Become an Online Educator: Career and Education Roadmap

Learn how to become an online educator. Learn about the various educational requirements for teaching online and find out how to start a career in online education.

Should I Become an Online Educator?

Online educators use their knowledge of teaching and instructional design to present courses for learners from preschool age through college. Courses are available through the Internet and may be supported by an educational platform such as Blackboard. Classes are often offered asynchronously, meaning that teachers and students are not required to be online at the same time. Others are synchronous, where teachers and students may interact directly at times. Online educators are often considered adjuncts and may not be valued as highly as full-time, on-site teachers. However, the ease of not having to travel to schools or follow a rigid schedule may appeal to many teachers.

Like most instructors, online educators are normally required to have teaching degrees and licenses for K-12 classes, and graduate degrees for college-level courses. In addition, they also must demonstrate superior understanding of technology and its uses in educational settings. The following table lists some of the qualifications:

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree for K-12; master's degree or Ph.D. for post-secondary teachers
Experience 1-3 years of experience teaching, preferably in subject of position
Certification Appropriate state certification or licensure
Key Skills Written and verbal communication skills, flexible schedule, customer service/student support experience, Microsoft Office applications, Web-based tools, database, graphics programs desirable
Salary $74,040 (Annual mean salary for a postsecondary teacher)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), May 2014 data,, September 2012

Step 1: Earn a Teaching Degree

Online teaching at the K-12 level requires a bachelor's degree and appropriate state-issued teaching certification. At the postsecondary level, potential online educators must have earned their master or doctoral degrees. Most colleges and universities don't require applicants to have degrees in education. Rather, they prefer a degree and experience in the subject which the applicant intends to teach.

Step 2: Gain Certification or Licensure

According to the BLS, teachers are generally required to become certified or licensed in their state which may require passing an exam. Most education degree programs cover information required to become a licensed teacher. Online educators are also required to meet any teaching requirements that are applicable to classroom instruction.

Success Tips:

  • Research your state's certification and licensure requirements. Colleges or the applicable state's board of education website can provide information on a state's teacher certification requirements and any required examinations. Continuing education or professional development may be required for teachers to maintain state certification or licensure.

Step 3: Teach in a Classroom

Online teaching duties are similar to teaching duties in the classroom, except more computer and technology skills are needed in the virtual classroom. Proving teaching skills to potential employers with experience teaching in a brick and mortar classrooms may lend itself to an easier transition to teaching online. Moreover, it's usually easier to negotiate an online teaching position with a current employer than to find a new employer for a direct hire into an online education position.

Success Tips:

  • Find a teaching position in a specific subject area and/or age group. Online educator jobs typically require experience in a specific subject area and 1-3 years of experience in teaching. Choosing a classroom teaching position in the specific area or level of instruction better prepares candidates for online instruction positions.

Step 4: Seek Additional Education Certificates

Elective certificate programs for aspiring educators can be a good way to learn about online instruction. It may also help to advance a career through providing more experience and professional networking. Many colleges and universities offer certificate programs with courses in e-learning, computer-based training, online tutorials, and electronic delivery. Many of these courses are available through the Web, so potential online educators are exposed to the online classroom experience while learning how to use programs designed for online learning, such as Blackboard. Certificate programs are available at both the graduate and undergraduate levels and vary in the number of courses required for completion.

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