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How to Become an Online Professor: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an online professor. Research the job description and the education and certification requirements. Then, find out how to start a career teaching college courses online. View article »

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  • 0:01 Becoming an Online Professor
  • 1:18 Step 1: Education Field
  • 1:44 Step 2: Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:28 Step 3: Grad School
  • 2:55 Step 4: Certificate
  • 3:24 Step 5: Associations

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Video Transcript

Becoming an Online Professor

Degree Level Master's degree; but many universities require a doctoral degree; an online teaching certificate may also be necessary
Degree Field Any field of interest
Experience Teaching and research experience as a graduate assistant
Key Skills Critical-thinking, communication, writing, instructional, and computer skills; understanding of online course platforms
Salary $72,470 (2015 mean salary for all postsecondary teachers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Indiana Daily Student (Indiana University)

Online professors teach courses to college students through online universities or institutions with physical campuses that offer distance-learning programs or classes. Their job responsibilities typically include planning course curricula, posting course content online, providing technical support and assessing student progress. Although communication with students and peers may take place online, some individuals might miss that in-person contact.

To become an online professor, a master's degree usually is necessary. For an individual to work as a full-time, tenure-track university professor, a doctoral degree may be required. Preparation for this job is essentially the same as for a traditional, classroom-based professor, but computer skills as well as familiarity with online course platforms are a vital part of this career. Other key skills for online professors include critical-thinking, communication, writing, and instructional skills. Certificates in online instruction are available and may sometimes be required. In May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the mean salary for all post-secondary teachers was $72,470 per year.

Step 1: Educational Field

The first step toward becoming an online professor is to choose an educational field. College professors can specialize and teach in a variety of fields. Business, psychology and English, for example, are just a few of the subjects in which a college professor can specialize. Students might consider individual preference, the likelihood of obtaining a position in a particular field and the general availability of online degrees and classes in a discipline when choosing a subject.

Step 2: Bachelor's Degree

Earning a bachelor's degree is the second step to becoming an online professor, as it is a prerequisite for admission into graduate school and a requirement for teaching at the post-secondary level. When selecting a bachelor's degree program, prospective online professors should consider whether a program's components satisfy the requirements for admission to a graduate program in the subject they intend to teach.

Here's a success tip: take online courses. Individuals who would like to teach online courses may benefit from completing online courses themselves. Taking online courses helps students learn how these classes are taught and familiarizes them with the types of online platforms commonly utilized to provide instruction over the Internet.

Step 3: Grad School

The third step toward becoming an online professor is to enroll in graduate school. Online professors, like their classroom-based counterparts, must earn at least a master's degree in their chosen discipline. While in graduate school, students usually work closely with their professors to learn about their chosen subject and become familiar with teaching methods. At the doctoral level, future college professors are often able to teach undergraduate courses in their discipline.

Step 4: Certificate

The fourth step toward becoming an online professor is to earn an online teaching certificate. Students enrolled in graduate-level education programs may gain the specific skills needed to teach online courses by supplementing their master's or doctoral studies with online teaching certificate programs. Topics covered include facilitating online learning, content delivery systems and online curriculum development. Programs often include three to six courses.

Step 5: Associations

Joining a professional association can help online professors further their careers. Online professors can join groups like the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) to keep up with industry changes and technological innovations. These organizations allow online professors to network and attend professional development conferences for training. They can also learn about updates on new distance learning mediums, like webinars and mobile learning.

The steps toward becoming an online professor include a bachelor's degree, enrolling in graduate school, earning an online teaching certificate and joining professional associations.

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