The answer to the question, “Can I teach online?” is very likely yes, given that a few parameters are met. That answer should be encouraging. After all, there are jobs available—as of this writing, we have just under 1,000 online adjunct teaching jobs listed in the AdjunctWorld database. We upload close to 50 positions a week, in a wide variety of discipline areas. The follow-up question is, what is required of me in order to teach online?
As far as requirements go, there are general guidelines you can expect in order to teach as an online adjunct. The guidelines vary from school to school, and they can vary by discipline. Luckily, because pretty much everything is online these days, these job requirements are publicly available for your (and our!) industry landscape research.
Let’s take a look at a few colleges for specifics. We’ll examine expectations, job requirements, educational requirements, and more. A look at the requirements of several colleges can help answer your questions.
Learn How to Teach Online
Let’s begin with a look at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). They make a generous gesture to the prospective online adjunct teacher: paid training. SNHU offers a 3-week course through the college’s learning management system, Brightspace (a very popular LMS that many school use), to understand how your classroom can “foster a sense of community and collaboration.”
The course is intended to instill in you, the new instructor, faculty expectations, best practices for teaching in an online forum, creating and implementing student-centered learning communities (where 1-on-1 support of students is expected), and the use of SNHU’s academic technologies.
Of course, most colleges will offer at least some form of orientation for new faculty, but it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of research yourself. Look online for best practices, and search through YouTube videos for instructions on using different LMSs. Talk to some online adjuncts and talk to seasoned faculty if you can. You might also consider the online teaching certificate course we offer through AdjunctWorld: Fundamentals of Online Teaching (OT101).
Minimum Qualifications for Teaching Online
You’re probably thinking, what are the minimum job requirements? This varies by school and discipline area. For example, let’s say you’re a history teacher. SNHU expects, in regard to its undergraduate history classes, a minimum of a master’s degree in the discipline, as well as two years of teaching experience, with online experience being preferred. To teach graduate classes, however, the college expects a doctorate degree.
But in Information Technology, SNHU expects not only a master’s degree but 5+ years’ experience working in IT. For this discipline, teaching experience at the college level is not absolutely required, though it is “strongly preferred.” Depending on the discipline, industry experience of anywhere from 2-5 years is required. If you were applying for an assignment teaching computer science, SNHU expects you to have a background in programs like Java, Linux, and other platforms. Teaching graphic design requires being up-to-date in the use of the Adobe Creative Suite. In a sense, it’s not strictly whether you have taught but simply what you know that counts.
However, in some cases you may need only a bachelor’s degree! In the case of teaching Game Design at SNHU, a BA, BFA, or BS can come from any number of areas: Game Art, 3D Modeling and Animation, Computer Art and/or Design, or just Art, Design, or Computer Science. Knowing Photoshop and other programs, as well as what’s happening in current industry production, is a certain plus.
Let’s look at a different school: the Colorado Community College System. CCCS posts “online instructor” jobs for its thirteen colleges. A sociology online adjunct position requires a master’s degree and “demonstrated competency in use of technology for course delivery.” Fair enough. However, to teach Film/Video Media Audio Post Production (and that’s a mouthful) you need only an associate’s degree! That said, you also need industry experience—specifically, 2,000 hours of it. In both cases, you also need to be a Colorado resident (geographical restrictions like this, while rare, do pop up from time to time).
The Community College of Aurora, which posted the jobs I listed above, also posted a class in HSE Math and Science Instructor. The minimum qualifications here are a bachelor’s degree and at least some experience teaching math and science. The platforms used are Zoom and Google Classroom, among others. Here again, you must also be a Colorado resident.
Much of the variability in online teaching job requirements is due to varying accreditation standards. A school may be nationally (a bit less prestigious) or regionally (the gold standard) accredited. And even among regionally accredited schools (of which there are 7), the standards for faculty credentials vary widely. The Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCC) both require faculty to have earned a last a Master’s degree (in any discipline) and at least 18+ graduate semester credit hours in the discipline they are seeking to teach. Some of the other regional accreditors are not this specific, but most require an advanced degree and proven subject matter expertise.
Preferred Qualifications for Teaching Online
You may find yourself meeting minimum qualifications easily. Most jobs will also post some sort of “preferred” qualifications, so it’s important to take note of those.
Let’s look at SNHU again, specifically at their posting for a history instructor. The minimum qualifications are a master’s degree in history and two years of teaching at the college level. But their preferred qualifications are far more specific: “Course specific qualification including significant graduate work in areas including Islamic Studies and Middle Eastern History.” That additional qualification is timely, obviously, and indicates the degree to which SNHU wants their instructors to be current in their understanding of the world stage. Whether in IT or Middle Eastern culture, you’re probably seeing a pattern here: get up to speed in your area of expertise.
To teach psychology, the minimum requirement is a master’s in psychology, but the preferred requirement is a PhD— “strongly preferred,” in fact. Likewise, having any amount of online teaching experience is the minimum requirement, but having at least two years of online teaching experience is preferred.
Let’s consider another college, Indiana Wesleyan University. They are hiring, at the time of this writing, for an online teaching position in Healthcare Finance. The education required of the online adjunct is a master’s degree in finance or an appropriate field, with an additional 18 graduate credits in finance from a regionally accredited institution; the preferred experience is a terminal degree in Healthcare Administration or Finance. IWU expects a minimum of seven years’ worth of experience in a relevant industry (most likely, as one would expect, the healthcare industry), and though teaching experience is preferred, it is not required.
If a school lists preferences that you do not meet, but you still meet all of the requirements, (and if it doesn’t consume too much of your time to do so and it is a position you are interested in) you should go ahead and apply. You never know who your competition is and what any specific application reviewer is looking for.
Online Teaching: Required Skills
Looking closer at IWU’s healthcare finance teaching job, we find that the college describes what they want the candidate to demonstrate:
- Knowledge of online educational delivery tools
- Teaching abilities
- Higher education experience
- Proficiency in using Microsoft products
- Knowledge of adult learners
Skills such as these—especially in teaching and using Microsoft Office—are pretty common to teaching jobs, if not jobs in general! But note, too, that the final requirement is very specific and one you will find across a broad swath of jobs: being able to teach adult learners. Why is that?
Because online classes are taken predominantly by adults already firmly entrenched in their careers who are looking to expand their skills, earn a higher degree, get job training, or even change careers. More and more, adult learners are the bread-and-butter of the distance education industry. Although, just as in the on-ground environment, the online learning population is quite varied. As an online instructor, you will also teach traditionally-aged undergraduates and ESL, first generation, or GED students.
The bottom line here is to do your research by institution and accrediting body. While there are some commonalities (advanced degree, experience in the industry, teaching experience, etc.), schools can vary tremendously in their needs and requirements. A lot of their hiring practices depend on their applicant pools; if those pools are small, your application is that much more competitive. The needs of a small, regional college will be different from a large online school that targets the international student market.
It begins in research. Look at regional schools in your area. Then look broader to colleges that are in another state entirely but one from which you can teach. If you find yourself consistently coming up short of the minimum requirements for online adjunct positions in your discipline area, you might consider ways to shore up your position. If you find that you do meet the requirements of most jobs that come across your screen, consider polishing all of your application documents and having them ready-to-go. That way, you can fire off applications as soon as these opportunities present themselves.