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  • Writer's pictureMichelle D Rogers

How to Become an Online Instructor

Many contact me to ask about teaching online; do I like it; what are the benefits and drawbacks; how does one do it. So here are some answers.


Work from Home


For myself, I love teaching online. I think it is a GREAT career. Yet, it is also VERY different than teaching and training face-to-face. I highly recommend completing some kind of Online Teaching Certification program (see below). Some of these certificate programs are not much money, and they introduce one to the methods and techniques for facilitating online courses.


I also recommend reading some of the leading books in the field on distance education and building online learning communities (also see below). It is very important to become up to date on the latest teaching and learning theories and methods that apply directly to online education. Finally, and this cannot be emphasized enough, join some of the leading professional organizations in the US concerning educational technology and distance learning (see below as well). This is the best way to stay current on the best practices in distance learning. Qualifications required are the same as any face-to-face university course. It tends to be a doctorate, or at minimum a masters. I have never heard of someone with only a bachelors being able to teach online. Note, it is not easy to make a full-time living. Mot people teach online as a side-job, for a little extra cash and because they love to help guide students in their learning. But for rare positions, Universities will only hire you on a contract basis, as they need you, so it is always part-time work unless one manages to start teaching at several universities at the same time, which is a common practice among online professors.


One can easily transfer from face-to-face to online teaching: I did. It is different teaching and course management skills, and it will have a learning curve. But, that does not mean it cannot be done. The most important benefit to teaching online is the flexibility. I can plan my own time and don't have a set schedule. Also, while I do have administration I must answer to, in general I am my own boss. As long as I meet the school policies, deadlines and requirements for quality teaching I may choose how and when I do it. The flexibility also means I get to live where I want. I have gone on vacation in Spain, for example, and just got online to do my work in the morning and then toured a new country in the afternoons. If one has Internet, they can work: anytime, anywhere. The drawbacks are the lack of job security since one only teaches on temporary contracts. Some schools don't allow the professor to change the curriculum either, which is a sign of poor quality programs since it is the professor who 'should be' the expert. When teaching in this situation it can be frustrating to be forced to teach less-than-stellar instructional design. Also, there is less social interaction and colleague interaction. A good online university, such as University of Phoenix, have an excellent online social connections area for the instructors to communicate with each other, learn from each other and support each other. Not all online programs offer this though and thus online professors can feel very isolated.


To combat this isolation I recommend joining online communities of online professors, which allow for needed professional connections. Some examples are the Technology Using Professors Group at LinkedIN, or the Online Professors Group at NING. These are just two examples of many. Do an online search and choose the groups best for building your own personal learning network (PLN).

Recommended Online Teaching Certification Programs that don't cost too much:

  • Indiana University. Certificate in distance dducation and online course management. http://scs.indiana.edu/nc/decert.html

  • Nova Southeastern University: Distance Learning Leader Certificate. http://www.schoolofed.nova.edu/dll/learning.htm

  • Quality Matters. Training and workshops in quality distance education design and facilitation. http://www.qualitymatters.org/Training.htm

Recommended books about distance education, building online learning communities, adult learners, and designing online courses:

  • Teaching and Learning at a Distance: Foundations of Distance Education. By Michael Simonson, Sharon Smaldino, Michael Albright and Susan Zvacek. 2009. Pearson.

  • Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom. By Rena, M. Palloff and Keith Pratt. 2007. Wiley.

  • The Adult Learner: The Definitive Class in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. By Malcolm, S. Knowles, Elwood F. Holton III, and Richard, A. Swanson. 2005. Eslevier.

  • The Systematic Design of Instruction. 6th ed. By Walter Dick, Lou Carey, and James O. Carey. 2005. Pearson.

Recommended US Journals and/or Professional Associations to Join (there are European groups too, if you prefer...)

  • Association for Educational Communication and Technology http://www.aect.org/default.asp

  • US Distance Learning Association (USDLA) http://www.usdla.org/

    • Note: Regular (not student) membership to USDLA offers a 20% reduction in tution on the Nova Southeastern University's Doctorate of Education (EdD) program, including the EdD in Instructional Technology and Distance Education program.

  • The American Journal of Distance Education http://www.ajde.com/editor.htm

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