Do You Aspire to Teach Online?

Do You Aspire to Teach Online?

The work of an online instructor can be enjoyable, demanding, rewarding, and challenging at times. I’ve worked as adjunct online instructor, and I can share with you the reality of working in this environment, along with the most common benefits and challenges, the skill sets you’ll need, and a plan for developing your educational and career goals. If you are making a decision about the type of online degree you would like to obtain, it is important to understand how your education relates to online teaching and other factors that are equally important for beginning this type of career.

Reality of Teaching Online

The reality is that if you want to teach online, you’ll start as an adjunct or part-time instructor because only a few schools have full time positions and those jobs are not only limited, they are rarely available. Here are some other perspectives about working as an adjunct that you should consider:
“¢    As an adjunct you are considered a contract employee, which means that you are paid per contract and there is no guarantee made for future contracts or courses.
“¢    Online classes are typically shorter than a traditional college semester, with classes averaging 5 to 10 weeks.
“¢    Undergraduate class sizes can be 20 to 30 or more students.
“¢    Most online schools indicate that an adjunct will spend an average of 15 to 20 hours per week completing their instructional duties.
“¢    Most adjuncts have no benefits (insurance policies, paid time off, etc.) or there may be some limited benefits offered (major medical plans that are fully employee paid).

Benefits of Teaching Online

Once you understand the reality of teaching online you may ask: why would someone make this type of commitment? Flexibility is often cited as the greatest benefit because you do not have to travel to a classroom or meet on one scheduled night. It is often referred to as “teaching in your pajamas,” but I do not care for because it undermines the image of being a scholarly professional. The flexibility means that as long as you have Internet access you can teach almost anywhere, from a coffee shop to a hotel room. I’ve even taken my laptop and worked on an airplane with Wi-Fi access.

Challenges of Teaching Online

One of the primary challenges of online teaching is what I refer as the “always on syndrome” because the classroom is open virtually 24 hours a day, and students expect to “see” you present on a regular basis. Developing a well-planned schedule is another challenge. Your instructional duties will require advanced planning and time management skills, which is even more important if you are working full-time and have other responsibilities to balance.

Here are some additional considerations:
“¢    There will be weekly deadlines for providing feedback and participation requirements for the class discussions.
“¢    Most adjuncts that are also working full-time will be completing their facilitation requirements on nights and weekend, which can be stressful at times.
“¢    Online schools typically operate with continuous start dates, so it is possible that once a class ends you could be scheduled for another to begin right away, which does not leave you with a break unless you decline a class that has been offered. This can make planning a vacation break difficult, especially if you teach classes for more than one online school. I became accustomed to this work schedule and learned to allocate time during my trips for the required teaching duties.

Education and Training

A master’s degree is required to teach undergraduate classes, although some schools require a doctorate degree to teach any of the classes offered. Many online schools will evaluate your potential to teach based upon the type of degree and the classes and credit hours related to the specific subject you are interested in teaching. More importantly, they may require that you are actively working in a field related to your classes. What this means for you is that you should consider online teaching as a part-time occupation, something you do as a supplement to your career. It is very challenging to find enough schools to teach for to create the equivalent of a full time job because you are working by contract.

Once you are accepted as a potential adjunct instructor candidate, you will receive some form of training. Typically this involves working within a simulated online classroom environment so that you can demonstrate technical experience related to the use of computer hardware and software. You should become familiar with other forms of technology as well during your training period since your students may have access to the classroom through mobile devices, which is often referred to as m-learning. Some schools will assign you to an experienced faculty member who will serve as your mentor during the training process.

Establishing a Career Path

With most online teaching positions you won’t obtain a degree to teach online and then begin working as an instructor. For example, a popular online school offers a Master of Arts in Teaching and Learning with Technology. This does not automatically guarantee that you will begin teaching online classes. You’ll also need subject matter expertise and some experience teaching or training other people. If you lack teaching experience it is important to demonstrate that you have transferrable skill sets (training, mentoring, or coaching others) and effective communication skills.

The process of getting hired as an adjunct can be complex. From the time you submit a resume to the time you are teaching your first class it can be a six to eight month process. There is a lengthy interview process and training period, and once accepted you receive a list of course approvals and then you are added to the adjunct pool to await an assignment.

The earning potential of an online instructor according to SimplyHired.com is an average annual salary of $44,000.  This is misleading because you are paid according to your credentials and experience. A new adjunct can be paid as little as $750 to teach an eight week online class. Some schools will allow you to teach more than one class at a time; however, courses are offered based upon enrollment numbers. SimplyHired.com and Indeed.com list current openings and the positions are typically subject-matter specific.

It is possible to find opportunities as an online instructor, specifically as an adjunct. Securing your first online teaching assignment is often the most difficult step because you need to demonstrate that you have the experience, transferrable skills, and education necessary to teach – and online class offerings fluctuate according to the number of students enrolled. Once you have the education and experience necessary to start teaching, you will likely find the work is challenging but rewarding because of the potential benefits, especially if this is something you have aspired to do.

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By Dr. Bruce Johnson

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