6 Things to Know before You Teach Online

Posted by on Thu, Aug 14, 2014

online teaching certificate


Teaching online classes can be a great way to earn extra income for professionals with teaching credentials or industry expertise. As the market for online learning continues to grow, there are more opportunities for online teaching jobs than ever before. In the field of higher education, both online and traditional colleges now hire distance educators as do adult education organizations, businesses, and tutoring companies. There are also online teaching opportunities in the K–12 market in both public and private schools.

Although no special training is mandated to teach online (online instructors need the same credentials as classroom teachers), those who acquire a certificate in online instruction should have a competitive edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace, as well as the benefit of learning what works well and what doesn’t in an online classroom. Online students can be savvy consumers who have grown up using the web and expect their instructors to engage them with properly integrated, online course materials and media resources. If you want to teach online, make sure you’ve taken some online courses yourself to learn what they’re like from a student’s perspective.

[Earn a graduate certificate in online college teaching.]

Ask yourself these 6 questions before you teach online:

1. Who are the students?

Where do they come from?
Online courses may be national or international in scope. This will affect how and when you communicate with your students when you teach online as well as raise issues about access to materials you assign (for instance, websites available in the United States may be blocked in other countries). When going global, make sure you have plans for taking global English into account, can make back-up materials available to those who cannot access something you’ve assigned, and be clear about what time zone you are referencing when you announce due dates and office hours.

What are their ages?
Expect differing levels of computer skills, especially for students who didn’t grow up using computers. Some may have worked extensively with technology already, while others may be newcomers. Be prepared to offer extra technological support to those who need it, including instruction in chat room participation and uploading or downloading materials.

If your students have grown up with the web as their main source of news and entertainment, be prepared to integrate course materials that will challenge them to dig deeper and learn more. These students are not accustomed to absorbing material passively from “talking heads.” Remember that the web is interactive, and they will expect to use it that way.

2. How many students will I teach?

Online courses may have limited enrollment, or in the case of MOOCs (massive open online courses), they may be open to anyone in the world. Make sure you know what is expected of you in terms of communicating with your students and how you will grade their work. The more participants there are in your course, they more you may need to rely on grading technology when you teach online. For instance, you may need to move toward multiple choice exams and away from personal essays. You must also keep track of time zone and language differences in an international classroom.

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3. Is the course going to be taught in real time?

Some online courses are taught live, some allow students to download the materials and work on their own schedules, and some blend components of both methods. Courses that require student-teacher interaction in real time are less flexible for instructors than those that are self-paced, so make sure you understand the time commitment involved in teaching a synchronized class. Ask your employer if you are expected to respond to your students within a specific period of time (usually 24 to 48 hours) as this will effect the personal freedom you might be seeking by teaching an online course.

4. Is my course ADA compliant?

The federal government has made it clear that online courses must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. After Arizona State University was sued for requiring students to use the Kindle e-reader, which was not accessible to blind students, a survey was conducted in which 183 colleges and universities were asked who was responsible for making sure online courses were ADA compliant. One third of the colleges said it was the course instructor. The point here is that since no standards have yet been set, you need to be proactive; ask your employer if they have any compliance plans while also making sure you familiarize yourself with the ADA’s requirements.

5. How will I be paid?

Most online instructors are paid a flat fee when they teach online, but some are paid per student. If students drop out in the latter case, you will be paid less, so it may be worth your while to help your students solve problems that cause them to leave.

Surveys indicate that online instructors are typically paid between $1,500 and $2,500 per semester-long course. Variables that will affect your income include how long a semester is, what credentials you have, the subject matter you teach as well as where you teach it, and any limits that are placed on the number of courses you can teach at one institution. At the college level, many online instructors work as adjunct professors at a number of schools.

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6. What training will I receive?

Even with a background in online instruction, it may be necessary to undergo training in the particular technologies your employer uses for their online courses. Many employers require this, but not all pay you for the time it takes. If this is a deal-breaker for you, be sure to ask up front if you will be paid for the time you spend in training.

Teaching online can be a rewarding way to interact with students of all ages and nationalities. Instructors who teach online can find job opportunities in both education and business and the chance to command  flexible work schedules, if that is the goal. Teaching online requires an additional set of technological skills, however, and updating your skill set to include this constantly evolving medium is important to make online teaching rewarding for both you and your students.

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