Online Professor Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of an online professor's career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an online professor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as an Online Professor

Online professors develop and teach college-level classes to students in Web-based classrooms. Take a look at some of the following pros and cons before deciding if a position as an online professor would be right for you.

Pros of Becoming an Online Professor
Flexible hours and the chance to make your own schedule**
Online classes help adult or nontraditional students acquire new skills, finish degrees and improve career prospects*
Opportunity to work with new communication technologies**
The chance to interact with students from all over the country or even overseas**

Cons of a Career as an Online Professor
Online teaching may interfere with promotions and tenure*
May not be as effective as traditional classroom learning*
Lack of appropriate institutional support*
Lack of recognition for online instruction*

Sources: *The Chronicle of Higher Education, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Online professors provide Web-based educational opportunities for working students, parents and other nontraditional learners whose obligations may prevent them from attending a conventional college class. Instead of real-time teaching, professors may supplement textbook readings with pre-recorded, Web-based lectures. They also use electronic discussion boards to post topics, facilitate class discussions and answer general questions about a course.

Most of the virtual classroom activity takes place on the discussion boards. These electronic forums allow professors to have a two-way dialog with their students and give students a place to share information and work on group projects. Exams and quizzes are taken and corrected online, and instructors use e-mail to address individual student questions and comment on assignments and papers. Online professors evaluate students using the same standards they would use in a traditional classroom: quizzes, tests, papers, contributions to group projects and the quantity and quality of their posts on the discussion boards.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

According to PayScale.com, the salary range for college professors in the 10th-90th percentile range was $49,000 to $150,000, as of December 2014. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that, between 2012 and 2022, employment opportunities for postsecondary teachers in general are expected to increase by 19%, which is faster than the average for all occupations. While more and more secondary and postsecondary institutions are employing the use of Web-based learning, the training of online educators has not kept up with the demand. College professors who would like to teach online must be prepared to address the unique academic and communication challenges that can occur in the digital classroom.

What Are the Education Requirements?

Online college professors employed by 4-year colleges and universities must hold the same graduate-level degrees as traditional classroom educators. Some institutions require that candidates have a doctoral degree in their academic field. Those who have earned a master's or are in the process of working on a doctorate may be hired for some part-time positions.

College professors who are already employed and want to teach an online class may be able to receive on-the-job training. In addition, some 4-year colleges and universities offer certificate programs that give educators an opportunity to acquire the academic, communication and technical skills they need to provide Web-based instruction. In addition to curriculum design, teachers will learn how to engage the distance learner, build an online learning community, facilitate electronic discussions and be aware of the legal issues specific to online students. Some of the skills and qualities you will need to work as an online professor are:

  • Ability to use digital technology to deliver instruction
  • Effective writing skills that both inform and engage
  • Ability to establish an online social presence
  • Flair for creating active, student-centered learning communities
  • An aptitude for working with busy adult learners

Job Postings from Real Employers

Full-time positions for online professors are rare and hard to find. However, as the following job postings from April 2012 demonstrate, public and private schools with ongoing distance education and degree programs are always on the lookout for part-time adjunct faculty members.

  • One of the oldest accredited programs in New York is looking for part-time adjunct faculty members to teach pre-developed, online courses. A master's degree is required, and candidates must be able to demonstrate an interest in working with adult students in an alternative-learning environment.
  • A 4-year, not-for-profit university in New Hampshire is accepting applications from instructors who are interested in teaching a variety of liberal studies and professional classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Training in online delivery models will be provided and assignments may be on a part-time, temporary or on-call basis.
  • A state university in California with nearly 40 years in distance education has multiple openings for instructors to develop and teach classes in art history, history, literature, music, music history and philosophy. Candidates must hold a terminal degree in a relevant major and have previous university teaching experience; alternative degree program teaching experience is preferred.
  • A Louisiana university has an open application process for adjunct faculty who are interested in teaching online undergraduate, graduate and specialized classes. Candidates must be able to demonstrate teaching strategies specific to student-centered learning.

How to Stand out as an Online Professor

In the absence of a face-to-face relationship between teacher and students, the successful online professor is one who is adaptable, accessible and responsive to the educational needs of his or her students. According to the Illinois Online Network (ION), a cooperative venture of the University of Illinois and the state's community colleges, facilitating and not lecturing is the key to creating an authentic, online educational for the distance-learning student (www.ion.uillinois.edu). Along with academic credentials, the effective facilitator will also have real-life knowledge of his or her subject area and be able to show students how that information can be applied in the real world. This is especially relevant when it comes to working with adult learners and career changers.

Without an active and engaged facilitator, students can feel alienated and the online learning community can become weak. The ION recommends that an instructor be online between five to seven days a week, answering questions, moderating discussions and providing students with feedback. Online learners are not only students, they are also consumers, and as such, should receive timely, quality feedback on their comments, homework assignments and tests.

Other Careers to Consider

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Postsecondary education administrators can be employed as admissions officers, registrars, student affairs representatives, provosts or deans at 4-year colleges and universities. Their responsibilities vary according to their positions and can include deciding which students will be admitted to a school, enrolling them in classes and advising them on matters related to academics, housing issues or personal problems. Provosts and deans can help develop academic policies or oversee the activities of individual colleges or schools.

A bachelor's degree is usually the minimum requirement for working as an entry-level education administrator, while provosts and deans must hold a Ph.D. in an academic subject, higher education or a related area. Between 2012 and 2022, the BLS projects an increase of 15% in employment opportunities for postsecondary administrators, which is faster than the average for all occupations. In May 2012, these administrators earned a median annual salary of $86,490, also according to the BLS.

Career and Technical Education Teacher

Career and technical education teachers help middle and high school students acquire the technical and work-related skills they need for a particular occupation or a degree program. Some of these areas can include automotive technology, agricultural science, business, computer networking, culinary arts, healthcare and technology. To work in a public school, a career teacher will need a bachelor's degree (either in the field they wish to teach or from a teacher preparation program), a state-issued license and relevant work experience.

As of May 2014, middle and high school career and technical education teachers earned median annual salaries of $54,090 and $55,200 respectively, as reported by the BLS. Between 2012 and 2022, employment opportunities at the middle and high school level are each expected to grow by 5%, which is slower than average for all other occupations.

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Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • EdD - Learning Analytics in Higher Education
  • M.Ed. - Adult Learning and Workforce Education
  • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
  • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
  • BS in Early Childhood

What is your highest level of education?

Concordia University Portland

  • Doctorate of Education - Higher Education
  • Ed.D. Professional Leadership, Inquiry, and Transformation
  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
  • M.S. - Career and Technical Education (CTE)

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Graduate Level Instructional Practices

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American InterContinental University

  • M.Ed. - Adult Education and Training
  • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Secondary Education with OATCERT Certificate
  • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
  • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)
  • Certificate - Special Education

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education

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