“Expanding enrollment in online programs has concurrently created a demand for qualified faculty to assume the increasing workload,” writes Laurie Bedford, Ph.D., of Capella University. “As full-time faculty have been unable to fill the gap due to workload or resistance, organizations are more frequently turning to adjuncts to meet the needs of their online learners.” She said this, it should be noted, more than a decade ago. In the Fall of 2006 alone, there were 3.5 million online students in the United States. That number will only increase.
So what does this mean for you? Jobs.
In terms of the growth of online classes, online teaching is a good career choice. Rethinking what an “online adjunct instructor” is, or can be, can even make being an online adjunct faculty member a strong career choice. With enrollment in online programs expanding, there is naturally a demand for qualified faculty to teach online classes. Bedford’s paper—titled “The Professional Adjunct”—notes that a new category has been formed, the “full-time part-timers” who “are finding that they can build a network of opportunities with an entrepreneurial spirit.” Online adjunct instructors in many cases have already made their career a good choice.
Between full-time faculty and traditional part-time adjuncts lie the online adjunct instructors, the “third category” who, as Bedford explains, “capitalize on the need for organizations to hire competent, part-time professors who have significant expertise in their discipline as well as the demonstrated skills necessary to successfully mentor online learners.” Sound like you? Let’s look closer at this field.
Is Online Adjunct Teaching a Good Career Move?
In Bedford’s paper “The Professional Adjunct,” she points out some attitudes of online instructors themselves that make the case of the online adjunct-as-career choice a strong one, if not an enduring one.
For one, there is a need, and that need is an increasing demand as online courses proliferate. In the post-pandemic world, this is more and more evident. That need gives the online adjunct “negotiating power.” Full-time faculty, apparently, are resistant to teaching such courses, and that leaves the market wide open…for you. Additionally—and this is important—the online adjunct instructor is not constrained by geography or scheduling.
In short, Bedford finds, the online adjunct faculty “are finding that, as they build their competencies, they are situated to capitalize on a growing market for their skills that involves multiple opportunities for part-time positions with diverse organizations.”
Bedford’s paper is, in fact, a research paper, and her findings may offer an answer as to whether one can be a professional online adjunct teacher. To undertake this study, she interviewed a number of online adjuncts who were clear in their attitude toward the profession. Let’s look at some of her findings.
What Makes a Good Online Adjunct?
Part of the answer to whether being an online adjunct instructor is a good choice is your teaching style. If online teaching is “a better professional and personal fit” to your teaching style, then you are likely looking in the right direction. You may enjoy using technology, just as you may appreciate the flexibility of coursework held entirely through collaborative, active online discussion forums. As you might well imagine, there are many current faculty members that are not fitted to the role of online teacher, neither professionally nor personally! There is a niche to fill.
On top of that, the “entrepreneurial spirit” that the adjuncts whom she studied maintain makes them look specifically for institutions that align with their goals, both professionally and personally. If one does cultivate a relationship with a particular university, one can achieve bargaining power. Using that power, for some online adjuncts, results in being “comfortably situated” and with “an appropriate compensation package” that benefits them.
The task is to think of yourself differently—not as “employed by the university” but “employed by yourself.”
The Online Adjunct Instructor is “Self-Employed”
The participants in Bedford’s study “made conscious efforts to shift the focus from the challenges associated with part-time instructional work to the benefits of self-employment.” One online adjunct noted that self-employed people can still plan for retirement, get health insurance coverage, and budget for things like vacations.
Adjuncts in this position aim to redefine their roles as merely “part-time employees” to that of entrepreneurs who are ultimately in control of their lives—if a college doesn’t work out, look for work elsewhere. The difference is one between the “traditional adjunct” and the professional adjunct who recognizes his “unique skills and potential contributions.”
In fact, as one participant of the study noted, the online adjunct instructor may have more experience in the realm of online teaching than full-time faculty. According to a cited study, Bedford notes that “many campus-based faculty find themselves unprepared to teach online”—a fact not lost on the professional online adjunct.
Are Your Personal Motivations Grounded in Academics?
As some online adjuncts note, the idea of “teaching in your pajamas” is not the right reason to take a job teaching online courses, let alone working from home. Rather, many see themselves as academics with something to contribute to their field, as well as to their students.
The professional online adjunct faculty members, Bedford found, see themselves ideally as “sincerely interested in addressing the academic needs of diverse learners, working within an educational venue with which they are comfortable and confident, and engaging in scholarly discourse and activity with colleagues from broad-based backgrounds.”
Quality instruction makes a creditable online adjunct, and if you see yourself this way, ideally, then you are in a position to capitalize on your skills.
Perhaps we could use the word freelance to speak of teachers that fill the online adjunct positions. The word itself, which is often attributed to everything from writers to designers, was first used, according to Merriam-Webster, in Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe, published in 1819. Right after Scott uses the term “Free Lances,” he has this to say, something which may well be applicable for those who choose to pursue teaching online courses as an adjunct: “thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.”
And that, I would say, is a good attitude to uphold.
Bedford, L. (2009). The Professional Adjunct: An Emerging Trend in Online Instruction. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 12(3). https://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall123/bedford123.pdf