There is a gold rush going on now in the field of online learning and it is the pursuit of teaching online. There are new master’s degree programs that are focused on teaching with technology, along with degree programs related to instructional design. There are authors good spiritual movies that tout the seemingly endless opportunities available for teaching online courses, and one set of authors that want you to believe you can earn a six figure income as an adjunct online instructor.
There was a time not too long ago when online learning was gaining popularity, that there were plenty of opportunities available to teach online. But that time has changed, especially due to the increased number of schools that offer online classes. Potential students have a wealth of schools to choose from now when they want to earn a degree online. In addition, there has been a decline in enrollment for some of the for-profit schools because of intense scrutiny by regulators and the student loan crisis. What is needed now more than ever is a realistic overview of online teaching, from someone who is been highly involved in the field as a Modern Educator.
I have been involved in the field of online learning now as a Modern Educator for over nine years. I have taught online courses for traditional colleges as well as for-profit universities. My perspective is not limited to just one school and I have also worked with online faculty development and online curriculum development. There are a few generalities I can make based upon this experience and the first is about the online student base. With the for-profits there generally is not an entrance exam or evaluation made of the skill sets that potential students may have (or not have) and that means the doors are wide open. With for-profits they have to compete for new enrollments and as a result they will accept those who are not well-suited for this environment and those who are grossly academically underprepared. To get students enrolled the value of a degree as to be sold and it is often over-sold with highly creative ads. And the real indicator of the underlying problem for online learning is the retention rate, which is 30% on an average for undergraduate students.
Several years ago, when there were numerous adjunct opportunities, a master’s degree was accepted as a minimum qualification for teaching undergraduate students. Now there is a large pool of adjunct instructors, a significant number of people who want to teach online, and many who are seeking a degree so they could teach online – with fewer job opportunities available. Now it is not uncommon to see a job listing with a doctorate degree stated as the preferred minimum credential, even for undergraduate courses. In addition, when a job opening is listed there will likely be hundreds of resumes sent.
Once you are lucky enough to get on board as an adjunct there are never any guarantees made about your continued employment. You could be a long-term employee and without notice find yourself let go as departmental priorities change. There’ve been some full-time positions teaching online, but those jobs are even fewer and very difficult to obtain. Preference may be given to internal employees and current adjuncts may have to compete with external candidates. And then there is the issue of salary. Some full-time positions may require advanced degrees and pay a marginally acceptable rate. Some for-profits also prefer to hire instructors with minimal experience, simply to keep the cost of salaries down. It may seem that i have painted a very bleak picture of the industry I am in – and that is not my point. What I want to do is to help manage the expectations about teaching online. If you are student now and have little to no teaching experience, and believe you will gain a full-time job earning a six figure income right out of school, you have very unrealistic expectations. If you want to teach online because it sounds easy or likely fun, you believe it will provide steady income, or you teach well now in a traditional classroom setting, you will still need to manage and possibly adjust your expectations.
Online teaching requires a significant investment of time if you want to be good at it, and it requires a specialized skill set to teach in a technologically enable environment. If you want to teach online because you are interested in helping others learn, and you are willing to learn and adapt, you will be more successful if you accept to working without future guarantees. The key to successfully teaching online is to make a commitment to your ongoing professional development and building a resume that demonstrates your interest in and capacity for online teaching.