Online Schools for Special Education Majors: How to Choose

It is possible to earn a variety of special education credentials, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, through online programs. Read on for an overview of these programs, in addition to helpful information on what to consider when choosing an online special education school.

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When choosing an online special education program students need to bear in mind any licensure requirements, teaching experience and specialty versus broad curriculum options. These factors vary in the different degree programs, which we will discuss in further detail.

How to Select an Online Special Education School

The most common online programs for special education are bachelor's degree, post-baccalaureate certificate and master's degree programs. These programs are offered at select universities and colleges. Students should weigh the licensure requirements and curriculum with teaching experience.

Licensure Requirements

An important consideration in choosing an online program is whether the program will help students become successfully licensed teachers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, every U.S. state requires licensure for special education teachers (www.bls.gov). Because licensure requirements for special education teachers vary by state, online special education program curricula and graduation requirements may vary by school location.

Though some special education degree programs are tailored to specific state standards, some programs accept students from any state. In these cases, it is up to the student to ensure they receive the education and training they need to pass exams and meet other licensure requirements for their state of residence.

Teaching Experience

Firsthand experience in special education classrooms is a primary consideration of employers and important for licensure. For this reason, students may want to make sure their online program provides access to teaching internships, student teaching or other practical experience in the field.

An internship or practicum is a common requirement of online special education degree programs at all levels. Depending on the school, or the student's proximity to the school, it may be the student's responsibility to find an appropriate venue at which to complete this hands-on teaching experience. Some schools have established internship programs with local school systems and assist students in arranging student teaching experience.

Specialty or Broad Curriculum

Prospective students who want to focus on a specific area of special education can review each program's course offerings to ensure that classes are available in their areas of interest. For example, students who want to teach autistic children may want to enroll in a program that offers a concentration or emphasis on autism spectrum disorders. If a chosen program has only a general special education major, students might be able to get specialized training if there are enough classes available in their area of interest.

Programs with a wide range of course offerings, like early childhood special education, teaching living skills to the disabled, behavioral analysis, technology in inclusion education and special education law, allow students with no pre-determined area of focus to gain a wide base of knowledge in the field. The range of special education topics covered in a curriculum may be another factor to consider when selecting an online special education school.

List of Online Special Education Programs

Online Bachelor's Degree in Special Education

Programs offering special education bachelor's degrees online can result in a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Education or Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies degree. Some of these programs allow students to transfer credits from a relevant associate degree program to fulfill some credit requirements. Students in programs with these conference classes may be required to have video conferencing capabilities including a functioning webcam and microphone. Areas of focus include:

  • Teacher education foundations and diversity
  • Preclinical experiences
  • General special education
  • Instructional planning and presentation

Online Special Education Certificate

These certificate programs are designed for graduates of bachelor's degree programs who want licensure to teach special ed. Some special education certificates focus on preparing students to teach in integrative classrooms where special education students learn with mainstream students. Others focus on early childhood special education.

Because applicants are required to hold a bachelor's degree, these certificate programs may include a mix of undergraduate and graduate level classes. Some online certificate programs include coursework that requires students to attend face-to-face class sessions on-campus, while others allow students to complete all coursework online. Course topics include:

  • Literacy interventions
  • Current issues in special education
  • Strategic collaborations
  • Advanced behavioral intervention techniques

Online Special Education Master's Degree

Online master's degrees in special education are generally available as Master of Education (M.Ed.) degrees. Less common, but still available, are special education Master of Science degrees. Like bachelor's and certificate programs, online special education master's degree programs may cover the broad topic of general special education or may focus on special topics such as inclusion education or spectrum disorders.

Whether these master's programs can be completed completely online depends on the schools. Though most schools seem to serve local students only, this is not always the case. Some schools might offer in-state tuition to all online degree program students, regardless of actual residency. Other perks of completing a special education master's degree program online might include the ability to use degree program credits to complete specialist certificate programs in areas such as autism disorders. Sample course topics include:

  • Teaching reading
  • Language and learning disabilities
  • Evidence-based methods and instruction
  • Research in special education

Schools With Online Programs in Special Education

The University of Georgia provides an online Bachelor of Science in Special Education program that prepares students in the state for certification. The program is 121 semester hours and requires two on-campus visits for orientation and a workshop. Students must also complete field experiences and student teaching.

Walden University offers an online certificate program in special education that includes a virtual classroom to explore scenarios in the field. The program consists of four courses for 12 semester credits. Students cover topics in leadership, assessment, instruction adaptation and more.

Purdue University has an online Master of Science in Education in Special Education degree program that can be finished in 20 months. Students can take a master's only track or choose from a master's with initial special education licensure, master's with advanced licensure or master's with advanced licensure intense intervention only. All but the master's only track requires a practicum.

Online certificates, bachelor's and master's degree programs in special education are available, but students considering these programs need to research the licensure requirements, teaching experience opportunities and specialty and broad curriculums of these programs.

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