Online Professors: Salary and Career Facts

Learn about a career as an online professor. Examine the qualifications, job opportunities, typical job duties, and earnings potential for professors who teach online classes. Schools offering Adult Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Online Professor?

Professors instruct postsecondary students. Online professors perform this task in a virtual classroom setting. Students access the class through a computer and the Internet. Online professors must be familiar with virtual classroom software, computers and must also perform all the other tasks a professor is responsible for. They develop lesson plans and teach classes, assign work to students and use tests and papers to assess student progress. Professors also commonly work on their own research, with a goal of publishing their findings. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did not have data on how many professors instruct students online; online professors can expect to work in an office or room with a computer and any equipment necessary for demonstrating tasks to their students, or illustrating concepts that they're teaching.

Online Professor
Degree Required Usually a master's degree and doctorate
Key Duties Plan lectures, post course materials online, assess and teach students, publish research
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 13% (all postsecondary teachers)
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $63,000 (postsecondary teachers, all other)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Qualifications Will I Need to Work as an Online Professor?

Distance learning is a viable option among working adults and students who, for whatever reason, cannot attend classes on campus. Most higher education institutions offer courses and degree programs exclusively online and need instructors to run these courses. As with most post-secondary teaching positions, you will need an advanced degree to qualify for a career as an online professor.

Most major colleges and universities require online professors to hold a master's or a doctoral degree in their field. If you plan to teach graduate-level courses, you'll probably need a doctoral degree, while undergraduate courses usually require a master's degree. The field in which you plan to teach can also determine the level of education required. For instance, some schools prefer to hire teachers with work experience within their field of expertise and may be more lenient when it comes to educational requirements.

In addition to your degree, some employers prefer candidates with online teaching experience. Firsthand experience with online courses is also good preparation for a career as an online professor. You may consider taking some of your coursework online to become familiar with requirements, materials, and overall structure of online classes.

What Job Opportunities Will I Have?

Once you have your degree, you can pursue online teaching jobs at a variety of educational institutions. Most online positions are for non-tenured adjunct faculty. Community colleges, as well as some 4-year schools, often hire adjunct professors to teach online courses on a part-time or temporary basis.

With your degree, you could also work at alternative high schools, in educational programs that offer online career-oriented education designed for working adults or as an online tutor. Common job titles include distance faculty, online instructor, or distance education instructor.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

As an online professor, you will be responsible for adapting regular on-campus classes for online use. This may involve posting a variety of course materials to the Web, including video and audio lectures, tests, assignments, interactive exercises, and class discussion forums. Alternatively, you may design original courses with materials specifically geared for online environments. You'll be working one-on-one with students, providing project feedback, grading assignments, and answering questions.

Besides working with students, you may be required to attend faculty meetings and seminars, which may be held online or on-campus depending on the school. You may also have to prepare reports on student progress for your faculty monitor.

What Can I Expect to Earn?

Your salary may vary according to the place of employment, geographic location and field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professors working for junior colleges tend to earn higher salaries on average than those in colleges, universities and professional schools. The median annual wage of full-time postsecondary teachers of many subjects was $63,000 in May 2015, with the middle 50% earning between $43,020 and $90,250. Part-time adjunct teachers often earn less than full-time tenured professors and have fewer benefits (www.bls.gov).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that high school teachers and career and technical education teachers do is similar to the work of an online professor. High school and career and technical education teachers need a bachelor's degree and a teaching licensing. They prepare lesson plans, teach classes and evaluate the progress of their students through tests and assignments. The key difference is that they meet with their students in person. Distance learning coordinators work with online instructors and relay information about the materials, programs and services that will be available. They may also train online instructors. They usually need a master's degree to enter their career field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Capella University

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    • Doctoral
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