Today, more than ever, higher education institutions offer “distance courses” that are held entirely in an online environment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2021), 6 million students are attending at least one online course, and higher education institutions are seeing an increase in the need for adjunct instructors to teach online classes.
In higher education, an online adjunct instructor teaches online courses and/or teaches as part of an online program, and they do so part-time for a college or university. Their classes take place in a variety of online environments that might include video conferences, discussion forums, or blogs.
There are several things to consider in becoming an online adjunct instructor. How do you find a job teaching online? What are the qualifications you must hold? What subjects are most in demand? There is plenty to consider, but there is also an abundance of opportunities to explore. We’ll look at them here.
What Does an Online Adjunct Instructor Do?
As with any other adjunct instructor position, these teachers develop curriculum and lesson plans, teach and meet with students, evaluate and provide helpful feedback on their students’ work, and post grades throughout the course. As opposed to what we might call a typical adjunct instructor, who teaches in a physical classroom, the online adjunct instructor teaches the entirety of their course in an online format.
Like other adjunct instructors, they work on a short-term contract, and that contract is often renewable. They tend to work term by term. Being part-time faculty, they are non-tenure track. Rather than being paid hourly or by an annual salary, they are generally paid per course.
What is Online Learning?
Online coursework comes in several forms for students—and therefore for instructors. “Online course” does not fit a singular definition.
A Synchronous Online Course is one where students and instructors meet in real time. Class meetings happen much like a webinar, say, or in typical “Zoom” fashion. These courses are frequently held via video conference, and they can include text or audio chats. They meet at a regular time. The benefit here for students—and in many cases, the instructor—is that the course can be taken from a distance. Students, and the instructor, can attend the course from the comfort of one’s home—or anywhere, really.
An Asynchronous Online Course does not happen in real time. Instead, students are provided with the curriculum, content, and assignments at the outset of the course, and they are given a calendar that indicates what needs to be completed and when over the course of a semester. Classroom interaction and instruction unfolds in asynchronous discussion boards. Although there are due dates for assignments and discussion every week, there is (typically) no specific time a student or instructor must be logged in.
A Hybrid Course is exactly as it sounds: a blend of in-person and online interaction. In a typical hybrid class, the students and instructor will meet in the brick-and-mortar classroom during the week and follow up in the online classroom to further the discussion (via discussion boards), participate in group work activities, take advantage of online resources, or take exams/hand in assignments.
In What Fields Is There a Need for Online Adjunct Instructors?
According to ZipRecruiter (n.d.), the greatest need for online adjunct instructors is in the fields of business, psychology, architecture, engineering, biology, economics, criminal science, and law, as well as health care offerings such as nursing and pre-med.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) reports that in the decade between 2018 and 2028, the career of adjunct online instructors will grow 11% and will produce thousands of job opportunities across the country. With a surge in nontraditional students—parents, people changing careers, or workers adding to their skillsets—this number will likely grow.
What are the Requirements to be an Online Adjunct Instructor?
Just as you would if you were traditional faculty at a college, adjunct instructors typically need an advanced degree such as a master’s or even a doctorate. However, Zippia (n.d.) found that nearly 40% of online adjunct instructors have a bachelor’s degree. For most accredited schools and programs, though, a graduate degree is required.
Obviously, some teaching experience helps land a job. But so, too, does experience in the field. Many adjuncts are not necessarily career teachers but rather have work experience in their particular field. A lawyer can readily teach a class in law, and a nurse can teach nursing. This kind of life experience matters, along with skills in communication, organization, and analysis that one often finds readymade in a resume.
Why Become an Online Adjunct Instructor?
The Internet has changed the whole fabric of society, and particularly the warp and weave of higher education. Students and instructors both have new expectations, and just as students increasingly appreciate the flexibility of online coursework, the instructor, too, can benefit from this style of teaching.
Online courses are not limited to traditional undergraduates, or even graduate students. Nontraditional students often need the flexibility of an online course to prioritize their education amidst parenting and career concerns. Students taking online courses are both full-time and part-time enrollees. But no matter if the student is 18 or 48, the number of online courses will only multiply.
That flexibility bodes well for the instructor, as well. For one, a job seeker may find that they need to work at a number of colleges, and that teaching online courses greatly reduces matter-of-fact issues like commuting. In the case of a class that does not meet online at a regular time, the ability for the instructor to schedule one’s life becomes a boon.
The fact that classes are offered to both traditional and nontraditional students also bodes well for job growth, as an increase in numbers of either only demands more professionals to teach the courses. The job site Indeed points out several fields—biological sciences, psychology, computer science, nursing, and health specialties—that range in their job growth outlook at anywhere from 12 to 23 percent!
Being an adjunct has other perks, too, including access to whatever resources the college or university might offer: access to facilities, libraries, and tenured professors, for example. They also are not expected to participate in departmental and committee work.
Nearly half of all faculty in degree-granting postsecondary education institutions are adjuncts. The demand for adjunct instructors has grown, and competition can be keen. When one does land a job, there are professional associations specifically related to adjunct instructors that one can be a member of—the Adjunct Action Network or the American Association of Adjunct Education, for example.
A quick look at one small college, Tallahassee Community College in Florida, shows that they are in search of online adjunct faculty for thirteen different disciplines; they range from English to economics, astronomy to accounting, history to humanities. Credit hour rates vary depending on degree, but one needn’t have a Doctorate; even a graduate with an associate’s degree can teach. After a review of your credentials and an interview with the discipline dean, the approved applicant completes a six-to-eight-hour certification course before being assigned a class. At Southern New Hampshire University, online adjunct faculty are offered training and professional development through their Center for Online Learning and Teaching.
Opportunities clearly abound in the realm of online, part-time instruction. With the right credentials and experience, one can begin to build experience in college teaching, student mentoring, and curriculum development.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2021). Fast Facts: Distance Learning. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=80
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2021). Undergraduate Enrollment. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cha
Online Learning Consortium (2015). Online Report Card: Tracking Online Education in the United States. https://onlinelearningconsortium.org/read/online-report-card-tracking-online-education-united-states-2015/
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Postsecondary Teachers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
Zippia (n.d.). Adjunct Online Faculty. https://www.zippia.com/adjunct-online-faculty-jobs/
ZipRecruiter (n.d.) What Is an Online Adjunct Professor and How to Become One. https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Career/Online-Adjunct-Professor/What-Is-How-to-Become