Online Instructor: Degree Requirements, Job and Salary Info

Online Instructor: Degree Requirements, Job and Salary Info
The Editorial Team October 4, 2012

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As demand for high-quality education surges worldwide, traditional schools and universities are struggling to keep up with vast numbers of new students eager to learn. Online educational opportunities have expanded dramatically over the past five years to fill the gap. That’s why massive open online courses (MOOCs), online degree programs and blended learning initiatives have become the most-discussed trends in the education field.

If you want to take part in this new learning revolution, becoming an online educator may be a great choice. Just like any traditional teaching position, an online educator must instruct students effectively in designated subject matter. They must convey relevant information efficiently and help students learn the best methods of inquiry in the subject area of the course. The challenge is to do all of this online, because in most cases you won’t meet a single student face-to-face.

Our guide will give you a sense of what it takes to become an online educator, including the required education, likely income, and pros and cons of this kind of work. Browse through the article or use the following links to skip forward to what you’re looking for:

> Online educator job description
> Who makes good online educators?

Different types of online educators
> Online professor
> K-12 online teacher

Professional development

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: online educators

To become an online educator, you’ll need a degree in education or in the field you will be teaching. To teach college-level courses, you’ll need a master’s degree in addition to a bachelor’s degree.

Income for online educators varies widely depending on the employer, courses and other factors such as your education level. Many online educators are paid by the course or semester, rather than a single annual salary. The table provides a variety of pay estimates for online educators:

  Online professor K-12 online teachers
Education Master’s degree; doctorate preferred Bachelor’s; master’s preferred
Estimated annual income $62,330 (BLS)
$51,000 (
$46,406 (
$86,000 (
$26,350 (
$54,500 to $57,200 (BLS)
$39,528 (
$67,000 ($45,988

Online educator job description

As with more traditional teaching jobs, online teachers instruct students in specific subject areas, prepare lesson plans and coordinate schedules while monitoring students’ skills and achievement.

The most important duties of an online educator include:

  • Creating a curriculum based on the best knowledge in the field
  • Teaching the material with online video lessons
  • Leading online discussions of the course material via forums and web chat
  • Responding to student comments and questions posted online
  • Evaluating student papers, projects, tests and other assessments
  • Maintaining records on student progress/grades

An online educator’s work varies considerably depending on class enrollment size. For example, when teaching a MOOC with thousands of enrolled students, an online educator will spend less time responding to questions and handling one-on-one instruction than in a case where an online class consists of only a few dozen students.

Who makes a good online educator?

Someone who is:

  • Comfortable with technology
  • Imaginative about using online formats in new ways
  • Inquisitive, creative and curious
  • Passionate about connecting with students
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Organized and careful about time management
  • Devoted to learning
  • Attentive to details
  • A lover of reading
  • Service-oriented
  • Excellent at oral and written communication
  • Highly knowledgeable in their subject area
  • Qualified with a master’s degree in an education-related field, or a field related to the subject they teach

Interested in becoming an online educator?

Different types of online educators

There are two main types of online educators. Online professors teach college courses, while K-12 online teachers teach elementary and secondary school. Let’s take a look at the differences between online professors and their K-12 counterparts in more detail.

Online professors

Online professors teach college courses — often to students around the world.
Continue reading to learn more about online professors

What online professors do

Online college teaching is much like classroom teaching: Online instructors give lectures, grade papers, administer tests, make a syllabus and answer students’ questions. The main difference is that an online professor communicates with students virtually. This communication may include sending and receiving assignments electronically, holding discussions through chat software or lecturing via a webcam.

Administrative and mentoring duties may be part of your job as an online college professor, though this is more common for full-time professors. You may also be responsible for figuring out how to use the college’s software for online education. Universities may provide a virtual blackboard where you can go to ask for technical support, but the duties of running an online classroom fall primarily to you.

Education and certification requirements

Degree requirements for online professors may be more lenient than those for full-time professors. An online professor must have a master’s degree or documented experience taking advanced courses in the subject area.

Full-time online professors or full-time professors who teach a mixture of online and traditional classes usually must have a doctorate.

Income projections

Your pay depends upon how many courses you teach, the number of credit hours per course, your education, and the length of the courses you teach. Universities usually offer online courses by semester or in an accelerated format, though some schools break up classes into quarters or trimesters.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t report salary information for online teachers, it does project more jobs for part-time or adjunct professors. The Adjunct Project allows adjunct professors to research salaries.

Your expected salary can vary by university as well. According to Adjunct Professor Online, fees can range from $600 to $1,220 per credit. It is also possible to be paid by student.

Examples of compensation for online teaching:

  • Ashford University: $1,040 to $1,664 (five-week undergraduate courses); $1,664 to $2,662.40 (eight-week undergraduate courses); and $1,352 to $2,080 (six-week graduate courses)
  • DeVry University: $2,860 (eight-week term)
  • National American University: $1,250 (10-week term)
  • Southern New Hampshire University: $1,500 to $1,800 (eight-week term)
  • South University: $1,500 (five-and-a-half week term)
  • University of Phoenix: $1,250 to $1,500 (five-week term)
  • Upper Iowa University: $2,100 (eight-week term)
  • Western International University: $1,500 (eight-week term)

Pros and cons of being an online professor

Consider the advantages and disadvantages before you get your heart set on becoming an online professor.


