Life Is Complicated: Distance Learning Helps


Three months after a terrorist attack in Afghanistan left Jeremy Haynes a paraplegic, he met with a psychologist from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “He asked me what I wanted to do with my life,” said Mr. Haynes, a retired Army major. “I said I wanted to go back to school. He said, ‘Let’s be realistic. You’re not going to be operating mentally like you did before.’”

On Aug. 5, 2014, a gunman had sprayed bullets from an assault rifle into a military delegation visiting an Afghan military academy. Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene was killed; Mr. Haynes was struck with four bullets and was among nine Americans injured.

Mr. Haynes, now 34, said the psychologist’s assessment of his mental acuity was based on his poor performance on a cognitive test he had taken during his rehabilitation. “I thought to myself, `That number doesn’t define who I am,’” he said. “`I’m going to show you.’”

Today, he is studying for his doctorate in business administration at Walden University, which specializes in online education. “I knew I didn’t want to go back to school in the traditional sense,” said Mr. Haynes, who uses a wheelchair. “I didn’t want to be a distraction in the classroom. I didn’t want people to have to hold the door open for me, or worry about parking.”

He had prior experience with distance learning. Although Mr. Haynes, a native of Albany, Ga. who now lives in Fort Belvoir, Va., had pursued his bachelor’s degree in a traditional classroom-based program — at Fort Valley State University in Georgia — he had later earned his master’s in business administration online from Florida Institute of Technology in 2013, while in the Army. He also earned a certification in program management while deployed as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division.

“I could log on any time, in the middle of Iraq,” he said. For the convenience, the flexibility — and now because, “it puts a veil over my disability,” Mr. Haynes says he prefers taking classes through the screen of his laptop.

Of course, the idea of adults taking classes remotely is not new. “When I started, they called them ‘correspondence courses,’” said George Haber, an adjunct professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology in Queens. “And that’s what it really was. Students would send in their work handwritten, you would write them back.”

In the 1990s, he recalls, the first forms of online classes emerged, although the systems were still slow. Today, such popular online platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle allow for much improved discourse. “In the true online class there’s a lot of interactivity,” said Mr. Haber, who teaches classes in technical writing and communications.

By John Hanc