If you love teaching but hate the commute, you’re probably a great candidate for an online teaching job. Of course, online teaching is about more than just saving gas money. Teaching online is not only more convenient and flexible, but it may be the fastest growing job sector in higher education today. More students than ever before take online courses. More professionals seek online credentials. More colleges, universities, and private companies turn to the web as a credible outlet for education, training, and certification.
Whether you’re an educator, a grad student looking for extra work, or a qualified expert in your field, online education holds promising employment opportunities and the prospect of an even brighter future.
Is Online Teaching a Smart Career Move …?
Consider the stats. Overall, growth in college enrollment has been flat over the last few years — while online higher education is growing. While experts still grapple with the reasons behind this trend, multiple factors seem to contribute: skyrocketing tuition, the rapid contraction of the for-profit education sector, and a shrinking population of college-age Americans.
While it remains uncertain what’s truly behind the decline, the influx of applications has slowed almost across the board. In December 2017, The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reported a sixth straight year of declining college enrollment.
One area of higher education continues to grow though, and robustly at that. The online college frontier is booming at a time when established homesteads are grappling with the changing landscape. Between 2014 and 2016, a period in which most sectors saw either losses or declining gains, the number of undergraduates taking at least one course at a Title IV-eligible college or university (one whose students qualify to receive federal loans) rose from 27.1% to 30%. The number of graduate students in at least one online course grew from 32.5% to 36.6%.
This makes online teaching a particularly fertile path if you’re looking for new opportunities. This is true whether you’re an established teacher seeking something new, or you’re just beginning to make inroads as a budding educator.
What Is Online Teaching?
Online education refers to a form of distance education mediated by the internet. As an online educator, you will most likely provide instruction, dictate assignments, receive student submissions, and communicate with your class through your computer.
(Incidentally, if you aren’t terribly comfortable using a computer or navigating the internet, it’s not too late to start practicing. Seek instruction on providing education through the online medium. Sites such as Coursera offer Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) on the subject if you need guidance on the norms, best practices, and recent developments in online education.)
Online teaching happens at every level of education, including K–12, college, graduate school, professional certification, and corporate training. Your academic and professional qualifications will usually determine which of these you’re eligible for. We’ll dig into that in a bit.
For now, just know that an online teaching job lets you reach your students and engage them through time and space. It also creates a far larger job market for you, one not limited by your location or mobility.
Why is Teaching Online a Good Idea?
This is indeed one reason why the internet is awesome for so many lines of work: the Internet eliminates geographical boundaries. Perhaps you live in a small, rural region with few schools, or your ability to travel is limited by circumstance, or you’re just bubbling with master’s-level knowledge of the Pre-Raphaelite Art movement but you inhabit an island just off the coast and all your neighbors are sailors, stevedores, and oyster-shuckers. As long as your island is wired, you can take that knowledge to a community college with an art history department in need of an adjunct.
There are other advantages. Online teaching jobs are flexible. You can balance your teaching gig with other responsibilities, whether you’re a working parent, a graduate student or doctoral candidate, or even a retired educator looking to pick up a few bucks on the side.
It’s also easier to find work without requiring an advanced degree. While having the proper academic credentials, including a master’s degree, will qualify you to educate as an online adjunct professor or public school teacher, you can still do much in online education without a graduate degree. Opportunities to teach without an advanced degree may include openings at for-profit colleges, English Language Learner (ELL) institutes, test prep schools, certification programs, professional training programs, or in tutoring. Some of these opportunities may be open to you with a bachelor’s or associate’s degree, a certification, or even with a unique set of professional skills, experience, and knowledge.
How Is Online Teaching Done?
As an online teacher, your instruction may include any number of web-mediated strategies including video-lecturing, Skyping, podcasting, one-on-one videoconferencing, correspondence through email and text, use of online libraries and databases, virtual reality, multiplayer online games, online blackboards, chat rooms, message boards, private group channels like Slack, or social media outlets. But these approaches only hint at what’s to come. As a technology-driven sector of education, online teaching methods will continue to innovate and evolve. The way online teaching is done will continue to encompass new strategies, technologies, and approaches.
U.S. News & World Report points to virtual reality learning, gamification strategies, and even the use of artificial intelligence-based instruction as avenues that are already being explored in real learning environments.
