Online Education Degrees by Specialty
This comprehensive list of online education degrees is categorized by available specialties that aspiring education professionals can pursue. While there are online education programs available at all degree levels, a master’s degree is generally the most preferred for employment across all specialties. Master’s programs include concentrations in topics such as special education, higher education, early childhood education, and educational leadership, among others, offering a wide variety of possible tracks. Education, certification, and licensure requirements vary by state so be sure to check your state’s specifications.
Administration & Leadership
Specializing in an online educational administration and leadership program can lead to a career as a school principal at the elementary, middle, and secondary school level, or as a postsecondary administrator at colleges and universities. Education administrators manage student services, faculty research, academics, and admissions. While in exceptional cases a bachelor's degree may be accepted for entry-level positions, a master's degree in education administration or leadership is generally required in the profession and prepares the candidate for the state licensure exams. Additionally, most public school principals need to have former teaching experience. Graduate coursework covers the theoretical basics of management, instructional leadership, and data-driven decision-making, while offering courses in areas such as school law and finance, school-community relations, or K-12 administration. Postsecondary administration employment is expected to grow quickly over the next several years due to increased enrollment in higher education.
Curriculum & Instruction
Instructional coordinators can work in a variety of educational institutions, from public elementary and secondary schools to universities and professional schools. Also known as curriculum specialists and instructional coaches, coordinators develop and oversee school curriculums, teaching standards, and work year-round with teachers and principals to make sure changes are implemented. For those seeking employment as an instructional coordinator, a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction is required and can be obtained online. Coursework includes curriculum development and theory, educational testing and research, and instruction improvement. Specializations within the field include early childhood education, English as a second language, and special education. Instructional coordinators normally work as teachers or in school administration before getting a second degree. Public school coordinators are often required to pass a state licensure exam as well.
Early Childhood Education
Early childhood educators educate and care for children before they have entered kindergarten. Pre-K teachers use stories, games, and songs to teach basic reading, writing, math, and science. Preschool teachers typically need a high school diploma and an early childhood education certification at the very least. However, degree and training requirements beyond that vary depending on the teaching institution, whether it be a private or public school, childcare center, or community organization. Online early childhood education programs are available at the certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree level. Nationally recognized certification, such as a Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential or a Child Development Permit (CDP), are especially important for work in public schools and can be earned while already working with preschool children. Those interested in working in Head Start programs are well-advised to pursue a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. Coursework covers topics such as child development, strategies to teach young children, and methods of observing and documenting children’s progress.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct students in the foundation courses of math, reading, language arts, history, and science. To become an elementary school teacher, one must obtain a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education which can be completed online. In doing so, students learn the teaching methods and problem-solving skills necessary to manage a classroom. Coursework includes developmental and educational psychology, teaching principles, classroom management and learning assessment. Public school teachers must have a state teaching license, which generally requires completing a state-approved teacher training program and at least one year of teaching under supervision, in addition to completing a bachelor’s degree. Elementary school teachers can also acquire additional specialty certifications through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), which offers 25 different subject and development areas.
Postsecondary teachers educate students in career, technical, and academic subjects beyond the high school level while also conducting research and publishing scholarly works. While work schedules are quite flexible around class times, higher education teachers also spend time advising students, overseeing research associates, and working in department administration. Public or private colleges and universities require professors to have a doctoral degree in their field, while community colleges may accept teachers with only a master’s degree. Both of these education degrees can be completed online. Career and technical schools will often require work experience for their teachers. Since teachers at the higher education level are so specialized, course requirements will be more practical and research-based rather than theoretical. This normally means completing a doctoral dissertation of original research in the student’s field of study or working for several years as a research associate at an institution of higher education. While job growth in higher education is faster than average due to rising postsecondary enrollment rates, most faculty positions are expected to be only part-time.
An instructional technology master’s degree trains elementary and secondary teachers to incorporate technology into their lesson planning and work assignments. Online master’s degree candidates must already have their teaching license as well as teaching experience. Graduate coursework is designed according to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) and includes learning how to design, develop, and implement new strategies for teaching technology to young students. Students can also earn an education specialist (Ed.S.) certificate in instructional technology, receiving training to put educational theory into practice through internships, original research, or independent study in topics such as instructional video creation, educational software, or multicultural curricula. Doctoral degrees in instructional technology are also available for those who wish to continue their education beyond a master’s degree.
Reading & Literacy
Reading and literacy specialists help children and adults master basic English reading, writing, and language skills. At the kindergarten through secondary school levels, teachers typically pursue reading endorsement programs to broaden their expertise in the classroom. Adult literacy teachers use the skills learned in reading endorsement programs to help older students with literacy abilities at or below the middle school level earn their high school equivalent diplomas. States require a bachelor's degree in education, which can be completed online, as well as a teaching license and relevant experience. Certain states also require special certificates in adult literacy education or in teaching English as a second language (ESOL). The National Center on Adult Literacy (NCAL) and the System for Adult Basic Education Support (SABES) provide continuing education and professional development programs, training, and resources to adult literacy teachers. Adult literacy teachers often work part-time and are employed by community colleges, non-profit organizations, and public schools.
High school teachers instruct students in particular subject areas such as history, English, science, or math in order to prepare them for higher education or for entering the job market. High school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, if not in education then in the subject that they wish to teach. They must also have a state teaching license, student teaching experience, and a master’s degree, depending on the state in which they wish to teach. Options for online secondary education programs are available at the certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degree level. Alternative teaching licensure programs are available for aspiring educators who did not study education. These programs allow college graduates to start teaching immediately under the supervision of an experienced teacher while taking education courses to earn their master’s degree. Alternative teaching licensure programs also cater to teachers in high-need subject areas such as math, science, and informational technology.
Special education teachers work with students with various mental, physical, or emotional disabilities to teach basic subjects and skills, such as literacy, math, and communication methods. Special education teachers individualize their teaching methods in order to develop specific goals and curricula around each student’s abilities. Teachers may work one-on-one with a student within a general education class, or teach a group in a special resources class. In addition to working in public preschools and elementary, middle, and high schools, special education teachers may also work for private schools and childcare services. Special education teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in special education, which can be completed online. They also must obtain state teaching licensure in both K-12 education as well as special education teaching. Some states offer an alternative licensing program for college graduates who did not study education. Certain states and employers also require a master’s degree. Coursework typically includes classes in child assessment, educational psychology, behavior support, communication techniques, supervised classroom teaching, and curriculum development. Special education teachers can also pursue a specialized career path with an emphasis on certain areas such as speech impairments, deaf and hard of hearing, visual impairments, physical and health impairments, and early childhood special education.