Motivational Design: Confidence

motivation, confidence

StudyGuide Lines – instructional design tips for Christian teachers and writers.

Confidence is a component of the ARCS Model for Motivational Design comes from the work of John Keller, a long-time professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. It is the model I most often use to incorporate motivational design into instructional design. The model’s four components include:

  1. Attention: Design so that the learner becomes and remains alert, stimulated, and curious.
  2. Relevance: Design so that the learner is able to connect his motives and values with the learning goals.
  3. Confidence: Design so that the learner believes she can succeed.
  4. Satisfaction: Design so that the learner’s expectations of the learning process and learning outcomes are fulfilled.
I’ve noticed that Christians most often struggle with the confidence component

when it comes to learning exegesis processes, theological material, or complex biblical concepts such as “propitiation,” “sanctification,” or “justification.”

Sometimes the lack of confidence originates in the learner.

Perhaps he or she experienced failure in educational settings before, or perhaps its been a long while since he was in a serious learning environment. Either way, the learner just does not have the confidence in her ability to learn challenging material.

Sometimes however, the lack of confidence that a learner can learn complex material comes from Christian organizations or Christian teachers.

Because of this tragic opinion, important biblical arguments and concepts are sometimes watered down or eliminated altogether so that the Christian learner who engages with the resulting over-simplified material is left ill-equipped:

  • to grow in “the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” (2 Peter 3:18, ESV).
  • to “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that in in you,” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).
  •  “for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes,” (Ephesians 4:12-14, ESV).
  • to tackle hard questions that the culture is asking and that they themselves are asking.

Furthermore, this watered-down instruction comes off as cheesy, clichéd, boring, lifeless, and impotent and leaves Christian learners with a lack of satisfaction (another motivational component) in their learning experience. I don’t think that God is honored with dumbed-down teaching materials that basically testify to a god who is unable to grant understanding of his own words.

A side note – kind of:

Christians believe in a God who is able to bring understanding and who does so supernaturally. Because God is the source of all true knowledge, because he grants understanding, because he often chooses to work through human agents, and because we are commanded:

  • to love one another with brotherly affection (Romans 12:10, ESV),
  • not to be “slothful in zeal,” but to “be fervent in spirit,” and to “serve the Lord,” (Romans 12:11),
  • to work “heartily, for the Lord” whatever you do,” (Colossians 3:23, ESV),
  • to contribute to the “needs of the saints,” (Romans 12:13, ESV),

Christian educators should do their best to present instruction in an understandable, compelling, and effective way. Just as Christian doctors, who know that God will heal, employ the best science available, and just as Christian missionaries who know that only God can save, work within the context of the best missiology available, Christian educations, who know only God can create an understanding of true reality, should use the best educational strategies available, and by “best,” I mean those that are most effective and that do not involve sin.

Design for confidence.

The ARCS model proposes confidence-building strategies like the ones below:

  • Communicate the learning objectives. Do this at the beginning of the instructional material.
  • Use a consistent/repeated structure. Make the lesson format predicable.
  • Begin with simplest task. Move onto more difficult tasks after learners have experienced success with easier tasks. 
  • Break complex learning task into smaller units. Consider the mental load and time required for each task, and pace accordingly – less is best.
  • Provide feedback often. Find a way to let the learners know if they are on track. Tell them how to get back on track when they get lost.
  • Connect learning to effort. Find a way to let the learners know there is a correlation between their effort and mastery.

is a concept related to confidence that Albert Bandura, a social-cognitive learning theorist, emphasized. It is the learner’s perception of his or her ability to complete a learning task or to produce a certain behavior. This perception affects the learners commitment/motivation:

  • to persist in learning.
  • to succeed in the learning task.
  • to self-monitor his or her own learning progress.

Biblical writers most often incorporate “strategies” into their instruction that build a sort of self-efficacy, which I will call “God-reliance-efficacy” (a Christian learner’s perception of God’s ability to empower the learner to complete a learning task or produce a certain behavior).

Read Ephesians 1:1-12 (the whole chapter). Notice, Paul’s learning objectives for the Ephesians were that they would:

  1. know what is the hope to which he has called you.
  2. know the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.
  3. know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe.

Notice that he expected God to:

  • give the Ephesians a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of God (Ephesians 1:17).
  • enlighten the eyes of the Ephesians’ hearts, (give understanding) (Ephesians 1:18).

Yet, though he fully expected God to do it, Paul spent 9 verses preceding his prayer, using a God-reliance-efficacy strategy to assure the Ephesians (build confidence) that they could learn about their hope, their inheritance, and God’s power in relation to Christ and them (two hard concepts and a complex principle).

Paul also used this God-reliance-efficacy strategy to convince himself that the Ephesians could master his objectives. (See the “For this reason” in v. 15). Paul knew that the faith of the Ephesians meant that all the things in verses 3-14 were really true of them, so he had real confidence based on real truth.

Look closely at the confidence-building strategy Paul used in Ephesians 1:3-14. Because of their real faith, Paul assured himself and the Ephesian believers that they …

  • were already blessed.
  • had been chosen.
  • were predestined.
  • were loved.
  • had a purpose in God’s eternal will.
  • had been redeemed.
  • had been forgiven.
  • had already obtained a guaranteed inheritance.
  • were already sealed with the Holy Spirit.

As another aside, but still important point:

I am dumbfounded that so many Christian teachers vehemently want to avoid the concepts “chosen,” “elect,” “called,” and “predestination” when time and time again, biblical writers, use these very words to build the believer’s confidence for the tasks ahead of him (For example, see Romans 8:19-30; Colossians 3:12; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:1-2).


In order for optimal learning to occur, learners must be motivated to learn. Motivation, in part, depends on a learner’s belief/perception that he or she can learn the content or perform the task successfully.

Application for Instruction

  • Incorporate non-sin-related motivational design strategies that will build confidence; emphasize truths found in Scripture that build God-reliance-efficacy.
  • Don’t leave out important concepts like “predestination,” “elect,” “called,” and “chosen” because you think they might offend; biblical writers included these important concepts to build God-reliance-efficacy and motivation, and you should too.
  • Read about other ways to build efficacy and think about how you can transform sinful self-reliant-efficacy strategies into God-reliance-efficacy strategies.

Related Posts

Attitude Change – the Affective Domain (Part 1)
Attitude Change – the Affective Domain (Part 2)
Attitude Change – the Affective Domain (Part 3)


Painting by Collet, John,, “George Whitefield Preaching,” Public Domain, accessed June 28, 2016 from

Bandura, Albert, (1994). Encyclopedia of human behavior, V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.),”Self-efficacy,” (Academic Press: New York), Vol. 4, 71-81, accessed June 28, 2016 from

Francom, Greg, Reeves, Thomas C., Educational Technology, “John M. Keller: A significant contributor to the field of educational technology,” May-June 2010, 55-58, accessed June 28, 2016 from

Keller, John, Cognition and Learning, “An Integrative Theory of Motivation, Volition, and Performance,”(Old City Publishing: Philadelphia, PA), 2008, Vol. 6., 79-104, accessed June 28, 2016, from

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