Teaching Careers and Professional Development

Online Learning Director: Education, Salary, and Outlook

By The Editorial Team

Digital learning encompasses a wide field, from bachelor’s degrees to proprietary training classes offered entirely online. Online learning directors participate in every aspect of digital learning from choosing the right technology to helping academic directors design accessible coursework. An online learning director might work with the registrar’s office to enroll new students, the office of student affairs for streamlining admissions and academic programs, the math department to develop new online courses, and HR to help train new faculty members in online course delivery.

At a glance: online learning director

As higher education continues to serve a growing population of recent high school graduates, professional opportunities also expand. More learners take a combination of in-class and online courses than ever before, making delivering high-quality content via digital channels an important task for the modern university. To meet that challenge, chief educational officers often turn to online learning directors for course design, streamlined user interfaces, and the right suite of technologies to support the move to e-learning. Positive job growth and an average salary above $83,000 per year make these jobs highly competitive.

Job description of an online learning director

An online learning director often works with faculty or teaching staff at a university or corporate HR department to develop e-learning opportunities, build enrollment, and track program success. Day-to-day activities may vary depending on the employer. A large university might have an entire department solely devoted to distance learning, while a small college may have a coordinator who works with a variety of faculty members to coordinate scheduling and curriculum delivery. In a corporate setting, an online learning director might fulfill a similar role to the training and development manager, but with a focus on digital learning methods.

The most common duties of an online learning director may include:

  • Organize initiatives for online programs and identify trends in online learning
  • Work with faculty and administrative professionals in various departments to integrate distance learning options across all degree programs, and provide training for online instructors
  • Develop distance learning policies and best practices in conjunction with departmental directors
  • Assess and analyze current online programs, and find ways to streamline and optimize processes
  • Work to give students a smooth application process and build strong retention and completion rates
  • Coordinate instructional design with an understanding of best practices for distance learning
  • Advise faculty on universal design and accessibility
  • Work with other institutional departments to support instructors delivering online coursework from the planning to the assessment phase
  • Work with marketing to expand the reach of online programs and generate increasing enrollment numbers

Important skills for an online learning director

An online learning director blends may of the skills of high-level management professionals with expertise in developing curricula, and coordinating schedules across disparate departments. A good online learning director is someone who is:

  • Experienced in teaching and coordinating groups of teachers
  • A clear and concise communicator able to work effortlessly with a variety of people from widely differing backgrounds
  • Tech-savvy and familiar with learning management systems such as Blackboard
  • A curriculum designer who knows how to align learning goals with outcomes
  • An active listener able to turn suggestions into actionable advice and implement changes

Online learning director in-depth

Education requirements for an online learning director

At larger corporate or academic institutions, a master’s degree is often required. At community or technical colleges, the position may only require a bachelor’s degree. Many organizations prefer a candidate with teaching experience, either online or in the classroom.

Technology has become a ubiquitous part of post-secondary education, and most schools offer distance learning options delivered via the web and other digital channels. Some employers may prefer an online learning director with more technical expertise, along with a higher-level degree in education.

Certification requirements for an online learning director

While there are no certifications required to start a career as an online learning director, there are some that may help. Earning a certificate in e-learning instructional design or becoming a certified professional in training management may help differentiate skill sets or assist with a change in careers.

Online learning director salaries

Salaries for an online learning director can vary based on experience, education level, the size of the academic institution or corporation, and whether or not the position is executive level. In a corporate setting, an online learning director’s salary may be commensurate with those of other c-suite executives.

For those employed by an academic institution, ZipRecruiter lists an average salary range between $65,869 and $93,258, depending on the state. In general, the size of the organization plays a direct role in determining compensation. Four-year colleges and universities typically pay more than two-year or junior colleges.

Below is a snapshot of possible average salaries for professionals in this field:

Employment projections for online learning director careers

Postsecondary education administrative positions are expected to grow by 7% through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Higher-ed is attracting more students, and population growth also creates the need for additional placements in higher learning institutions. As these institutions grow to serve more students, hiring for alternative educational paths such as online learning directors is also expected to grow. The highest level of administrative positions may be fairly static as these are often university-wide and not affected by enrollment growth.

While growth in this field is projected, it is also heavily tied to state education budgets. If state budgets shrink, it is possible that colleges and universities may be affected and start a hiring freeze.

Challenges and opportunities for online learning directors

Working in an academic environment has pluses and minuses. For online learning directors, some benefits instructional professionals may enjoy include:

  • Moving out of the classroom and into the design portion of education
  • Working with collegial professionals who share the same goal of providing quality learning opportunities to students
  • Full-time work with a generous benefits package
  • Flexible scheduling at certain times of year

Some parts of the job that may be less satisfying might be:

  • Lower pay when employed by an academic institution as private companies often pay more for similar work
  • Working to increase program completion rates via e-learning
  • The need to develop in-depth knowledge of multiple departments to better serve the university as a whole
  • Less time spent interacting directly with students

Online learning director professional development

For many online learning directors, the next step up is to advance to a dean position or chief education officer. These positions are at the top of an educational institution and similar to a CEO position in a corporate setting. For those working in the private sector, the next step up might be a VP position or director of HR. Often, the online learning director is a position that falls under the heading of HR.

Continuing education

Like all education professionals, online learning directors may need to complete continuing education credits related to their specialty. New technologies hit the market regularly, and to stay on top of new developments, some professionals may choose to pursue a Doctorate in Education.

Professional associations for online learning directors

Directors of online learning often find professional organizations dealing with larger trends in higher-ed and instructional support valuable. Online learning is just one path toward a degree, so participation in a variety of organizations may help create a more balanced look at today’s academic performance. Here are a few professional organizations that may be a good fit for an e-learning director.

American Academics and Higher Education

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

Council for Advancement and Support of Education

National Education Association

Best of the web

With new technologies and instructional methods becoming available all the time, staying up-to-date can be a challenge. Here are some great online resources that may help:

Blogs by e-learning gurus

Learning Rebels by Shannon Tipton

Cathy Moore

E-Learning Provocateur by Ryan Tracey

Twitter handles

Vicki Davis: @coolcatteacher
Steven W. Anderson: @web20classroom
Microsoft Education: @MicrosoftEDU

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