Distance Learning Ed.D. Programs: Overviews by Specialization

Research online Doctor of Education courses and program specializations. Find out what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

Essential Information

Online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) programs are available with numerous specialization options. While some programs are offered entirely online, some schools offer hybrid programs that require an in-person component, such as a residency, internship or summer work. Students can choose to specialize in instructional leadership, curriculum instruction or higher education and adult learning. Applicants will need to hold a master's degree and may also need to have teaching experience. Potential careers for graduates include elementary, middle, or secondary school principal; instruction coordinator; adult literacy and GED instructor; and postsecondary educational administrator.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school principals are generally required to have experience as teachers and at least a master's degree in education administration or leadership. Principals in public schools are typically required to be licensed; check for state-specific licensing requirements.

Instructional coordinators typically need a minimum of a master's degree and are often required to be licensed; licensing requirements vary by school district. Adult literacy and GED educators typically need a minimum of a bachelor's degree and a teaching license, although many employers also prefer teaching experience. Postsecondary educational administrators may be able to find entry-level positions with a bachelor's degree, but generally need a master's degree or higher.

Ed.D. in Instructional Leadership

Students interested in receiving their distance learning Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degrees can concentrate on instructional leadership or administration. This specialization focuses on managing complex educational institutions at the primary, secondary and postsecondary levels. Graduates of this program develop skills in human resource management, finance and decision-making. A student entering this program must have first completed a master's degree, typically with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0.

Program Information and Requirements

An Ed.D. in Instructional Leadership program typically requires between 42-62 semester hours, which can take 3-4 years to complete. The program can be completed entirely online; however, some schools require residencies or internships that must be done in person. The online courses are usually conducted in an asynchronous fashion, which means that the course materials can be accessed and worked on at any time, as long as certain deadlines are met. The students interact with their instructors and peers and ask questions through message boards, chat rooms and e-mail.

Course Topics

Approximately two-thirds of an Ed.D. in Instructional Leadership curriculum is made up of courses, while the remainder is generally made up of a combination of internships and dissertation research. Additionally, some schools require students to create professional portfolios and have them reviewed as the final steps for graduation.

Problem Solving with Critical Thinking

Students learn the fundamentals of making effective decisions with regards to issues specific to the education field. Problem-solving strategies involving the use of data, research and creative thinking are highlighted. The goal of this course is to identify problems within the current educational system and to address these issues in ways that facilitate personal growth of the students.

Planning and Managing Change

This course focuses on the effects of change on educational institutions. Students learn how to improve the processes of the school by leading change and fighting opposition to change. Special attention is paid to appreciating human diversity and recognizing its implications on the global education platform. Real-world situations are studied in order to develop strategies and skills for implementing change.

Education Law

The fundamental legal aspects of the educational system are the main areas of interest in this course. The necessary division between church and state, the right to free speech and the acceptable styles of discipline are some of the topics covered. Students also examine policies involving contractual agreements, accreditation and specific legislative movements within the school and district.


Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Curriculum and instruction is a specialization option for students of a distance learning Doctor of Education program. This concentration deals with the current issues, research and practices involved with the education process and how they can facilitate the design and improvement of curricula and teaching methods. Skills are acquired involving the facilitation of positive learner outcomes and developing an effective classroom setting despite difficult cultural or economic hardships. A previously earned master's degree is always required for entrance to the doctoral program, and some schools even require that possible candidates have at least five years of verifiable teaching practice.

Program Information and Requirements

An Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction usually consists of anywhere between 54-64 semester hours, which typically take around four years. This program can be found wholly online; however, some schools require that the materials be accessed from certain sites or locations. Additionally, some summer work and internships must be done from specific locations.

Most schools present their materials in a Web-based delivery system, which allows students to work on the materials on their own schedule. Some schools utilize a video conferencing system that requires students to convene at indicated times. E-mail, bulletin boards and chat rooms bring students into contact with their teachers and classmates.

Course Topics

The curriculum of this specialization consists of a mixture of Ed.D. foundation courses, specialization courses, electives, dissertation research and internships. Many colleges organize their courses into a cohort system, which allows a certain group of Ed.D. students to progress through the classes at the same rate and monitor each other's progress.

Teaching Strategies

The fundamental types, styles and formulas of instruction are the center of attention in this course. Students learn effective strategies of teaching and creating curricula that result in positive learner outcomes. Methods for improving existing educational programs, integrating cutting-edge technologies into the classroom and incorporating differentiated instruction for diverse populations is also studied.

