Technology and Pedagogy

Why use technology in the classroom?

Why should we use technology in the classroom? Often, technology is seen as a filler, something to add in case you need more activities or because it is the buzz everyone is talking about. Technology is not a remedy or a grand solution for all problems in a classroom. Rather, technology is a tool. Technology, however, can be a powerful tool -- when used thoughtfully and critically.

Motivation is one reason to use technology. The relationship between motivation and technology can be understood through the theoretical lens of Keller’s ARCS model and Mayer’s multimedia learning theory. Keller’s research on motivation and online learning is the basis for the ARCS model. ARCS is the acronym for attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction. According to Keller (1987), the ARCS model is a “problem solving approach to designing the motivational aspects of learning environments to stimulate and sustain students’ motivation to learn.” The ARCS model was conceived based on Keller’s theory concerning First Principles of Motivation. Based on the First Principles of Motivation, the ARCS components were designed to be integrated into online learning.

Attention, the first element of the ARCS model, is linked to motivation: “Motivation to learn is promoted when a learner’s curiosity is aroused due to a perceived gap in current knowledge” (Keller, 2008, p. 176). This curiosity can be tied to attention. Student engagement is a direct link to attention, the curiosity that occurs when a student wonders what happens at the gaps in knowledge. Relevance, the second element of ARCS, is another key to engagement. Keller (2008) noted, “Motivation to learn is promoted when the knowledge to be learned is perceived to be meaningfully related to a learner’s goals” (p. 177). Linking content both to the classroom and real life can help a student see the usability and fluidity of knowledge. Confidence, the third element of ARCS, can be personal and divergent between learners. According to Keller (2008), “Motivation to learn is promoted when learners believe they can succeed in mastering the task” (p. 177). Confidence can lead to risk taking in the classroom because learners can see success as a benefit of curiosity. Finally, Satisfaction, can engage learners because “Motivation to learn is promoted when learners anticipate and experience satisfying outcomes to a learning task” (Keller, 2008, p. 177). Keller’s research notes, however, that both successes and failures can engage satisfaction because both promote learning.

Like Keller’s ARCS model, Mayer’s multimedia learning theory can explain motivation and the use of technology. How information is presented in a learning environment is key to motivating students. Mayer (2009), with his design theory in multimedia learning, provided a cognitive theory where dual channels, limited capacity, and active processing influence multimedia learning. Dual channels refer to visual and auditory learning because the most effective multimedia learning will engage the reader through both sight and sound. Too much engagement through visual and auditory channels will lead to learners taking in no information. Learners have limited capacity, which occurs when they are bombarded with too many sound and images. Because students have limited capacity, they must be given information in parcels that engage them without overwhelming them. Images and sound must be used thoughtfully as not to overwhelm. The final piece in Mayer’s theory is active processing. Students who take in content while using the information presented (an example would be hand’s on learning) have a higher chance of being engaged with the material. When Mayer’s multimedia design principles are combined with Keller’s ARCS model, criteria for utilizing technology to enhance student motivation and retention can be formed.

As with any theory or practice, worth and sustainability in education is a priority. Cheng and Yeh’s (2009) research concluded, “that instructional materials with the factor of motivation considered can help learners better enjoy the knowledge acquisition process and benefit most from learning” (p. 603). In the case of ARCS and cognitive theory on multimedia use, integrating technology supports both theory and practice. Using technology to increase motivation is the key in this discussion. While one goal in higher education is higher retention numbers, inevitably students are more satisfied, more persistent, and have gained more knowledge as a result of supportive, relative technology use in the classroom. Each aspect of the course, including design, implementation and delivery, has to consider and utilize motivational principles. Technology can support the partnership between design and motivation.

When using technology, theory and design is important. However, the end outcome (what can be gained) should be the starting point to determine what technology should be used and how that technology should be used. Implementing different types of technology into a learning environment requires careful thought and consideration of both Keller’s and Mayer’s theories. Technology should support the lesson or concept (remember, technology is a tool). Gratuitous technology does not motivate students; rather, they see it as busy work that disrupts the flow of learning. Making the technology relevant to the lesson and to the course outcomes will help students see the benefit of the tool. The use of technology should encourage students to explore the content and gain more knowledge.

Using technology should not take away from the non-media forms of motivating students. Having a backup plan that is not technology bound is important. Offering notes and static text based handouts can reinforce the technology of screen casting or Vodcasting because the student can refer back to the notes or use those as study guides. Once the situation and resources are known, technology can be accessed and implemented. As the courses are redesigned or the instructor reimagines how to present information, the static notes can be changed and the technology updated. Essentially, having a non technology back up plan creates an artifact that can be repurposed as needed.

Numerous technologies available can be used to reinforce the ARCS motivational model. The key is to use technologies that reinforce the concepts in the learning environment as well as the course and module outcomes, and do not overwhelm students with extras. Students are motivated when technology reinforces the static concepts like reading and discussions. Being able to have a choice is important. For students who commute and listen to lectures or supplemental material, the audio choices are important. Likewise, the student who prints all the lecture notes to aid in their studying will want the static text versions. Having a balance gives students choices and invites multiple learning styles to access and use the information.


Cheng, Y., & Yeh, H. (2009). From concepts of motivation to its application in instructional design: Reconsidering motivation from an instructional design perspective. British Journal Of Educational Technology, 40(4), 597-605. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2008.00857.x

Conner, T. W. & Rabovsky, T. M. (2011). Accountability, affordability, access: A review of the recent trends in higher education policy research. Policy Studies Journal, 39, 93-112. doi: 10.1111/j.1541-0072.2010.00389_7.x

Keller, J. M. (2008). First principles of motivation to learn and e3-learning. Distance Education. 29(2), 175-185. doi: 10.1080-01587910802154970

Mayer, R. E. (2009). Multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

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