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How to Become an Online College Instructor: Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become an online college instructor. Learn about the career requirements, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in online college instruction. View article »

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  • 0:03 Online College Instructors
  • 0:48 Career Requirements
  • 1:30 Step 1: Earn A Degree
  • 2:09 Step 2: Become…
  • 3:01 Step 3: Gain Teaching…
  • 3:51 Step 4: Pursue a…

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Video Transcript

Online College Instructors

Teaching online not only allows college instructors to share their expertise, it also provides them with the freedom and flexibility to work from home, including setting their own hours. With the rise of education offered online, teaching opportunities are available at traditional colleges as well as online colleges and schools. Some teachers might miss the face-to-face contact with students, while others may enjoy the freedom from strict schedules.

Community colleges typically require at least a master's degree, and universities normally hire teaching applicants with doctorates. Employers might require certification for online teaching and/or a teaching license or certification.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree; many universities require a doctoral degree
Degree Field Many fields of interest
Experience Varies; can range from several months to several years of teaching experience
Licensure or Certification Teacher's license or certification may be mandatory; online instruction certification may be necessary as well
Key Skills Good verbal and written communication skills; flexibility, patience, and instructional skills; basic computer abilities, including Microsoft Excel, college course management programs, and automated grading systems
Salary (2015) $71,060 (mean annual salary for all other postsecondary teachers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Be an Online College Instructor

What steps do I need to take to be an online college instructor?

Step 1: Earn a Degree

The educational requirements for online instructors will vary based on the level and school type, but a master's degree from a related field is a common requirement. College instructors are not required to have a degree in education; however, students may consider earning a bachelor's degree and teacher certification if they want to teach at the elementary or secondary levels.

Success Tip:

  • Look for an internship. While completing your undergraduate program, seek out opportunities to teach, such as in tutoring centers, after-school programs, or enrichment classes at community facilities.

Step 2: Become Familiar with Distance-Learning Technology

The best experience for those interested in becoming online instructors is to take courses in distance-learning technology. This first-hand experience provides knowledge in constructing effective course plans, devising teaching strategies, and employing various assignment formats. Familiarity with computers and distance-learning technology is essential since online instructors may be required to implement several types of technology.

Success Tip:

  • Explore certificate programs and tutorials. Some colleges offer free tutorials on e-learning and online instructor training. Other schools offer certificate programs in the specialty areas that cover topics like e-learning instructional design, assessment, community creation, and practical application.

Step 3: Gain Teaching Experience

Although work experience and teaching experience requirements vary between courses and colleges, many employers prefer instructors with experience teaching and working in their field of expertise. Work experience provides hands-on knowledge of the subject matter that supplements textbook materials. Teaching experiences can be gained through jobs in online tutoring and teaching adult education courses.

Success Tip:

  • Assess the many teaching options. As online courses have become more common, opportunities have grown. Many online instructors begin their careers teaching courses in a classroom and then gradually move to teaching online through a traditional college. Other instructors find employment with one of the many online colleges or in technical schools.

Step 4: Pursue a Graduate Degree to Further Your Career

One way to advance your career is to earn a master's or doctorate degree. It may be beneficial to your career to get an advanced degree, and you may also gain a few professional references along the way as well. Students also gain more experience teaching at the graduate levels.

Online college instructors must have advanced degrees in their fields along with professional abilities that make them successful in teaching distance-learning students, and they earn a mean annual salary of $71,060.

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