  • Able to work from home
  • Often flexible schedule
  • Get to teach in multiple time zones
  • Get to teach students with a passion for learning and achievement
  • Gain experience that could get you an in-person position later in your teaching career


  • Little opportunity for hands-on, in-person teaching
  • Potential for feeling isolated or lonely
  • Less opportunity for research, publication and tenure than a traditional professorship at a four-year university
  • Full-time online professor jobs are rare

K-12 online teacher

K-12 online teachers educate students from kindergarten through high school in virtual classrooms.

Continue reading to learn more about K-12 online teachers

What K-12 online teachers do

If you pursue a career as an online K-12 teacher, you may work with one grade group, teach one subject or instruct students of various ages and academic levels. According to the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), an estimated 200,000 students were enrolled full time in virtual schools during the 2009-2010 school year. That number increased to 310,000 students during the 2012-2013 school year. iNACOL statistics find that the majority of students are high school students who access coursework through their home school district.

K-12 teachers maintain grades, hold parent conferences and implement student-specific teaching strategies. They also establish classroom standards and moderate discussions and students’ peer communications online.

Some online K-12 teachers teach at many levels, while others focus on one subject. Some of the possible positions:

  • Elementary teacher
  • Art teacher
  • Music instructor
  • High school teacher: math, English, science, etc.
  • Tutor
  • Section coordinator

There are many unique challenges to being a K-12 online teacher. For starters, the asynchronous platform sometimes means it takes more effort to keep students engaged.

Because teaching online is often done from a home studio or other remote location, it is crucial to interact with your colleagues. K-12 online teachers, especially new teachers, are urged to join educational associations to maintain peer review and support networks.

Educational and certification requirements

Educational requirements vary by state and the institution offering the online program. Private schools and charter schools have more flexibility to set standards than public schools. Most online programs require at least a bachelor’s degree with a current state teaching license. Others offer additional salary incentives to teachers with a master’s degree. Some private schools require prior teaching experience in a traditional classroom.

If you pursue an education degree, expect your coursework to include subjects like math, language and geography. You will also learn how to teach the subject matter, testing and evaluation methods, and strategies for recordkeeping and time management. If you want to teach at the junior high or high school level, more extensive subject matter courses are required.

Income projections

The annual salary varies widely depending on the location of the school, type of employer, type of degrees held and the number of classes taught. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, salaries for K-12 teachers in general range from $35,630 to $83,160. The median wage for all K-12 teachers is $53,090.

As our nation explores options to reduce costs per student for struggling school districts, steady job growth is expected to continue in this field. Studies are showing that hybrid and blended online classes are less expensive than traditional classrooms. Job prospects for K-12 online teacher opportunities appear good. If you pursue a four-year degree in education or complete a master’s program, your options increase even more.

Pros and cons of being a K-12 online teacher

As you consider becoming a K-12 online teacher, think through the pros and cons of the job.


  • Teaching students who are dynamic, enthusiastic and eager for opportunities
  • Helping young students find direction and focus, which can have both an immediate and lifelong impact
  • Able to work from home
  • Often flexible schedule
  • Growing job opportunities


  • Little opportunity for hands-on, in-person teaching
  • Risk of feeling isolated or lonely
  • Lower pay than traditional teachers in many cases
  • Many online teaching jobs do not include benefits or paid time off

Professional development for online educators

If you haven’t already, you should take an online course so you can understand what it’s like to study online. Also seek out internships and jobs in the education sector to gain experience and build your resume. A good place to start may be working as an online tutor. Online tutors usually have fewer requirements than other online education jobs, and you’ll get valuable virtual teaching experience you can use throughout your career.

Reach out to schools that host online education programs in your subject specialties. Search the websites of online educational institutions to see if they have a career board that posts openings for instructors in the types of courses you are qualified to teach. Once you teach your first online course, you will know a lot about how to best pursue your online teaching career.

Also consider acquiring a teaching credential, a master’s degree or other certification in online education, or additional training in the specific needs of online students. Check out the following professional development programs that can help you advance your goals as an online educator:

Benefits of continuing education

To maximize your effectiveness and income as an online educator, you should seriously consider earning a master’s degree or a doctorate. By choosing to enroll in a master’s or doctorate program, you will gain job opportunities for the best online education programs in the world.

Related jobs for online educators

With additional education or certification, online educators may become in-person teachers, librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

High school teacher: Online educators often become traditional high school teachers and vice versa. Some even work both jobs at once. A bachelor’s degree and teaching credential are required to become a high school teacher. A master’s degree usually leads to a higher salary.

University professor: Online educators who complete a doctorate will boost their earnings potential and open opportunities to work as a professor at a four-year university.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment, and some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to curriculum and instruction, and may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

School principal: Online educators wishing to become a school principal should seriously consider earning a master’s degree in an education-related field. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators.

Education administrator: Depending upon the position, either a bachelor’s or master’s degree may be required. For a higher-level position such as dean or president, a master’s degree in educational leadership may be required.

Best of the web: our favorite online educator  blogs, websites and Twitter handles

The web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent online educators. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite online education Twitter handles

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