So, you found the perfect online teaching job listing and you are about to click to apply when BAM! You see it – the dreaded “online teaching experience preferred” qualifier. You, having no direct online teaching experience, decide this one isn’t for you. But wait! You might think having no direct teaching experience, but that is not necessarily true. You might be surprised what constitutes “experience” in the first place!
Your training, education, and industry experience all count when being considered for a part-time online teaching assignment. Your knowledge of the subject area is one of the most important factors in teaching jobs, as is your career experience, and most forms of virtual training, communication, and comfort with distance learning technologies.
You do not have to consider “online teaching experience” as a strict set of guidelines; rather, focus on the transferrable skills that will help you accomplish the job of teaching online learners. You may, in fact, already have what it takes to manage an online classroom, a curriculum, and an evaluation system that helps your students. Let’s look at those factors.
Colleges Need Online Adjunct Instructors
The first thing to realize about applying for an online adjunct teaching position is that there is a definite need. Whether because of finances, increased student admissions, or just a shortage of adequate faculty and instructors, the fact is that colleges are hiring because they need online instructors. The trend of traditionally on-ground institutions offering online degrees was picking up steam even pre-pandemic and is certainly increasing exponentially post-pandemic. Even a cursory search for online teaching jobs will turn up, well, a lot. Colleges across the country are taking applications for teaching assignments and the Bureau of Labor Statistics only expects this to increase.
You are primed to teach because your experience is most likely already valued!
Training is Teaching!
Think about it: Have you ever taught anybody anything? Then you’ve been a teacher. And this can happen not just with teaching your children to tie their shoes or showing a friend how to make apple cobbler. It can happen on the job, and it frequently does. Utilize that experience.
Look back at your career and consider all of your positions. Where have you needed to teach other people how to do their job? That is bona fide professional teaching experience—any instances of such training should be on your curriculum vita (CV) (the academic’s resume). In undertaking any sort of on-the-job training where you were the trainer, you may have even developed some sort of training materials, and that is essentially the development of a curriculum.
Think, too, that if you had a supervisor who can attest to those skills in the form of a letter of recommendation, you’ve got an ace in your hand.
Soft Skills Matter
The term “soft skills” may seem a bit odd, but soft skills are increasingly relevant across all industries, teaching included. What we think of as “hard skills” are the technical proficiencies we need to undertake a job—how to work a specific computer program like Microsoft Office, or the school’s learning management system—but they are supported by skills that are vitally as important. What are the soft skills associated with online adjunct teaching?
Organization is critically important. The ability to keep yourself and your virtual classroom environment organizes means you can create a curriculum and its accompanying lesson plans. It means you can keep track of grades and organize a schedule where you can meet with students. It means you can create order in a classroom. It – above all – means you are able to be consistently present and available to your online students.
Communication is, naturally, a non-negotiable skill. Especially written, online communication. Online instructors deliver course information, feedback, and assignment instructions virtually with tact and coherence. In addition to delivering information remotely, you will need to answer questions. You will also have to respond to students in a timely and diplomatic fashion. Teaching is a two-way street where communication is the yellow line in the middle of the road.
Dependability is a soft skill that online students require of you. Are you prepared for each class? Do you return student work in a timely manner? If your students trust you, it is likely because they feel they can depend on you—and the college that ultimately employs you will as well.
There are many more soft skills I can describe—creativity, adaptability, and certainly empathy—and you can probably come up with many more. Find them in your experience and get them into your cover letter with supporting details. They are every bit as important as your knowledge of subject area. You might consider reading our Effective Online Teacher series of blog posts to help you generate more ideas.
Expertise in Your Subject Area
While being prepared to facilitate a productive online course is important, don’t lose sight of the fact that you are being hired as a subject matter expert. For instance, a school who wants to hire a nursing instructor may want someone who has online teaching experience, but they also want to hire a nurse. An experienced, well-versed one at that.
The same goes for courses in things like law enforcement, business, and information technology. Courses with direct clinical or human service implications or creative outputs – like psychology, social work, or creative writing courses—benefit from being taught by experienced professionals in the field who are also scholars rather than those with a solely academic understanding. An entrepreneur with ten years of successful experience in operating a business, managing finances and employees, and showing a profit is certainly capable of guiding and mentoring others toward those same goals!
Speaking of mentoring, if you have ever directly mentored a colleague, employee, or student emphasize this in your application materials. If you have ever taken anyone under your wing, so to speak, then you have essentially had a student in your life. Mentoring is, of course, an incredibly important part of college teaching—especially online. After all, a student will more than likely come to you, asking for your help and guidance.. The guidance you offer can easily extend beyond just the class itself: You may find yourself coaching a student in college skills, ideas for future study, even postgraduate opportunities.
Students need this mentoring. Show that you can provide it.
Comfort with Technology
This topic may be self-evident—after all, you’re looking to teach an online course—but there is more to being an online adjunct than signing into the online class as you would to a Zoom meeting (and not everyone can do that easily).
Students, and the college departments themselves, expect the appropriate use of technology. The ability to maintain the online class itself via video or asynchronous discussion forum is important, but so is incorporating course materials into the online environment (can the student easily download the curriculum and assignments?), using dynamic, interactive slide presentations, and teaching students how to use online resources for research, whether that be the Internet or library databases.
In job postings, schools will often list experience with their learning management system (LMS) as either preferred or required. For example, Purdue University Global prefers experience with their LMS, Brightspace. Schools that host their online courses on Blackboard or Canvas will prefer or require experience – or at least familiarity – with these platforms. If you were a student at a school that used these platforms, this counts as “familiarity.” If you’ve taught on-ground and used an LMS to give exams or post grades, then you also have some familiarity with LMSs and should list this skill in your CV and highlight them in your cover letter.
Many LMSs offer free trainings (i.e. Moodle) and you can source your own free training on other LMSs via YouTube or other web resources. If you are currently an online student or an on-ground instructor at an institution, you likely have access to some sort of free LMS training. In short, comfort with an LMS is something you can acquire on your own, outside of having directly taught for a school that uses those technologies.
Write Your Cover Letter and Craft Your CV (Resume)
Taking all the above information, all of which comes from your experience, what you will need to do is to get this “relevant job experience” into a well-thought-out cover letter and a to-the-point CV. You can write these regardless of whether you have been in a profession for decades or are just graduating a master’s program. Remember: there is an increasing need to fill online teaching vacancies, and there is no reason you cannot demonstrate to prospective employers at a university that you are an excellent candidate with the transferrable skills needed to do the job well. Detail your job experience and the soft skills associated with it. Include any relevant experience in training. Demonstrate your technological prowess.
The bottom line here is that the idea of having “no experience” is misleading; more than likely, you have plenty of experience. You need only identify and demonstrate it.