Becoming an Online Teacher: Job Description & Salary Info

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Distance learning is growing in popularity, but is it worth the schooling needed to become an online teacher? Get the real truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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The Pros and Cons of Being an Online Teacher

Online teaching is a growing trend in education that offers instructors the flexibility to work anywhere. See the tables below for the pros and cons of being an online teacher.

Pros of Being an Online Teacher
The use of online learning has more than tripled from 2002-2009*
Online teachers are uncovering new and effective ways of reaching students, including those who have experienced little success through traditional in-class methods**
Offers the flexibility of teaching anywhere with an Internet connection***
Can teach at many different grade and age levels for schools, businesses, organizations, military units and government branches***

Cons of Being an Online Teacher
Online teachers might spend extra time planning online curriculum, understanding learning software and keeping students engaged*****
Without face-to-face feedback and personal attention, students might become disengaged, making teaching more difficult****
Some school districts are still struggling with issues of costs, funding, parent cooperation, teacher training and standardization****
Online education opportunities are still unavailable in many remote areas****

Sources: *The American Association of School Administrators (AASA), ** International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), ***U.S. Distance Learning Association (USDLA), ****U.S. Department of Education (USDE), *****U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Online teachers educate students with the aid of technological instruction systems, tools and techniques. Student-teacher interaction occurs through the use of computerized, audio or visual equipment. Online teachers might instruct elementary, secondary or postsecondary school students who are interested in basic education, professional development, continuing education, corporate training or personal growth.

There are many delivery options in online instruction. Teachers and students can interact in real time or through asynchronous forms of communication, such as e-mail, videos, media presentations and discussion forums. As an online teacher, one of your biggest challenges is making sure that the curriculum and coursework is compelling and enriching enough to keep students motivated and engaged. Additional, and sometimes more complex, duties might include managing online assignments and exams, coordinating student communication and creating a sense of community online, where students can interact and come together virtually.

Career Prospects

The American Association of School Administrators reported that the demand for online learning has been steadily increasing (www.aasa.org). In 2002, there were 1.6 million students enrolled in an online course and by 2009, 5.6 million students engaged in online learning. Online teaching opportunities range from charter schools, which are incorporating more online learning systems into their regular curricula, to global online learning environments that provide English teaching, tutoring and testing to students in locations like India, Latin America and China.

Although online teaching jobs are expanding, the subject and grade level that you teach can also impact your job prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), all types of postsecondary school teaching jobs were expected to grow 19% from 2012-2022, which was average (www.bls.gov). High school teaching positions, however, were predicted to increase at the slower rate of six percent during the same time. The BLS reported that subjects like English as a second language (ESL), math and the physical sciences were in particular need of more teachers, so these specializations might offer better job opportunities.

Salary Information

Some schools pay online teachers on a per-credit basis, while others offer stipends per quarter or semester. According to PayScale.com, the median salary for online associate professors was about $66,000. In comparison, the BLS reported that all types of elementary school teachers made a median salary of almost $54,000 as of May 2014, while high school teachers made a median wage of just over $56,000. Postsecondary instructors of all subjects and learning formats made a median salary of about $60,000 per year.

What Are the Requirements?

According to the BLS, online teachers are required to have the same basic credentials as traditional classroom teachers. For public kindergarten and elementary school teachers, state licensing (or certification) in early childhood education is often needed, which usually requires you to earn a bachelor's degree, complete training and pass a skills exam. Typically, such teachers can attend their university's teacher preparation program and take teaching-related classes, such as child psychology and education. Public high school teachers are also required to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree and teaching certification, but their licensing exam often includes both a general test and a subject-specific exam. Private school teachers typically need a bachelor's degree, but do not have the same state licensing requirements as public school teachers.

Postsecondary teachers can instruct on a broad range of academic and vocational subjects, and they also usually must conduct research and publishing projects. Their required education varies based on the subject they teach, their experience and the institution of employment. Many postsecondary instructors are expected to have a Ph.D., but no licensing is required. At some community colleges, however, a master's degree may be sufficient. At technical and trade schools, professional experience may be the most important qualification.

What Employers Are Looking For

Increasingly, educational institutions are looking for teachers with training and experience in key areas of online teaching methodologies and technologies. In particular, you should be skilled in:

  • Incorporating computer-based instruction into the curriculum
  • New technological authorization tools and practices
  • Digital testing, grading, progress assessing and reporting
  • Online student record and attendance monitoring

Recent Job Listings

A review of job listings from April 2012 shows some trends in the online teaching job market. Employers look for educators with training and experience in asynchronous and synchronous instruction, along with the ability to create and maintain virtual school communities. Often, online training is provided, along with other in-service training programs.

