Online Instructor Certification and Certificate Programs

Learn about certificate programs and certifications for the online instructor. In this article, you will find educational prerequisites, program coursework and career outlook information.

Essential Information

As more schools offer courses online, more positions open for online instructors. This teaching method requires a different skill set that can be obtained through regular certification. There are several certifications available that acknowledge a professional standard in online instruction. While there is no nationally recognized standard, the Certified Online Instructor (COI) certification, a certification developed by the non-profit organization LERN, may be the most popular and most recognized. It is important to note that all online instructors are employed by educational institutions, and they must therefore hold the same professional credentials as other faculty of that institution.

Because of this, most of those who earn online instructor certifications are already instructors or are qualified to teach in a brick-and-mortar classroom. Online instructors must be competent in a number of other skills, such as email, current computer operating systems, current online educational software (like BlackBoard or Moodle, for example), online testing or even audio chat software. Many times, online instructor certification programs monitor a class being taught by the participant or have the class critiqued by students. Programs take between six months and two years to complete. Participants are usually required to take classes, teach classes of their own, pass a written exam, submit to student evaluation and produce an essay or thesis.

Educational Prerequisite

In most cases, applicants to online instruction certification programs must submit a teaching credential in order to be admitted; however, some programs accommodate those who have not yet graduated from teaching programs who are specializing in online education. As such, nearly all participants in these programs have a master's degree or alternative teaching certification.

Program Coursework

Coursework is designed to adapt classroom teaching methods to online formats. Participants learn about technology, the difference in student behavior and the difference in teaching techniques. Here are some courses that might appear in an online instructor certification program:

  • Teaching online
  • Developing online curriculum
  • Students in the online classroom
  • Student-teacher relations online
  • Online evaluation

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Nearly all teachers who pursue this certification are postsecondary educators. The employment rate for postsecondary educators is expected to grow 17% between 2010 and 2020, which is faster than the national average according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( Also, an increasing number of postsecondary education institutions are offering distance learning programs, which may contribute to a faster growth rate for online educators.

A postsecondary educator working full-time teaching made a median annual salary of $64,290 in 2012, according to the BLS. It should be noted, however, that many online instructors work as adjunct professors; salaries also vary widely according to subject area.

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