Online Instructor Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An online instructor's median annual salary is around $61,000, but is the pay worth the lengthy educational requirements? Read real job descriptions and learn the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming an online instructor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of an Online Instructor Career

Online instructors typically teach remote postsecondary classes through the use of e-mail, discussion pages and video. Learn about more pros and cons of this career with the table information listed below.

Pros of an Online Instructor Career
Flexible schedule with the possibility to work anywhere that has an Internet connection*
Relatively high wages (postsecondary instructors made an approximate median annual salary of $62,000 as of May 2014)*
Sharing your expertise with students can be rewarding*
The number of students attending postsecondary institutions is expected to grow*

Cons of an Online Instructor Career
Master's degree or Ph.D. often required*
May need previous teaching experience*
Might need to balance teaching with research responsibilities*
Often must communicate with students on weekends or evenings*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Online instructors use digital platforms to teach courses in a variety of subjects. These instructors can work for different types of educational institutions, including professional organizations, community colleges, vocational schools and universities. Although most online instructors provide postsecondary education, some teachers might also teach at the secondary school level, usually as a temporary employee. As an online instructor, you could provide distance learning to students who are pursuing their education entirely online, or you might supplement a local program through an Internet-based course.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment of postsecondary teachers would increase by 19% from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). This growth was faster than the average for other jobs. Much of the growth will be driven by an increasing number of students using education to help meet their career goals. Some of the growth might be hindered by financial cuts to government programs that support educational institutions.

Salary Information

As of May 2014, postsecondary teachers made a median annual income of about $63,000, according to the BLS. That year, the bottom ten percent of postsecondary teachers made yearly salaries of about $25,000 or less. The BLS also stated that the top ten percent of earners in this field made $135,000 or more each year.

What Are the Requirements?

Educational requirements for online instructors can vary depending on your institution and the subject matter you plan on teaching. For example, many community colleges require a master's degree, while most universities require a doctoral degree. You may need experience in the field you teach in. If you're an online professor at a research university, you might be expected to conduct research and present findings, in addition to your teaching duties. For those who are instructing high school students, you typically must already hold your teaching license, which requires you to complete a bachelor's degree and teacher training program.

Other requirements for online instruction usually include having a reliable Internet connection and a personal computer. You typically must hold basic word processing skills and have excellent written communication skills, since you might be keeping in contact with students entirely through e-mail messages and discussion posts. Some employers may require instructors to undergo training sessions to learn about the school's specific online learning platform.

What Do Employers Look for?

Employers usually look for highly-educated instructors with computer and Internet fluency, as well as past teaching experience. To give you an understanding of what employers may request, here are some summaries of job postings from May 2012.

  • A California technical institute advertised for an online instructor to teach business classes. Qualifications included having a doctoral degree and a minimum of three years of experience working in the business field.
  • A community college in Iowa looked for an accounting instructor to teach distance classes, as well as some evening or weekend courses. This position required a graduate degree, and applicants must meet accounting teacher accreditation standards.
  • In Illinois, a college wanted an instructor who could teach speech through the school's online platform. Because speaking face to face is part of the curriculum, instructors were required to include four hours of speaking time, in person, on the college's campus each semester. Qualifications for this position included a master's degree in speech communication and experience teaching at the college level.
  • Another California college advertised for an online finance instructor. The position required a master's degree in finance and experience in the field. Candidates also needed to meet on campus for faculty meetings, committees or other in-person commitments.

How to Make Your Skills Stand out

While it's true that some colleges only require a master's degree for online instruction positions, earning a Ph.D. can give you an edge over the competition and qualify you to work at universities. Having prior teaching experience in your field can also set you apart from other job candidates. You could gain this practice by serving as a graduate teaching assistant and taking on your own class or discussion section.

The greater aptitude you have with computers and online systems, the better your job prospects. Taking a computer science course could prepare you to properly communicate with students and possibly solve any technology issues that might come up in an online classroom environment.

Alternative Fields

Career or Technical Education Teacher

If you want to pursue a teaching career, but don't wish to go to graduate school, you might become a middle or high school tech teacher. Career or technical teachers facilitate occupation-based classes that can cover subjects in business, computers or culinary arts. These teachers need a bachelor's degree and a state teaching license or certification.

According to the BLS, the demand for tech and career teachers was projected to grow little between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, middle school career and tech teachers made a median annual income of about $54,000. Those teaching high school made a similar median income of about $55,000 that year.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

For those who wish to earn a higher salary in the education field, you might become a postsecondary education administrator. These administrators may oversee admission, student services or other business aspects of a postsecondary institution. Qualifications include a bachelor's or master's degree, and in some cases, teaching experience. Demand for these administrators was expected to grow by about 19% from 2010-2020, which was average. As of May 2011, postsecondary education administrators made a median annual wage of approximately $84,000, according to the BLS.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSE in Instructional Technology - Adult Learning/Higher Ed
      • 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
      • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood Administration
      • Undergraduate in Early Childhood
  • Online Programs Available
    2. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Technology Leadership
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design
      • Graduate Certificate in E-Learning
      • Graduate Certificate in Integrating Technology into Education
      • Graduate Certificate in Leadership in Educational Technology
      • Graduate Certificate in Training and Educational Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. 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
  • Campus and Online Programs
    4. Full Sail University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Instructional Design and Technology
    Certificate
      • Cert - Instructional Design and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Purdue University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Education in Learning Design and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Concordia University Portland

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
      • M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction - Online Teaching and Learning
      • M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: Methods & Curriculum
      • M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
  • Online Programs Available
    7. 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 Education and Early Childhood Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    8. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Education - Instructional Design
      • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Education - Instructional Technology
      • MS in Education - Instructional Technology and Instructional Technology Specialist Certification
      • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
    Certificate
      • Certificate - Instructional Technology
      • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)
      • Certificate - Special Education

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MSE in Instructional Technology - Adult Learning/Higher Ed
  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration
  • Undergraduate in Early Childhood

Which subject are you interested in?

The George Washington University

  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Technology Leadership
  • Graduate Certificate in Instructional Design
  • Graduate Certificate in E-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?

Full Sail University

  • MS - Instructional Design and Technology
  • Cert - Instructional Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University

  • Master of Science in Education in Learning Design and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Concordia University Portland

  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
  • M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction - Online Teaching and Learning
  • M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)

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 Education and Early Childhood Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master: Education - Instructional Design
  • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction

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