In the broadest terms though, online instruction can be divided into two overarching categories: Synchronous and Asynchronous.
- Synchronous instruction refers to a web-mediated process that happens in real-time, whether through live chat, videoconferencing, or proctored examination.
- Asynchronous instruction refers to a process in which web mediation allows learning to occur without direct or live interface between instructor and student. Common methods include self-guided lesson modules, streaming video content, virtual libraries, posted lecture notes, and exchanges across discussion boards or social media platforms.
Many online courses may feature some combination of the two. You may lecture over a live feed while your students complete online learning modules at their own pace. You may use videoconferencing to conduct “office hours” while otherwise recording and transmitting your lectures by podcast. Online teaching encompasses many models.
As you seek opportunities, consider the model that appeals most to you. If you prefer direct engagement, a community within your classroom, and a live audience for your witty professorial jokes, find opportunities that lean toward synchronicity. If flexibility and convenience are foremost, find a model that tends toward asynchronous. This could be the best way to balance your online teaching job responsibilities with parenting, a day job, or your own education.
To learn more, check out Synchronous or Asynchronous Online Education: Which One Is Right for You?
What Do You Need to Be Able to Teach Online?
You need tech. Nothing crazy. You’re teaching an online course in business management, not plotting a break-in at NASA headquarters.
But you should have a well-functioning laptop computer, a reliable internet connection, and a few key peripherals, including a video camera or webcam, a good microphone, and a headset. Lucky for you, most laptops come with an internal microphone and camera, so if you’re getting a new computer, you probably don’t have to worry about those items unless you want to upgrade to higher-quality gear. If your computer is old enough that it lacks these items, you can purchase them cheaply enough — but frankly, if that’s the case, you should probably get a new computer.
Whatever your computer situation, consider buying a good set of noise-cancelling headphones. These will come in handy both when speaking to students through video-conference and when you’re trying concentrate on grading assignments while your family makes a ruckus in the background.
As for the computer you choose, you’ll likely want to be on the same page as your students. Roughly 80% of students use an Apple laptop. The MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are most popular among them. The other 20% of students are evenly divided between Dell and Lenovo laptops.
One good tip when you’re shopping around for a new laptop or peripherals. Many schools offer discounts on these items through campus or online bookstores. If you’re already affiliated with a school, find out more about these possible discounts. For further handy tips, check out The Savvy Student’s Guide to Computers for College.
What Are Your Options for Online Teaching
One of the great things about teaching online is that it expands opportunities to educators who are at the earliest stages of their career development. In most cases, you must hold an advanced degree to become a teacher in a traditional public school or on a college campus. This is also true for online teachers working at these levels. However, there are also several ways that you can teach online without an advanced degree.
Consider each of these options:
Online tutoring is an accessible way to dive into online education. A wide range of online tutoring outlets may be hiring candidates to provide web-mediated assistance to students — either one on one or in small groups — with homework, reading, study, and other subjects. This job usually pays a modest hourly rate but can offer outstanding flexibility. This is an especially good option if you’ve earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in education but are still working toward your master’s degree. Online tutoring helps you sharpen your online teaching skills while balancing your master’s degree course load. And if you’re already working as a teacher in a traditional classroom setting, online tutoring can earn you a few dollars on the side, or during the summer.
Teach Online Classes in ELL
Demand is growing for English Language Learner (ELL) instructors. If your skill set translates into ELL instruction (pun intended), you could be a choice candidate for the wide range of online teaching positions, either serving immigrants arriving in the U.S. or instructing classes located abroad. This is another teaching opportunity you can seize without an advanced degree.
With either a TESOL or TEFL Certification, you could begin applying now for online teaching jobs in ELL. Contrary to an advanced degree, either of these certification programs can be completed in a manner of weeks or months.
If you have a strong grasp on the English language, basic instructional skills, and the ability to communicate through language and culture barriers, a perfect starting point might be to teach English online through ELL courses.
Teach Online for a Private Education Company
While the hiring rules for public schools and colleges are stringent, private education companies more latitude. This is true from K–12 to college and graduate levels. A number of private, faith-based, and charter schools at the K–12 level will consider candidates that do not hold either advanced degrees or statewide teaching certification. The same is true of some unaccredited for-profit colleges, professional certification programs, test preparation companies, and other postsecondary institutions.
