Online Teaching As a Career: Advice From a Modern Educator

There is a gold rush going on now in the field of online learning and it is the pursuit of teaching online. There are new master’s degree programs that are focused on teaching with technology, along with degree programs related to instructional design. There are authors that tout the seemingly endless opportunities available for teaching online courses, and one set of authors that want you to believe you can earn a six figure income as an adjunct online instructor.

There was a time not too long ago when online learning was gaining popularity, that there were plenty of opportunities available to teach online. But that time has changed, especially due to the increased number of schools that offer online classes. Potential students have a wealth of schools to choose from now when they want to earn a degree online. In addition, there has been a decline in enrollment for some of the for-profit schools because of intense scrutiny by regulators and the student loan crisis. What is needed now more than ever is a realistic overview of online teaching, from someone who is been highly involved in the field as a Modern Educator.

A Perspective about Students

I have been involved in the field of online learning now as a Modern Educator for over nine years. I have taught online courses for traditional colleges as well as for-profit universities. My perspective is not limited to just one school and I have also worked with online faculty development and online curriculum development. There are a few generalities I can make based upon this experience and the first is about the online student base. With the for-profits there generally is not an entrance exam or evaluation made of the skill sets that potential students may have (or not have) and that means the doors are wide open. With for-profits they have to compete for new enrollments and as a result they will accept those who are not well-suited for this environment and those who are grossly academically underprepared. To get students enrolled the value of a degree as to be sold and it is often over-sold with highly creative ads. And the real indicator of the underlying problem for online learning is the retention rate, which is 30% on an average for undergraduate students.

A Perspective about Faculty

Several years ago, when there were numerous adjunct opportunities, a master’s degree was accepted as a minimum qualification for teaching undergraduate students. Now there is a large pool of adjunct instructors, a significant number of people who want to teach online, and many who are seeking a degree so they could teach online – with fewer job opportunities available. Now it is not uncommon to see a job listing with a doctorate degree stated as the preferred minimum credential, even for undergraduate courses. In addition, when a job opening is listed there will likely be hundreds of resumes sent.

Once you are lucky enough to get on board as an adjunct there are never any guarantees made about your continued employment. You could be a long-term employee and without notice find yourself let go as departmental priorities change. There’ve been some full-time positions teaching online, but those jobs are even fewer and very difficult to obtain. Preference may be given to internal employees and current adjuncts may have to compete with external candidates. And then there is the issue of salary. Some full-time positions may require advanced degrees and pay a marginally acceptable rate. Some for-profits also prefer to hire instructors with minimal experience, simply to keep the cost of salaries down.

Managing Your Expectations

It may seem that I have painted a very bleak picture of the industry I am in – and that is not my point. What I want to do is to help manage the expectations about teaching online. If you are student now and have little to no teaching experience, and believe you will gain a full-time job earning a six figure income right out of school, you have very unrealistic expectations. If you want to teach online because it sounds easy or likely fun, you believe it will provide steady income, or you teach well now in a traditional classroom setting, you will still need to manage and possibly adjust your expectations.

Online teaching requires a significant investment of time if you want to be good at it, and it requires a specialized skill set to teach in a technologically enable environment. If you want to teach online because you are interested in helping others learn, and you are willing to learn and adapt, you will be more successful if you accept to working without future guarantees. The key to successfully teaching online is to make a commitment to your ongoing professional development and building a resume that demonstrates your interest in and capacity for online teaching.

Strategies to Build a Career

– Continue Your Professional Development: Earning a graduate degree is an important step taken for your career. However, as an educator you know the value of ongoing development and the need to keep your knowledge base current. Your commitment to the field of education means that you need to continually update your skills and strategies. While some schools have mandatory professional development requirements, you can make it a regular practice. For example, many online associations offer webinars at little or no cost. The point is to stay current in the field of online learning.

– Develop an Engaging Online Presence: If you are an online educator you can transform into a Modern Educator. This means you teach online and you can engage with a much broader academic community online. There are several options available for establishing an online presence. LinkedIn allows you to join professional groups. Twitter is a helpful networking resource that allows you to connect with the global academic group and share resources. Whatever options you choose, be certain to carefully manage your image and be aware of the digital footprint left behind with everything you post.

– Become Published with Articles, a Blog, or E-Books: The traditional route for a college professor is to conduct research and publish articles in scholarly journals. As a Modern Educator my primary focus is publishing work that can immediately reach other educators and students – and I have done this through a blog, online articles, and e-books. I recommend you take the same approach and find a platform to share your knowledge and expertise, whether you offer it for free or you monetize it.

– Develop a Professional CV with Impact: If you are going to apply for online teaching jobs then you should know there will be strong competition. This means your CV will not only represent you, it needs to provide a clear indication that you are highly qualified. Make certain that it is well-edited, well-formatted, well-written, and demonstrates your commitment to the field of online learning through associations, professional development, and sources of your work as a published author.

– Acquire Teaching or Training Experience: There was a time when a master’s degree and a little experience was all someone needed to secure an online teaching job. Now that the number of jobs available is in short supply, and the number of applicants as increased, every aspect of your background will count. You will need some experience either in teaching or training so look for opportunities to do this. For example, look for opportunities to teach a class at your local community college. Or perhaps there is a local association that would allow you to conduct training classes. The purpose is to demonstrate that you are capable of teaching adults how to learn.

Demand for Modern Educators

I have worked for a variety of institutions that offer online classes. Some treat their employees well and offer regular classes to teach and others treat their adjuncts as disposable instructors and keep them sidelined until they need them. It is understandable that enrollment numbers are going to fluctuate and so too will be your teaching assignments. However, the lack of consistency and appreciation for good instructors is an ongoing problem for some institutions. I have been fortunate to work for online schools that value their faculty, including their adjunct instructors. And I worked hard to establish myself as a highly engaged instructor. The point of this is that when you are able to gain an adjunct position you want to make certain that you have the time necessary to meet and exceed the facilitation requirements. If you are provided with an opportunity to take on leadership roles or faculty development, do so as it can help bolster your CV.

Is online teaching a lucrative career? As an adjunct it is possible that over time you will develop more options for your career, especially with ongoing professional development, but you won’t always have complete job security or regular benefits. If you are able to secure a full-time teaching position you will likely gain a better degree of job certainty. The best advice I can offer is to develop your interest in online teaching as a career strategy and carefully manage the development of your role as a Modern Educator. With time and professional development you will likely be able to get your break. Just be sure you manage expectations and establish a realistic purpose for this type of work as a career choice.

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