Online Instructor Employment Opportunities and Job Outlook

Research online instructor career information. Learn about the job duties, education requirements and salary to make an informed decision about becoming an online instructor.

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Online Instructor Career Overview

Distance learning in higher education is a popular and growing alternative to attending classes on campus. Many colleges and universities seek faculty members in diverse subjects to meet student demand for online education. Online instructor positions are often available on a part-time basis, and full-time faculty members may teach all or some of their courses online. Several schools encourage faculty to develop online courses by awarding stipends.

Job Requirements

Academic requirements for online college instructors are similar to those for their campus-based counterparts. For example, an August 2012 review of job postings for online instructors revealed a desire by employers to recruit candidates with a master's or doctoral degree in the teaching subject, as well as time-management, problem-solving and interpersonal skills. Beyond skills in planning lessons, facilitating discussions and evaluating student performance, online instructors need to be comfortable with online learning technology and know how to use online instructional tools to engage and motivate students.

Training Info

Although online instructors may receive training from some employers in how to navigate course management systems and maximize the potential of online learning tools, aspiring online instructors may also complete certificate programs in online teaching. Courses in these programs may cover development of online courses, as well as the pedagogical concepts and technical skills required to effectively teach in a virtual environment. Specific topics may include multimedia skills, copyright issues, online curriculum design and online teaching methods. Similar certificate programs are also available in the growing field of K-12 online education.

Employment Opportunities for Online Instructors

The phenomenon of online education is the focus of several studies, many of which have traced its growth and projected expansion. Some of these studies indicate that job opportunities for online instructors may be more prevalent in certain fields of study and types of institutions than others. A 2011 survey of over 2,500 colleges and universities, conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, showed a roughly 10% increase in the number of students taking online courses between 2009 and 2010. The survey also revealed that over six million students participated in online education during the 2010-2011 school year. This same report, 'Going the Distance: Online Education in the United States, 2011,' indicated that about 65% of the schools surveyed consider development of online learning critical to their long-term strategies.

This survey also indicated that business and computer science students participated in online education with greater frequency than other students. Additionally, online courses and programs in health disciplines were discovered to be on the rise to meet the fastest-growing segment of student demand. Furthermore, according to a 2008 report released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), online course participation was most frequent among undergraduates at community colleges, and for-profit, 4-year schools were the largest providers of online degree programs. Employment opportunities for online instructors may therefore be more prevalent in community colleges and for-profit universities, particularly in business, computer science and healthcare disciplines.

Additional Opportunities

Online education is widespread, and qualified online instructors may find opportunities outside of higher education in teaching adult basic education, enrichment and corporate training courses online. Increasingly, certified K-12 teachers are working in virtual classrooms. In a 2008 survey of public school district administrators about K-12 online learning conducted by the Sloan Consortium, about three-fourths of all respondents reported they had students enrolled in fully online or hybrid courses. Most districts predicted that their online course enrollment of K-12 students would increase.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't collect data specifically for online instructors; however, it does provide job outlook information for postsecondary teachers in general (www.bls.gov). The BLS predicted that job opportunities for postsecondary teachers would increase by 19% from 2012-2022, which indicated as faster than average growth compared to all other occupations. Rising enrollment in higher education institutions should generate these new job opportunities.

For-profit schools were expected to offer the fastest job growth for postsecondary teachers, but overall growth in this profession was vulnerable to state and local budget constraints. Although tenure-track positions are becoming increasingly competitive, more adjunct and part-time positions should become available.

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