Education Requirements for Becoming an Online Teacher

Sep 26, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an online teacher. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and licensure to find out if this is a career for you.

To teach elementary, middle, or high school it is necessary to have a bachelor's degree. Private school teachers are not required to have a state license, but public school teachers are. Postsecondary teachers are required to have a master's or doctoral degree in their field.

Essential Information

Online instructors educate K-12 and postsecondary students from remote locations using the Internet as their teaching medium. Some teachers enhance classroom learning by guiding students online to various educational websites. Others use online forums to encourage student collaboration outside the traditional brick-and-mortar classroom environment. Educational requirements for this position differ based on student grade-level. Although not required, individuals becoming online instructors may want to choose degree programs that offer as much up-to-date technology training as possible, especially courses that integrate teaching methods with technology.

Education Level Elementary School Teacher Middle School Teacher Secondary School Teacher Postsecondary School Teacher
Required Education Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree Master's or doctoral degree
Other Requirements Teacher education program and state licensure Teacher education program and state licensure Teacher education program and state licensure None
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 3% 3% 4% 11%
Mean Salary (2018)* $62,200 $62,030 $64,340 $76,990

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

(Unfortunately, because there is limited salary and job growth information available for online teachers specifically, the information in the table represents all teachers.)

K-12 Online Teacher

According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are many education programs that combine formal classroom teaching with online teaching technologies, and there are other programs provide fully online school experiences. Whether teaching K-12 students completely online or in a blended classroom-online environment, most public school teachers need to meet basic educational requirements, which include earning bachelor's degrees, completing teacher training programs, gaining supervised teaching experience and earning licensure. Private schools often have less stringent requirements for teachers.

Individuals who plan to teach kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade generally require a broader knowledge base since they will teach students information from all key subjects, including English, math and science. Degree programs for early childhood education include instruction in liberal studies and teaching methodologies. Teaching methodology coursework typically includes child development, curriculum integration, classroom assessment and educational psychology.

Those who teach students in grades 6-12 often teach single subjects. For example, a history teacher would only teach about history, although he or she may focus on different historical periods based on grade-level requirements. Some universities offer single-subject teaching programs that require applicants to major in their particular subject and take teaching methodology courses. Since every state has different standards on how to teach each subject, several single-subject degree programs offer additional standards training coursework.

Postsecondary Online Instructor

Postsecondary instructors working at brick-and-mortar 4-year colleges usually hold doctoral degrees in particular fields. Instructors at 2-year colleges and vocational institutions may only need master's degrees to teach. Educational requirements for online instructor positions vary based on institutional guidelines and the subject being taught.

In order to earn master's or doctoral degrees, students must first complete bachelor's degree programs at accredited universities. Master's degree programs generally take two years to complete and may require students to participate in related internship programs. After completing required coursework, students often have to pass exit exams to prove their knowledge in a particular field.

Doctoral degree programs vary in length, although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that it takes about six years to complete most programs. Many doctoral degree programs require students to teach lower division undergraduate courses, which provide individuals with viable teaching experience. To earn doctoral degrees, students must complete coursework and finish dissertations, which are long papers that addresses key issues within a particular field of study.

Technology Training

Education technology coursework covers emergent technologies for both K-12 and postsecondary learning environments. In these courses, individuals learn how to design online courses and use multimedia to enhance the online learning experience. Many courses also provide techniques for evaluating the usefulness of different technologies.

Licensing Requirements for Becoming an Online Teacher

Currently there are no specific licensing requirements for online teachers or instructors; however, public school K-12 teachers must adhere to state licensing requirements. License eligibility requirements include completing bachelor's degree programs as well as teacher training programs, which are sometimes called credential programs. Upon meeting these and other state-specific requirements, applicants must pass licensing tests administered by their state boards of education. According to the BLS, several states also require applicants to pass education technology tests as part of the licensing process. To teach online legally across state borders, some online teachers and instructors may require additional licenses, depending on state guidelines.

Postsecondary instructors, whether teaching online or in the classroom, do not currently need licensing. Likewise, many private schools do not require K-12 teachers to be licensed.

Since the specific requirements to teach online vary depending on the employer, it's important for those pursuing a career in this field to review the requirements of the jobs for which they are applying. Postsecondary teachers and private school teachers aren't required to have a state teaching license, but public school teachers are and may need multiple licenses to teach across state boundaries. In addition to a degree and training in teaching, additional technology training may be an asset for online teachers.

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