Getting Your Education Degree Online
Now that you've decided to earn your education degree online, you've got some important research ahead of you in order to get the most out of your diploma:
- Check Certification Requirements. The first thing to do is find out what the teaching certification requirements are for the state you wish to work in. All fifty states and the District of Columbia require teachers in public schools to be certified, but the specific prerequisites you must meet can vary from state to state. Most states usually require a bachelor's degree, completion of an approved teacher education program, and passing scores on an assessment exam. Many states also have reciprocal teaching agreements with other states that allow you to become licensed in those states as well. There are many websites and other online resources that can provide you with all of this information.
- Confirm Accreditation. You can find online teaching degree programs through conventional colleges or universities (almost 50 percent of traditional schools now offer some type of online learning) or the many e-learning universities that deal exclusively in distance learning or online degrees. No matter which route you choose, you need to make sure that any online teaching program you are interested in is accredited by an agency that is recognized by either the United States Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Both of these organizations maintain up-to-date website databases that list legitimate programs and schools. Avoid any schools that are not listed with either of these two organizations. You do not want to get involved with a diploma mill that takes your money in exchange for worthless degrees that will not be accepted by employers.
- Research Programs. Once you have a list of accredited programs from schools that allow you to get your education degree online, you should research and compare them to find the one that best suits your particular needs. Make sure that the courses offered are in the disciplines you require for your major and meet your state's certification obligations.
- Compare Schools. If there are several online schools and programs that meet your requirements, you can narrow down your list by comparing things such as cost (including tuition, application fees, and any hidden expenses), financial aid, faculty quality, and student satisfaction. As word-of-mouth referrals are still one of the best ways to assess schools, try to track down and sound out former and current students of the school you are interested in.
Online learning is different in several ways from attending conventional schools, of course. You can set your own schedule and course load and learn at your own rate, plus you do not have to commute or relocate. You will also be dealing with new educational technologies such as blogs, downloads, electronic books, e-mail attachments, Internet links, online chat forums, podcasts, plug-ins, simulations, streaming videos, and wikis. Because of these fundamental differences between e-learning and traditional learning, you must:
- Be self-disciplined and self-motivated. You must be able to complete your online courses within the time limits allowed without personal supervision.
- Be able to communicate effectively in writing. Earning an education degree online does not involve face-to-face contact, so most communication will be via e-mail or other forms of written interaction.
- Be willing to ask for help if you need it. Because you will most likely never see your instructors in person, they will never know you have a problem unless you contact them.
- Be able to read at college level or higher.
- Be able and willing to commit nine to fifteen hours per week per course, and log onto your courses every day (or a minimum of five to six days a week).
- Use the resources available to you, such as online libraries and course materials.
- Be proficient in computer skills, including keyboarding, sending and receiving e-mails, and installing software and plug-ins on your computer.
Online Education Degrees
You know you want to earn an online education degree and become a teacher, but which level of school do you want to teach? The ages of the students, their learning abilities, and the methods used to teach them at each level are very different, so you must make sure to match the degree you get to your particular talents and skills.
Following are some of the different education degrees you can pursue, all of which can be earned online:
- Early Childhood Education. This degree makes you eligible to work directly with young children from infancy to about the ages of five to eight (third grade) in day care facilities, preschools, and kindergartens. You will prepare youngsters to enter the K-12 school system by helping to develop their language and motor coordination skills and by learning through playing, in which you will use group activities, stories, toys, and role-playing. Certificates or associate's degrees in early childhood education qualify you for most entry-level positions in day cares or preschools, while a bachelor's degree is usually required for teaching this level in public schools.
- Elementary Education. This credential is for educators who want to work with children in Grades 1 through 6 (or 8, depending on the individual school district). This level of school introduces core subjects such as history, math, science, reading, and writing, which are usually taught by one or two teachers per class. Because elementary school teachers are expected to teach such a broad range of subjects, they usually earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education, which covers teaching methods for all basic subjects as well as professional education courses.
- Secondary Education. A teacher at this rank works with junior high (also known as middle school) and high school students in Grades 7 to 12. They usually teach the same subjects that are taught in the elementary grades but at more advanced levels, and they also typically specialize in a single subject or perhaps two related ones (such as history and social studies). So, the online education degree you earn at this stage is generally a bachelor's degree majoring in the subject you wish to teach plus additional education course work.
- Postsecondary Education. Educators with this background teach anyone past the high school level, including college and university students and those attending vocational or technical schools. Like secondary teachers, they also usually teach single subjects but at a depth geared toward earning degrees. They also typically belong to certain departments of a school depending on the discipline or subject matter expertise. A master's degree or a doctorate with a specialization in your desired area is usually required.
- Special Education. This degree prepares you to teach children with intellectual or physical disabilities such as autism, blindness, deafness, learning disorders, or mental deficiency. You will adapt regular K-12 curricula to meet the individual needs of students with particular disabilities as well as learn various behavioral management techniques and teaching methods. Because of the focused nature of this kind of teaching, it may take you an additional fifth year to earn a bachelor's degree in this field. As many states prefer at least a master's degree for this area of teaching, you may prefer to use this extra year to begin on graduate-level courses toward a master's.
