With most technological advancements, it takes society’s hearts and minds some time to catch up with the new-and-improving tech tools on offer. There’s no exception when it comes to online education. When distance learning and online undergraduate and graduate programs started to increase, they carried something of a stigma. However, it didn’t take long for that stigma to crack under the weight of the growing number of high-quality online programs.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 59 percent of postsecondary college students were enrolled in online courses in 2021. This dramatic upswing in online education has corresponded with employers putting less emphasis on how a degree is earned. For those training to enter the education field, online graduate programs can prove a flexible way to earn teacher qualifications. But what are the other important differences between programs that are important to note?
First, it’s important to point out one way in which online programs are no different than in-person programs: Accredited online programs are held to the same federal and state standards as on-the-ground programs, with the same fieldwork and other requirements.
Of course, there are differences to point out, too, and before students enroll to work toward either an on-the-ground or online teaching degree, they must weigh the various pros and cons to decide on the best fit for themselves.
Pros of Earning a Teaching Degree Online
Pursuing an online degree has several unique advantages for individuals to consider. These benefits can potentially make it easier for students to achieve their ultimate goal of getting into education and making an impact on the lives of others.
A Smoother Career Change
Often, teachers are people who’ve long been working in another career, yearning for a more stimulating and meaningful position. When they decide to make the transition to the teaching world, they may not be in a position to uproot their lives, move to a new place, and dedicate their full-time attention to a degree program. Online teaching degrees can make this transition possible, and allow students to stay rooted in the communities where they live—and hope to work one way.
Recognition by Prospective Employers
An online degree program is great training for a future career as an educator or a participant in the education field because of the soft skills it requires: Students need to be self-directed with assignments and fit them in as they continue full- or part-time work. More and more employers are realizing this fact, and seeing it as a perk. What’s more, in an online teaching program, students can independently decide where to do fieldwork and may opt to choose an assignment that’s well aligned with the specific area of teaching—and the physical region or network—where they want to work one day.
Many online programs understand that increased flexibility is one of the benefits they offer, and they work hard to extend those benefits. Students can often choose from full- and part-time programs as well as other personalized options in between.
Cons of Earning a Teaching Degree Online
While there are several excellent perks of earning a teaching degree online, there are also risks and challenges that prospective students will want to consider. Fortunately, students can typically take steps to overcome these elements or minimize their influence.
Some Programs Aren’t Accredited
Unfortunately, as quality online programs have proliferated over the past decade, so have less-than-quality ones. Make sure to stay far away from any program that’s not officially accredited.
Schedules May Not Be Fully Flexible
In many online education programs, some classes are “live” so that you can interact via videoconference with your instructor and fellow students. While this may mean that you can get to class by moving from your kitchen to your living room, it also means that you’ll still need to sign in at a certain time each week—which might require some planning if there’s also a full-time job in the mix.
Self-Discipline Is Required
It’s easy to imagine that online programs are less taxing because, theoretically, many classes could be attended in pajamas. However, many students report that online programs are more difficult. Not only do they often come with more reading and other assignments to ensure that students fully grasp the material, but they also require a healthy dose of self-discipline, since so much of the schedule setting within the course is up to the students to manage.
As students begin to research the types of degree options available to them, they must understand the pros and cons of each way forward and think carefully about what will work best in light of their personality, current job, and goals.
How to Measure the Quality of an Online Teaching Degree
It’s important to conduct some due diligence to properly vet a prospective online institution to ensure that its program has a solid reputation for preparing future educators to succeed. Doing so can make it easier to find an online teaching degree that not only aligns with your career goals but also stands out on your resume due to the program’s reputation.
The National Standards for Quality Online Learning (NSQOL) provides a list of standards that can help people measure the quality of their prospective degree. These standards not only address the quality of the direct instruction coming from faculty but also the quality of the educational environment as it extends beyond the virtual classroom.
The NSQOL lists the following standards as measurements of quality online teaching:
- Professional responsibilities. The instructors’ teaching style and skills align with online teaching best practices.
- Digital pedagogy. Online educational tools are effectively used and maintained.
- Community building. The instructors curate a collaborative, supportive environment that encourages active learning.
- Learner engagement. The instructors develop meaningful opportunities to form connections within the instructor-student dynamic.
- Digital citizenship. The instructors demonstrate safe and ethical online behaviors.
- Diverse instruction. The instructors are adept at tailoring personalized instruction based on the emotional, academic, and social needs of different types of students.
- Assessment and measurement. The instructors evaluate online educational environments to identify and improve weaknesses in the online learning experience.
The NSQOL also notes that prospective students may want to ensure that an institution’s courses have the sufficient tools, materials, and resources needed to cover an online program’s coursework effectively. However, the standards within this step can vary based on specific courses within the program.
Three Things to Expect While Earning Your Teacher Degree Online
Enrolling in an online education experience may feel like uncharted territory. After all, it’s a different environment compared with in-person instruction. Fortunately, some of these unfamiliar elements can be anticipated. Understanding these elements can make the experience more enjoyable and optimize its effectiveness.
Standard elements of an online teaching degree that you can expect to see include the following:
- Discussion board. Reputable online programs will have discussion boards that invite students to engage with each other. This can help foster a sense of community within the virtual classroom.
- Group work. Online programs foster collaborative projects that encourage online students to work and interact with each other. How much group work you’ll engage in depends on the specific course.
- Self-paced learning. Most online classes are designed to allow students to engage in the course’s instructional elements around their own schedule. This means that you may not be “attending” class at the same time as other students. As noted above, however, there may be certain times within the course when virtual attendance at a specific time is required.
Prepare for a Future That Prepares Others
Pursuing a teaching degree online will prepare you to engage in a dynamic career. It will also do something even more impactful—it will get you ready to enter into a position that allows you to shape the minds and futures of students, so they can also go on to have fulfilling careers. This can make becoming an educator one of the most satisfying career paths you can take.
American University’s Online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program is fully equipped to get you ready to embark on this incredible journey. Our coursework is designed to help you deepen the teaching knowledge and skills you need to achieve success. We also provide you with strong networking opportunities nationwide, so you can hit the ground running once you obtain your degree. Learn how we can help you make an impact in the exciting world of education.
Edutopia, “4 Advantages of Digital Discussions in the Classroom”
Kaltura, “Top 5 Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Classes for Higher Education [Updated 2023]”
National Center for Education Statistics, Distance Learning
National Center for Education Statistics, Trend Generator
National Standards for Quality Online Teaching, Quality Online Teaching