Career Milestone Map for Adult Educators
There are a number of paths professional adult educators can take, but many begin by teaching courses in the evenings since that’s when most adult learners are available. The graphic below highlights one possible career path to becoming a full-time adult educator.
Takes college prep courses in creative writing and sociology
Majors in English literature
Works as a communications officer at a midsized business
Master’s in adult education
Earns teaching credentials through part-time degree program
Begins teaching evening classes at the local community college
Becomes a full-time English teacher for adults
Adult Education Degree Programs: The Online Model
The dawn of online learning brought about new opportunities for anyone looking for further education. Program flexibility allows students from all over the world to access quality programs, as a degree earned online is virtually the same as one earned on campus.
Most online programs are designed with traditional programs in mind. However, learning activities are modified to work in an online environment. Conversations typically take place in a discussion thread in the online learning system, and group work is completed through email, chat programs and conferencing tools such as Zoom or Skype. Many online programs offer asynchronous learning, allowing students to access course materials at any time. However, some have synchronous components that require students to be present at specific times.
Online adult education degrees have an added component that many other online programs do not: student teaching. Many colleges and universities require aspiring adult educators to demonstrate mastery of the program’s concepts through student teaching at a school near them. This could include shadowing an experienced and practicing teacher through several weeks of instruction.
Adult Education Degree Paths
People searching for an online degree in adult education have several options to choose from, depending on their current education level and their career aspirations. Furthermore, most programs are designed to both accommodate students’ interests and work around their schedules. Some of the most common program options are outlined below.
- Education Specialist
- Graduate Certificate
(Less than 1 year)
Some undergraduates just know they are destined to teach others, and they have a calling to help educate adults. While not offered in many universities, an online bachelor’s in adult education can prepare students for a career in education. These programs are often geared toward nontraditional students, and some require incoming students to have some work experience under their belt. As a result, programs are generally flexible while maintaining a cohort model in which students learn and grow together.
In an undergraduate adult education program, students become familiar with learning styles and adult learning theory as well as instructional design and foundations of continuing education and training. Some programs require students to spend time in a real work environment assisting another teacher or trainer. Graduates of this typically 120-hour degree are equipped to take on entry-level positions working in a corporate training environment.
Master of Education (MEd)
Aspiring college professors should first earn a Master of Education in adult education (also called a master’s in adult education) before pursuing a doctorate in the field. A master’s degree will allow the graduate to teach a specific content area as an instructor in a community college setting. This degree is usually about 33 to 36 credits long and focuses on practical ways to teach adults, delving into approaches to facilitate student learning and create positive classroom dynamics. Students also study research and theory and how it impacts the implementation of a specific curriculum. Most MEd programs require a student-teaching component, especially if the enrollee’s bachelor’s degree is in an area other than education.
Master of Arts (MA)
A Master of Arts in adult education fulfills the requirements for teaching in a community college setting. It also allows those who wish to train employees in a corporate environment the ability to move their careers forward. This degree is for students who wish to learn more about the pedagogy and theory of teaching, rather than focus on one particular area of concentration. Most programs are 36 credit hours and include courses in curriculum theory, organizational communication and multicultural strategies. Students learn how to communicate with diverse groups of learners in a variety of settings — including via social media and with trainees on-site. They study techniques to design curriculum and learning activities that speak to different learning styles and ability levels. Most programs utilize a wide range of technology to prepare graduates for the workforce.
An online education specialist degree (EdS) allows the graduate to work with adults in basic education programs, vocational education and technical programs at a higher level. Students pursue this degree because they hold a master’s degree and want to further their careers but aren’t ready to seek a doctorate degree. They want to move to a leadership role and gain the skills and knowledge to help both students and fellow teachers. The degree is around 30 to 33 credits and includes courses in communication strategies, leadership and educational ethics.
Doctor of Education (EdD)
A person with a Doctor of Education degree assesses, designs and implements educational programs for a variety of adult learners, either in a college setting or in another educational model. As a cumulative project, students in an EdD program often develop and implement an adult learning project in a real-world setting. Those who want to earn an EdD should hold a master’s in the field and be prepared to complete about 60 to 70 credit hours in adult learning theory, program planning, and adult learner management.
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
A PhD is a pathway to a career in scholarly research in adult education. In addition to researchers, graduates may also go on to become faculty members, university deans or community college presidents. Programs are usually about 90 credit hours and focus on adult learning theories in distance learning as well as research skills and critical analysis. Applicants should already hold a master’s degree or its equivalent in post-baccalaureate graduate work.
Adult educators who hold a bachelor’s degree but aren’t ready to move forward with a master’s degree or doctorate can earn a 12- to 15-credit online graduate certificate in the field. Students learn the history of adult education and how it’s delivered while also studying how courses are designed and delivered either online or face to face. Graduate certificates present a good stepping stone for graduates to get their feet wet in the industry.