In each of these instances, you may be eligible for a teaching position based on your undergraduate degree and credentials. For instance, the Online Teaching Certificate is offered at a wide range of undergraduate universities and colleges. While this certification is not mandatory, it may improve your appeal to prospective employees, especially if you don’t carry an advanced degree. Be sure that your certification program is overseen by an accredited college or university, preferably one with regional accreditation. (Important note: This certification is not to be confused with the state-issued teacher certification, which is mandatory if you wish to teach in a public school or college).
Also know that while an advanced degree and state-issued teacher certification are not necessarily required for some of the positions above, employers may prefer these credentials anyway. While you will have job options at this level without a master’s degree and teaching certification, your options will be fewer relative to candidates with advanced degrees. On the other hand, some employers may be willing to hire you if you’re already enrolled in a master’s degree program. This is especially convenient because online teaching is a great way to make money while you’re toiling for your degree.
Become an Online Adjunct
Among available online teaching jobs, the most common is for adjunct professor, who teaches online courses in a higher education setting, including public, private nonprofit, community, for-profit, and technical schools. You may be able to land a position as an online adjunct professor for a community or technical college with a bachelor’s degree and some related teaching experience. (However, for the vast majority of positions, you would be required to earn your master’s degree in education or a related field.) Adjunct professors are often doctoral candidates who are taking advantage of the flexibility and convenience of online instruction while working toward full professorship.
On the other hand, it could just be a great way for you to earn side cash if you have a master’s degree in any subject, education or otherwise. As an adjunct professor, you will usually get paid per course. And with the flexibility of online instruction, you may be able to moonlight as an adjunct while holding down your day job.
Teach K–12 Online
Teaching opportunities within K–12 online education keep growing. As charter schools increasingly embrace blended learning strategies and online high school becomes available to more students, greater opportunities to teach online are opening up to primary educators.
For the most part, the rules for online teaching are exactly the same as for traditional educators. To become a classroom teacher in a public school setting, you must complete a teaching certification program. Depending on your intended state of employment, you’ll need to earn either a bachelor’s degree or (more likely) a master’s degree in education.
In many cases, your undergraduate program will include the courses required to earn your teaching certification. If that is not the case — or if you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in an alternate field — you can enter into a standalone teaching certification program. This will provide you with the coursework and experience needed to earn licensure in your state. Some states will actually require you to have a master’s degree in education before you can enter your certification program. Contact the Department of Education in your state to learn more.
Depending on the amount of coursework you’ve completed up to this point, your certification program could take between one and two years to complete.
Once this is complete, you will qualify to sit for the licensing exam in your state. Some states use a national exam like PRAXIS, while others employ their own licensing examination.
Once again, we would advise visiting your state’s Department of Education to find out more.
Also check out The Best Online Teaching Degrees here to start on your path to a degree. Whether you want to teach in a traditional classroom or online, a bachelor’s degree is your first step (though definitely not your last!)
Become an Online Professor
If you wish to become a full-time online professor, the path is straightforward … long and difficult but straightforward. To become a professor, you must have earned your master’s degree and then your doctorate.
As noted above, many adjunct professors are education masters working toward a Ph.D. while instructing online courses. If you have an eye toward a career that balances research in your field with high-level online instruction, you’ll likely need to spend five to seven years earning your doctorate.
If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, get started with our look at The Best Online Doctorate in Higher Education Degree Programs.
Become a Corporate Trainer
One other avenue for online teaching may not require an advanced degree, but it most certainly requires extensive work experience. Many hiring firms and corporations employ third-party assistance for training and internal education. While some firms may seek individuals with experience and credentials in the field of education, being an expert in your field can also qualify you for this kind of role.
If you have a strong background in your discipline and multiple years of experience in something like organizational leadership, workplace safety, corporate sensitivity, human resource specialists, sustainability management, media training, or a whole host of technical and specialized areas — and you can combine that background with coherent and actionable instruction — you may be a good fit for an online corporate training program. Check out the Association for Talent Development for more guidance.
These are just a few of the leading options that await if you hope to teach online. Naturally, each shares a commonality: you have to want to teach to do it well. As long as that describes you, online teaching jobs promise a virtual world of endless possibility.
Read What Can I Do with an Education Degree? for a closer look at your degree and career options.