Education degrees come in numerous shapes and sizes, offering flexibility based on preferences and career objectives. For those aspiring for a graduate-level degree, there are two basic kinds of master’s degrees that provide further study in education: Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and Master of Education (MEd). Despite the similarities in the concept — both are teaching-related master’s degrees — these two degree programs aren’t made equal and don’t necessarily support the same end goals. This is what you need to know about the differences and similarities between earning an MAT online versus an MEd online.
Decades ago, the only option for higher education was a traditional classroom. Today, online schooling options are growing rapidly. Many premier institutions around the country, from Columbia University to Indiana University, now offer at least some online degree programming. Over a quarter of today’s students go to school online in some capacity, according to the National Center for Education Statistics; 15% of students go to school exclusively online, while around 16% take a hybrid of classes, attending some on campus and some online.
Virtual university programs are popular across all degree paths, but education graduate degrees are especially common choices for online degrees. This is often due to timing; most candidates for these programs are already working as teachers, which doesn’t leave much time for a traditional on-campus degree. Online programming is flexible and can be quite affordable, allowing for access to a great degree without steep tuition costs.
Online education degrees can require a semester of practical experience in the classroom, which cannot generally be circumvented as most states require hands-on experience to receive a teaching certificate. However, distance learning programs can be flexible with students, helping to make arrangements locally rather than near campus.
A Master of Education degree (MEd) is one of the most common graduate degrees for those already working in the education field. In this program, students study topics related to the theory of education and the factors that influence learning and development.
In many ways, a Master of Education degree teaches more about education as a field, rather than specifically how to educate others. Students will explore the theories that drive the construction of education curricula, educational leadership, education system management and the use of technology in education. This kind of program delves into the systems and mechanics governing education, rather than the specifics of how to communicate in a classroom setting.
Most students in MEd programs aren’t seeking careers as teachers but rather jobs in the overarching field, such as education administration. An MEd can also benefit those interested in later pursuing a PhD or who would like to get involved with education public policy or advocacy.
It is possible for online MEd programs to be conducted without any in-person coursework. Unlike some other forms of education degrees, in which there are in-classroom practical requirements for graduation, MEd programs can be held fully remotely for the entirety of a degree program. The average MEd program lasts around two years, but that can vary based on both the school and the curriculum. Some full-time programs can be completed in a year.
MAT, or Master of Arts in Teaching, is another option for aspiring education professionals. As the name of the degree implies, a Master of Arts in Teaching is focused on the fundamentals of teaching, rather than education as a field itself, providing students with a foundation upon which to excel in the classroom.
This kind of program is geared towards those who want to improve classroom skills, including classroom leadership, teaching strategies, lesson instruction and communicating with children. Classwork often includes courses on building effective lesson plans, best practices for special needs communities and behavioral support models. Students interested in a career in administration in the future will find some coursework valuable and interesting, but as a teaching-centered degree, an MAT is truly about improving abilities in a classroom setting.
MAT degrees often have specializations, such as English, Science or Math, to help teachers fine-tune skills in their chosen areas of education. If a teacher wants to teach secondary school English, for example, pursuing a specialized MAT can help teachers master the skills needed to succeed.
The average MAT program lasts one to two years but can require additional time for online students who can’t commit to a full-time schedule. A traditional MAT program generally requires a practicum quarter or semester spent in the classroom. Online degree programs cannot circumvent this requirement but will usually work with students to find placement in a local school that will not require travel. These local placements are oftentimes called teacher residencies—you work in local classrooms while taking online classes.
As with most educational programs, the best degree can vary from one student to the next. For those who aspire to work as a licensed teacher, a Master of Arts in Teaching is generally the better choice. This program is geared specifically toward classroom teaching, rather than the theory of education, offering guidance in areas, such as classroom instruction and subject-specific teaching.
An MEd can be a valuable degree for those passionate about teaching students, but it’s a better fit for licensed teachers who want to refine their understanding of education as a field or for teachers who want a future in administration. When the joy of teaching itself is at the root of a career, an online Master of Arts in Teaching can offer the best opportunities if classroom teaching is your goal. MEds can be pursued by those with no other background in teaching and who do not plan to instruct students. MATs often do not require a background in teaching, either, but coursework and practical classroom experience are specifically intended to meet the requirements for certification.
Careers in education can take many different forms, and the best choice for one person isn’t necessarily right for the next. Both online Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education degrees can be valuable tools for the next generation of educators and administrators.