Standard Adult Education Degree Courses
Online adult education degree courses vary depending on the degree level. However, some courses can be found at just about any level. Examples of such courses include:
Adult Basic Education
People who struggle through secondary education often go back to school as adults to acquire basic skills so they can be successful in the workforce. This course assists aspiring adult educators to assess these students and help them work within their abilities.
Curriculum Development in Adult Education
Curriculum courses teach students how to measure learning through assessment and to develop meaningful classes and learning activities.
Processes and Methods
Students learn what strategies and competencies they need to master in order to facilitate adult learning.
Research and Evaluation in Adult Education
Becoming proficient in research methods allows graduates to turn into lifelong learners as they grow their careers. Research courses help students select quality sources and evaluate trends in education.
Technology and Innovation in Adult Learning
Technology — online or other — is used in many adult learning programs, so students must learn how to use tech to design, implement and assess learning.
Selecting an Online Adult Education Degree Program
Online adult education programs abound, from the bachelor’s to the doctoral level. And because they offer flexible scheduling, they are convenient too. Some things prospective students should do as they research programs are:
- Decide which degree type fits their career goals, time frame and budget before getting too far in the research process.
- Identify the prerequisites for the degree they would like to pursue.
- Check the accreditation status of the college.
- Determine if the college meets their state’s certification requirements.
- Find out if the school has on-site or student-teaching requirements.
- Call shortlisted schools and talk to adult educators about the reputation of the schools.
- Find out what support services are available for online students, including tutoring, career advising and counseling.
- See what financial aid options the program and/or school has.
Accreditation of Adult Education Teaching Programs
When researching the best institution for a degree in adult education, it is important to look for one that is accredited. While accreditation is optional, it’s a good indicator of a quality program that is in tune with today’s workforce needs. Accreditation illustrates that the college and/or specific program took measures to ensure it offers quality programming for students. Students should look for two things. First, the school as a whole should be accredited by a regional accrediting body. Second, the online adult education degree program should be accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. For more information about accreditation, visit our page on the process.
Prepping for a Doctorate in Adult Education Teaching
Wanting to earn a doctorate in adult education is one thing, but figuring out how to make that happen is quite another. Keeping a timeline of the steps to take is key. The timeline below is just one example, though deadlines will vary by school.
||Time Before Program Start Date
Earn a bachelor’s degree
Get an entry-level education job
|5 years, 9 months
Earn a master’s degree in education
Apply to desired program(s)
Acquiring additional skills and building an exceptional resume is a great way to stand out in a crowded field of doctoral program applicants. Some things educators can do to gain an extra edge include:
- Volunteering at a local adult education nonprofit organization
- Establishing a leadership position in a professional education association
- Publishing work in an education trade journal
Adult Educators: Job Growth and Salary Figures
A degree in adult education can be the start of a rewarding career. There are a number of different career paths one can take, all of which are expected to grow in the coming years. Earning a master’s degree in adult education allows the graduate to pursue a job as an administrator in a postsecondary institution or design curricula for a corporate training organization. A master’s degree also provides a stepping stone to supervisory roles.
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook
Teaching Credentials and Professional Certifications for Adult Educators
Some adult education jobs require specific credentials in order to teach in certain states. While others don’t require credentials, additional certifications nonetheless boost job candidate’s value.
Adult Education Teaching Credential
Every state has different requirements for educators of adults. Below is a typical path to earning an adult education teaching credential. However, it’s best for educators to contact their state’s department of education for specific requirements. Students who enroll in an online program in another state should be certain that the program fulfills the requirements of the state they plan to teach in.
- Earning a master’s degree or higher in the discipline they want to teach
- Completing student teaching requirement, if necessary
- Passing credentialing exams
- Undergoing a background check
- Applying for an adult education teaching credential, if required
Adult Education Teaching Certifications
Adult education professionals can earn additional certifications beyond a teaching credential to further their careers and increase their knowledge of teaching and learning. Two such certifications include:
English as a New Language (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards)
Master Instructional Designer (Association for Talent Development)
Related Online Teaching Programs
Some aspiring adult educators may find that, after doing their research, the career simply isn’t for them. For people interested in teaching younger students instead, some similar online degrees to look into are below.
Online Teaching Degrees in Early Childhood Education
Early childhood teachers work with children from birth to age five. Programs in this area focus on brain and motor skill development for young children as well as strategies to meet the educational needs of a very dependent population.
Online Teaching Degrees in Special Education
Special education teachers are trained to teach students with physical or intellectual challenges that prevent them from learning in a traditional classroom. In a special education teaching program, students learn to work with students in and out of the classroom.
Useful Websites for Adult Educators