moment for the learners.

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