This week is National Distance Learning Week, a time to celebrate and learn more about education outside of the classroom. I don’t usually write here, but this week got me thinking about how distance and online learning has benefitted me personally. Because I received the opportunity to learn in a less traditional environment I was able to continue studying during critical times in my academic career.

When I was a junior at the University of Texas I had to leave school mid-semester to help with a family emergency. I was over half of the way through my semester, had taken mid-terms and handed in many assignments. I was worried that all my classwork would go to waste. I was also worried that if I didn’t fulfill my semester course load I would lose my financial aid.

I worked with my professors to create a crude distance program for myself. Most of them allowed me to complete my coursework via email and online testing. I was lucky enough to finish the semester with my GPA, financial aid and status intact.

The following semester presented another challenge. I had to remain at home in Fort Worth and leave my life in Austin. Again, I was worried about losing my financial aid, my housing, and my identity as a student. This was in the early 2000’s so online classes were relatively new. So I worked with my advisors and the university let me create a distance learning path for myself. I was allowed to take two classes virtually, which allowed me to keep my financial aid as well as my identity as a college student, during an otherwise tumultuous time.

Flash forward to 2011 when I was getting my master’s degree at DePaul University in Chicago by taking evening classes and working full-time. I was getting close to finishing my degree but I needed a statistics class to graduate. I had tried taking an evening class but found it so difficult that I ultimately dropped out. I needed a quiet space and more time to really understand something so outside of my wheelhouse.

Again, in fear of losing financial aid if I didn’t reach my requirements, I looked for something a little less traditional. The school offered a Saturday morning online class. Perfect, I could run SPSS in my pajamas. Our professor would lecture for a few hours every Saturday and we would have group discussion boards and assignments online. I also was able to email my teacher frequently and work privately with a tutor. This low-stress environment helped me to succeed in my class and ultimately graduate.

These two instances of distance or online learning were both very different but they gave me the same essential benefits. They allowed me to learn in a comfortable space that met my needs. They also allowed me to keep my identity as a student which included financial aid. Lastly, they helped me to graduate and ultimately succeed. Now I’m happy to work at a company that works to make non-traditional learning a possibility for anyone with access to a computer and Wi-Fi.