Get Your Online Secondary Education Degree
Earning a degree in secondary education (typically Grades 7 to 12) allows you to focus on teaching a certain subject in which you are particularly proficient. If you are already teaching at elementary grade levels and wish to move up to older students, earning a secondary level degree is a good way to enhance your salary and career. In either case, you may want to take advantage of the convenience and low costs of online education.
Earning an online secondary education degree is similar in some ways to obtaining one at a traditional brick-and-mortar school. You will major in the core subject you wish to teach, such as English, math, or chemistry. At the same time, you will also take teacher education courses that train you in specific techniques of teaching your subject to students at secondary grade levels. You will also go through classroom observation and a period of hands-on, supervised student teaching at a school in your geographical area.
A bachelor's degree takes you about four years to complete. If you go on to earn a master's degree, either because of your particular state's teaching certification requirements or because you wish to increase your pay or advance to a supervisory position, you can expect to spend another one to two years studying. Most states that require a master's degree allow you to start teaching with just your bachelor's degree as long as you earn your master's within a certain period of time (usually within the first five years of your teaching career).
The major difference in earning a degree online, of course, is the convenience of being able to set your own schedule, location, and course load when taking the required core and teacher education classes. This is especially advantageous if you are already teaching or otherwise working and do not wish to give up your income while studying.
Earning an online secondary education degree is also much more affordable than attending on-campus courses because you are not paying commuting expenses or maintenance costs such as room and board. According to All Education Schools, the cost of online education can range anywhere from $100 to $500 per credit (not including additional enrollment or registration fees), with public colleges and universities generally being less expensive than private ones.
The downsides of online learning can include such things as the following:
- Feelings of isolation from not being able to interact face-to-face with fellow students or form study groups
- A tendency to drift off track if you are not self-disciplined enough to log onto your courses every day
- Frustration with the technology involved if you are not particularly computer-savvy
- A lack of instantaneous feedback from your instructors
However, most students consider the pros of e-learning to far outweigh the disadvantages.
You can find online education degree programs either through e-learning institutions that deal entirely with distance learning or through traditional colleges and universities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 50 percent of brick-and-mortar schools now offer online degree programs.
The best chance of earning an online secondary education degree that will pass muster with employers is to ensure your program has been accredited by one of the six regional accreditation agencies, which are all recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Online Teaching Degrees for (Almost) Everyone
Computers and the Internet have changed the way we communicate and exchange information, making it quicker, easier, and less expensive. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of education. Not only can you earn a degree online in almost any field of study, but many people also opt to learn how to become educators themselves through virtual resources. In fact, online teaching degrees in early childhood education and grades K-12 are two of the ten most popular online diplomas, according to The Best Degrees.
There are many advantages to learning online. Because you have 24-7 access to computerized curriculum, you can set your own schedule. You don't have to worry about showing up to class on time, and you aren't limited to regular classroom hours. This is a particular advantage for anyone who is trying to earn a degree while juggling other responsibilities such as a family or a job. Most online degree programs also let you learn at your own pace. Instead of carrying a full course load, you can choose to assume only a few courses at a time and take as long (or as short) as you need to complete them. With e-learning, you are also not restricted by geographical borders. You can earn a degree from out-of-state schools without commuting or relocating.
Best of all, because you are not paying for room and board or other maintenance expenses, earning a degree online is much less expensive than attending traditional colleges and universities. According to the College Board, yearly tuition for 2010-2011 (not counting room and board) ranged from an average of $6,428 at four-year public schools to $34,295 at private, nonprofit colleges. Compare that to the average cost of an online program from the most popular online degree-granting university, which is only $14,820.
Online teaching degrees are available at associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Associate's degrees in teaching, which usually take about two years to complete, can prepare you for transfer to a four-year bachelor's degree program. They can also lead to education-related jobs that don't require licensing, such as teacher's assistants, preschool instructors, or child care workers.
A four-year bachelor's degree, along with certification in certain areas such as reading, writing, math and teaching methods, is required for licensed teachers in almost all fifty states. The bachelor's degree does not have to be in education as long as the proper certification is also acquired. If you wish to teach at the college level or work as a school administrator, such as a principal or dean, you can go on to acquire a master's or doctoral teaching degree, which usually takes an additional two years to complete. A master's degree is also usually preferred for certain areas of teaching, such as special education.
Accelerated online teaching certification programs are also available in many states in order to ease the teacher shortage in high-demand subjects such as math, science, or ESL (English as a second language). These programs allow those who already have bachelor's degrees to take only the courses they need for certification.
A certain number of hours of supervised student teaching in a classroom setting are necessary parts of certification. So, earning an online teaching degree does not mean that you will be spending all of your time in front of a computer monitor. Online institutions usually have agreements with local schools in a student's geographical area in order to complete this aspect of your education.
Of course, online learning is not for everyone. Because no one will be checking on your attendance or progress, you must have a strong sense of self-discipline in order to complete your online courses in a timely manner. You should also reconsider e-learning if you are the type of person who needs personal feedback or face-to-face interaction with other students and teachers in order to feel motivated. You must also be knowledgeable about computers.