Group of students' graduation caps

The Power of Online Learning and Student Motivation

Every teacher who ever worked with him thought he would not graduate. For our purposes here, we will call him “Earl.” Earl was slow, purposefully slow, it seemed. He was exasperating; we could tell from his test scores and his native ability that he probably knew the material or could certainly learn it. But when we talked with him about completing his courses, he never seemed to care about graduating on time. He had accepted his “fate” – he was going to graduate during his fifth year of high school. He was seven classes behind his graduation schedule and not moving toward a diploma with any consistency.

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When Earl talked with us he was not willing to commit to a graduation plan; we didn’t have any luck working with him to set goals. After all our discussions and conversations, we were at a loss on how to motivate Earl and help him gain sufficient credits to graduate. It was at this dark moment that Earl and one of his teachers found some common ground.

Earl loved one thing at high school – his JROTC program: its structure, its subject matter, and its leadership. When he was in those classes, Earl was a different person: a sharply dressed leader that underclassmen respected. This teacher was not associated with JROTC, but she was a Marine veteran of the first Gulf War, a Special Forces operative, and married to a Navy Seal. She was also a no-nonsense mathematics teacher. In their discussions about his need to earn credits in her credit recovery lab, she and Earl discovered his dream – he wanted to graduate and join the Marines. This began his journey to success. As she told him of her experiences, he began to understand the relationship between his effort and his ability to achieve his goal. He began to see that the credit recovery lab was a way to repair the time gap he had created and work towards graduating.

Student motivation is the linchpin.

He worked on the weekends and over holidays. His new mentor never wavered in her commitment to him and he responded with a renewed effort. Over the final ten months of high school, Earl repaired his transcript: earning nearly ten credits for courses he had failed. He discovered that online learning not only helped him with credit recovery, but was well suited for his learning style. He loved taking notes, focusing on the limited objectives in lessons, and letting his knowledge build toward successful completion.

By the time the second semester of his senior year arrived, Earl was on track for graduation, had taken the ASVAB, and had passed all the state-required graduation tests. Even though his final transcript was littered with credit recovery markers, he was proud to walk that stage on graduation night, leaving for Marine boot camp only two weeks after. Before he left, Earl came to see us. He looked us in the eye, shook our hands and offered this, “I couldn’t have done this without all of you and without Edgenuity. I finally learned how to learn.”

  • Note: Nearly six months later, Earl appeared at my door. He was handsome in his Marine dress uniform and proudly said, “I’m here today with our area recruiter. I am helping other students understand what they need to do to find their dream.” I couldn’t talk. All I could do was hug him. We didn’t discuss my very moist eyes.

About the Author


Paul Kraack

For nearly thirty years, Paul has worked in education as a classroom teacher, a district public affairs director, an alternative school administrator, and a graduation specialist working with at-risk and alternatively placed students in a rural school district in Georgia. His writing about technology, education, and the arts has been published in national magazines and newspapers, as well as in a collaborative book written to support English-language skill development among adult learners in Sweden. Paul has been married for forty-three years and has two sons, and four (soon to be five) grandchildren.