Master of Arts in Education: Online Special Education Degree

Dec 04, 2019

Essential Information

Online master's degree programs in special education are often designed for current teachers; however, there are programs available for those seeking initial teaching licensure. A bachelor's degree is generally required for admission to these programs. Applicants may also need to achieve qualifying scores on the GRE or the Praxis Preprofessional Skills Test.

In addition to online courses, students may be required to complete a field experience. Students have the option of completing 100% online or hybrid programs, and accelerated formats are available. All special education teachers in public schools must be licensed, and although private schools may not require licensing, many private school employers prefer it.

Online Master of Arts in Education: Special Education Overview

An online Master of Arts program in special education allows already certified teachers to gain additional endorsements and offers students extensive knowledge of special education issues. Both 100% online and hybrid programs are available. While some online Master of Arts programs in special education are specifically designed for licensed teachers, many require only a bachelor's degree from an accredited school and qualifying scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the Praxis Preprofessional Skills Test. Select schools offer combined programs that lead to initial teaching certification.

These programs teach students about legal aspects of special education, ethical practices and collaboration strategies. Students may be able to choose a specialization in a special education area, such as behavioral disorders, severe disabilities or autism.

Program Format and Delivery Method

Many schools offer Master of Arts programs in special education in flexible online formats. These programs generally take two years to complete with full-time study, although some schools offer accelerated programs that can be completed in 18 months or less.

Course content can be delivered through interactive Web applications, video conferencing or hybrid classes. Students use message boards, chat rooms and email to communicate with professors and other students. Lectures and other course-related media are sometimes posted to class websites, and assignments are usually available through a bulletin board system. In programs that require field experience, students work at local schools or agencies and may be required to report to program faculty via online communication.

Common Course Topics

Online master's degree programs in special education often feature core coursework in behavioral disorders, learning problems and curriculum adaptation. Other common areas of focus include autism spectrum disorders and education of students with severe disabilities.

Behavioral Disorders

This course examines identification procedures and techniques for teaching students with behavioral disorders. Interdisciplinary approaches to treatment may also be covered.

Teaching Students with Learning Problems

Emerging theories and research on educating students with learning disabilities provide the focus for this course. Specialized intervention strategies are also explored.

Teaching Students with Severe Disabilities

Areas of emphasis include computer-assisted instruction and other methods of instruction adaptation. Issues such as community-based training and educational malpractice are also examined.

Career Outlook

Graduates of an online Master of Arts program in special education might work as special education teachers, general education teachers helping students with disabilities, or early interventionists assisting young children and their families. They may also work as administrators for educational programs at local, regional and state levels.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth for special education teachers of 3%, which is slower than the average for all occupations, from 2018-2028 ( As of May 2018, the BLS reported an average annual salary of $65,320 for special education teachers in secondary schools. The BLS further reported an average annual salary of $63,110 for special education teachers in elementary schools.

Continuing Education and Licensing Information

Licensure is required for all special education teachers in the U.S. Licensing requirements vary by state, with some states offering licenses in specific areas within special education. Doctoral degrees in special education are available online and can lead to professorships or research positions.

Teachers who want to work specifically with students who have special needs can get relevant training through an online Master of Arts in Education program. Those who enroll in one of these programs can expect to watch video lectures, complete assignments and interact with fellow students, just as they would in an on-campus program.

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