Instruction Evaluation

This course emphasizes the different types and styles of appraising learning programs and standardized testing. Students examine the history and regulations of the No Child Left Behind Act and how it effects educational standards. Options for decreasing the achievement gap are discussed along with methods for improving the overall teaching effectiveness.

Research Design

Students learn about the different types of research, such as quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods research. Formal research processes, principles and paradigms are also studied along with the empirical values of such designs. Gathering and interpreting data, composing a prospectus and developing useful research questions is also examined.


Ed.D. in Higher Education and Adult Learning

The higher education and adult learning specialization of the Ed.D. program is meant for students who are interested in instructing adult populations. This typically occurs at the postsecondary level, though adults often need education at the secondary and elementary level or in business and government settings. Students enrolled in this program develop skills for motivating and supervising adult learners, fostering positive adult development and finding the connection between research and practice within the field of higher education. A master's degree acts as a prerequisite to this Ed.D. program, and some schools suggest a position be held at an institution of higher education prior to enrollment.

Program Information and Requirements

It takes between 54-90 semester hours to complete the Ed.D. in Higher Education and Adult Learning, which can usually be completed in 3-4 years. All of the necessary courses can be taken in an online format; however, at least one in-person residency is required by most schools. The Web courses generally give students the freedom to access and work on materials at any time, though some courses will have due dates for assignments. Faculty and fellow students can be communicated with through e-mail, chat rooms and discussion boards.

Course Topics

This Ed.D. program is composed of a blend of core and foundation courses, electives, applied research, residencies and a doctoral study intensive. Also, some schools require the submission of an electronic portfolio, which assembles and saves all of the students' online coursework and assignments for the purpose of tracking personal growth and development.

Teaching Adults

The unique philosophies and conventions of educating students at the college age and older are examined in depth. They are compared and contrasted with teaching students of other ages. The stages, patterns and phases of growth and development of the adult learner are identified and examined. Students are asked to relate their personal educational journeys to the topics covered by this course.

Contemporary Issues in Higher Education

This course provides a summary of American higher education from the 1700s to modern day and the important educational innovators along the way. Students explore the various different types of higher education institutions such as land grant, liberal arts and religious colleges. Important research involving higher education is reviewed to find possible ways of bettering colleges and universities.

Financing Higher Education

The common sources of college and university funding, such as taxes and student tuition, are studied. Students learn how to legally acquire, manage and use such funds in an efficient manner. Methods of accommodating financial trends and economic changes are developed. The differences in the state and federal roles in financing higher education are also discussed.


Career Information

Graduates of an Ed.D. in Instructional Leadership look for employment as education administrators in elementary, middle and secondary schools. Specific careers include principals, assistant principals and school district central office administrators. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2015, there were 235,110 people employed as educational administrators at the elementary through secondary levels. These individuals earned an average yearly salary of $92,940 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also predicted a 6% employment increase for elementary, middle, and high school principals between 2014 and 2024, which is as fast as the average rate of growth.

Instructional coordinators, curriculum specialists and personal development coaches are some positions for which graduates of an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction are well-suited. The BLS reported that as of May 2015 instructional coordinators earned an average yearly salary of $64,870 (www.bls.gov). Additionally, the BLS estimated an occupational growth of 7% between 2014 and 2024, which is as fast as the average growth for all occupations.

The skills acquired through an Ed.D. in Higher Education and Adult Education program allows its holder to pursue positions as academic deans, department heads, provosts and other jobs in the field of postsecondary educational administration. Additional job opportunities as adult literacy, remedial education and GED instructors are also available through completion of this degree program.

As of May 2015, the BLS reported that a total of 135,690 people were employed as educational administrators at the postsecondary level. Collectively, they earned an average yearly salary of $102,610 (www.bls.gov). Also, there were 65,110 people employed as adult literacy, remedial education and GED instructors with an average yearly salary of $54,060. The BLS predicted about-average job growth for adult literacy, remedial education and GED instructors of 7%, and it also predicted faster-than-average growth of 9% for postsecondary educational administrators.

To summarize, students in distance learning Ed.D. programs conduct dissertation research and complete advanced courses in subjects related to their chosen concentration, such as the education of particular populations. This specialization often determines the educational leadership position that graduates pursue in the future.


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