  • A Mississippi virtual education provider is looking for a secondary school science teacher to hold both asynchronous Web conferencing sessions and synchronous instruction. State certification in secondary science is required, along with two years of experience in education.
  • A virtual school in Michigan lists several part-time openings for online instructors in various subject areas for grades 9-12. The employer requests at least three years of prior teaching experience. A mandatory training program is offered and includes a one-day, face-to-face meeting, followed by four weeks of online instruction.
  • A Massachusetts business and finance college has openings for candidates with doctoral degrees in management, industrial and organizational psychology, ethics or risk management. A Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP) credential is a plus.

How to Make Your Skills Stand Out

Get Certified

Earning certification in your particular area can give you an advantage in the job market because employers might prefer to hire online educators with these credentials. For P-12 teachers, voluntary certification is offered by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in more than 25 subject areas and student development levels (www.nbpts.org). You must already be a working educator and complete a series of ten assessments, which includes teaching observations administered by educational professionals.

Develop Related Skills

A review of job listings from April and May of 2012 revealed that many institutions preferred to hire online teachers with knowledge of the tools and methodologies being used in the profession. By taking courses in instructional design, information technology or multimedia authoring to learn about programs, such as the Blackboard Vista Learning System, you might be able to help manage program updates and conversion projects.

Some online academy programs offer their own training to licensed educators who wish to learn more about online education. These programs might offer training programs in online teaching methodologies and course preparation. You can also gain practice teaching your own small cohort of students remotely during the program.

Other Careers to Consider

Instructional Designers and Technologists

If you find that you're drawn more to the online technologies that you can use as a teacher, you might want to consider a career in instructional design and technology. Designers are responsible for developing instructional materials and products for technology-based educational programs. This would include programs that redesign and convert courses from traditional formats to online and distance environments. Tasks include technology integration, adaptation, curriculum development, blended learning, master course documentation and other aspects of digital instructional architecture.

Typically, a master's degree is required for this profession. The BLS projected that instructional coordinators would experience a faster-than-average job growth of 20% to 28% from 2010-2020. The median wage for this profession as of May 2011 was about $59,000.

Distance Learning Coordinators

If you're interested in online learning environments, you might also want to consider a career in distance learning coordination, which is a type of educational administration position. With this job, you would help develop technical resources, such as course management, videoconferencing, webcasting and networking systems for online learning programs and institutions. To become a distance learning coordinator, you typically need an advanced degree, such as a master's degree in education with a curriculum or an instructional technology specialization.

The BLS projected that education administrators would experience an average job growth of 10% to 19% from 2010-2020. The median wage for this profession was about $77,000 as of May 2011.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSE in Instructional Technology - Adult Learning/Higher Ed
      • MSE in Instructional Technology (K-12)
      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - Online College Teaching
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood Administration
      • Undergraduate in Early Childhood
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Dyslexia Studies & LBLD
      • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction - Technology Integration Specialist
      • MEd in Early Childhood Education
      • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction - Reading Specialist
      • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction
      • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction - Educational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.A. - Teaching and Learning with Technology
      • MA/Teaching and Learning with Technology - Online Educator
  • Campus and Online Programs
    4. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Instructional Design and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • B.S. in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Instructional Technology Specialist
      • MS - Special Education
      • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
    Certificate
      • Certificate - Instructional Technology
      • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)
      • Certificate - Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Education - Education Technology and E-Learning
      • Ed.D. - Instructional Leadership
      • PhD in Education - Instructional Leadership
      • Ed.D. - Education Technology and E-Learning
      • Ed.D. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Ed.D. - General Education
    Master's
      • M.Ed. - Education Technology and E-Learning
      • M.Ed. - Instructional Leadership
      • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • MEd - General Education
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Education Specialist - E-Learning
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Trident University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master's - Education
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Regent University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MSE in Instructional Technology - Adult Learning/Higher Ed
  • MSE in Instructional Technology (K-12)
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration
  • Undergraduate in Early Childhood

Which subject are you interested in?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Dyslexia Studies & LBLD
  • MEd in Curriculum & Instruction - Technology Integration Specialist
  • MEd in Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education?

Ashford University

  • M.A. - Teaching and Learning with Technology
  • MA/Teaching and Learning with Technology - Online Educator

What is your highest level of education?

Full Sail University

  • MS - Instructional Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
  • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
  • BS in Early Childhood
  • B.S. in Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Instructional Technology Specialist
  • MS - Special Education
  • Certificate - Instructional Technology
  • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Education - Education Technology and E-Learning
  • M.Ed. - Education Technology and E-Learning
  • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching

What is your highest level of education?