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How to Become an Online Instructor in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for online instructors. Get the facts about duties, education requirements, professional licensure and employment outlook to determine if this is the right field for you.

What Does An Online Instructor Do?

Online instructors perform the same duties as class teachers. The key difference is that they use the Internet to deliver instruction to their students. They may work with children of all school grades, and may teach one subject or a number of subjects. Online instructors follow curriculum guidelines to develop their lesson plans and use tests and assignments to assess student progress. They may also need to address issues about student performance or behavioral issues, such as failing to complete work. Online instructors who teach elementary, middle or high school students need a bachelor's degree, while those who teach at the postsecondary level need a master's or doctoral degree.

Online High School Teacher Online College Instructor
Degree Required Bachelor's degree Master's degree, Phd preferred
Education Field of Study Education, various subject areas All disciplines
Training Required Student teaching None
Licensure/Certification State license required, optional certification available Only required for specific disciplines
Job Growth (2020-2030) 8% (for all high school teachers)* 12% (for all postsecondary teachers)*
Average Salary (2020) $67,340 (for all high school teachers)* $86,430 (for postsecondary teachers, all other)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Is an Online Instructor?

You will teach students virtually over the Internet, which requires you to understand both technology and education. You may teach for businesses, high school completion programs, colleges, Internet-based schools or organizations. Working over the Internet may mean that you never come face-to-face with your students. Your job will typically involve adapting and teaching courses for online instruction as well as distributing and scoring assignments. Good communication skills will help you write clear instructions and assignment synopses and come in handy for attending virtual classroom meetings, commenting on discussion threads and communicating through e-mails.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Completing a bachelor's degree program is typically the first step to becoming a teacher. To qualify for teaching at the elementary and secondary school levels, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree. This level of education will also be required to become licensed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You can either major in education or the subject you plan to teach, like math, science or English. These programs usually include a classroom practicum, allowing you to gain hands-on experience in a classroom setting.

Step 2: Obtain Your Teaching Licensure

The BLS reports that every state requires public school teachers to be licensed (www.bls.gov). State requirements vary, but they generally require you to have at least a bachelor's degree and a minimum number of supervised teaching hours. If you're interested in online teaching for community colleges or universities, this step may not be necessary. Check with your state's department of education to see if this step applies to you.

Step 3: Earn Voluntary Certification

Like the step above, earning certification isn't necessary unless you want to teach kindergarten through high school students. Having voluntary certification may improve your marketability as an online instructor. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers 25 certifications in 16 areas (www.nbpts.org). These certifications, which are recognized by every state, cover all major subjects and age categories, plus school counseling and library media.

Step 4: Work as a Classroom Teacher

Some online employers will ask what classroom experience you have. You would benefit from having experience as a classroom teacher prior to seeking a job as an online instructor. If you've followed all the above steps, you can find work with a primary or secondary school. You'll need a graduate education to work at the postsecondary level.

Step 5: Pursue a Graduate Degree

You'll need at least a master's degree to teach college-level courses, according to the BLS. Community colleges and technical schools accept master's degree graduates as teachers; however, if an applicant with a doctorate degree applies, he or she may be chosen instead. Since many online instructors are part-time professors, 4-year online colleges might accept a master's degree holder. Some master's degree programs have emphases in online teaching, which will further prepare you to become an online instructor.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that online instructors do is very similar to the work of school teachers, postsecondary teachers and preschool teachers. All of these teachers must use curriculum guidelines to develop lesson plans and teach age-appropriate concepts and information to their students. They all use tests and assignments to assess student progress, and they may all have to address behavioral issues with their students. The key difference is that online teachers do not work with their students in person; they perform all of their tasks remotely and are only accessible online.