Online Degree in Elementary Education

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Lifelong Learners

More than 1.5 million elementary teachers currently work in the United States, all of them shaping the lives of children in their own ways. Yet elementary education goes beyond classroom teaching; it also affords opportunities in areas such as research, administration and public policy, allowing individuals to tailor their academic pursuits to match their personal and professional goals. Learn more about online elementary education degrees, including curriculum content, careers after graduation, and certification steps.

Major Milestones for Elementary Educators

The individualized nature of education is a boon to students who can forge a path that best suits their strengths and interests. Below is an example of how one student leveraged a specialized interest into an elementary teaching career.

High School

Works as writing tutor in school district program matching high school and elementary students


Obtains associate degree in elementary education from local community college

First Job

As teaching assistant, helps 5th-grade teaching team manage projects across grade level

Back to School

Obtains online bachelor’s degree in elementary education


Hired as second-grade classroom teacher, starts after-school reading club

Moving Up

Receives certification in reading and literacy; becomes reading specialist at K-6 level.

Key Elements of Online Teaching Degrees

Online elementary education degree programs are intended to mirror their campus-based counterparts, offering students the same immersive learning experience. Although the mode of instruction is different, these programs follow the same curriculum, and also include in-person student teaching practicums. Below is an overview of what to expect from an online program in elementary education.

Interactive Virtual Instruction

Students in online elementary education programs use learning management systems such as Blackboard to access course materials (e.g. readings and assignments), take tests, and interact with their professors and other students.


Typically, the same faculty members that teach on-campus courses serve as instructors and mentors for online students.

Online Proctored Examinations

Testing in online programs is similar to campus-based programs. Students may be required to participate in online proctored testing, which connects the student’s computer and screen (via webcam) to an online proctoring center where the student’s testing process is monitored.

In-Person Observations

In addition to a practicum in student teaching, some programs also require students to complete in-person observations at a local elementary or middle school.

In-Person Orientation

Although many programs offer online orientation, some online elementary education programs may require students to attend campus-based orientations or seminars.

Local Practicums

Student teaching is a critical component of teacher preparation programs. These practicums vary by educational institution. Some online programs may have teacher placement agreements with local school districts, while others allow students to gain approval to conduct a student teaching experience at an elementary or middle school in their local area.

Technology Requirements

Online learners need access to a convenient, reliable computer that has a high-speed Internet connection and the latest version of a Web browser. Some programs have online proctored exams that require a webcam, microphone, speakers and headphones.

Levels of Online Degrees in Elementary Education

Becoming an elementary school teacher requires that students complete both teacher preparation and bachelor’s degree programs. The bachelor’s degree is considered the minimum educational requirement, and many programs—both undergraduate and graduate—combine teacher licensure elements with the standard degree curriculum. Through a blend of theoretical and practical instruction, online elementary education degrees prepare educators to teach all subjects in K-6 classrooms.

  • Associate’s
    (2 years)
  • Bachelor’s
    (4 years)
  • Master’s
    (2 years)
  • Doctorate
    (4 to 6+ Years)
  • Graduate Certificates
    (1-3 years)

Associate degree programs in elementary education are preparatory in nature, allowing students to complete the first two years of a four-year teacher education program. Offered at junior and community colleges, instruction includes general education courses that help prepare students for state-required basic skills examinations. Because curriculum varies from college to college, students should request the curriculum from their targeted four-year institution to ensure their credits transfer appropriately. To graduate, students typically complete 60 credit hours of study.

The Bachelor of Science in elementary education qualifies graduates to pursue licensure at the elementary level, either K-6 or K-8. Students complete both knowledge- and concept-based coursework, as well as field experiences in student teaching. Spread across 120 to 128 credit hours of study, instruction is divided between general education classes, core coursework, electives, and a student-teaching practicum. Covering central concepts in elementary education, such as curriculum and instruction, classroom management, pedagogical theory and trends, and research, these courses prepare students to become effective classroom leaders.

The master’s degree in elementary education is a multifaceted program designed both to qualify students for first-time licensure as a teacher, as well as to advance the careers of experienced teachers. Master’s students also gain the foundation for future doctoral studies. There are two different academic tracks available at the master’s level, the Master of Education (MEd) and the Master of Arts/Master of Science (MA/MS).

  • Master of Education The Master of Education is oriented toward professional skill development, with coursework that focuses on the concepts and techniques educators use in the classroom.
  • Master of Arts/Science The Master of Arts and Master of Science are humanities- and research-based, respectively. Coursework is typically broader, and places less emphasis on professional skill development.

Within each degree track come different academic options, each with a separate type of curriculum.

  • Initial Licensure These master’s programs include general elementary education courses and—typically—multiple student-teaching practicums. Students are required to take the Praxis I and Praxis II tests in their endorsement area. Upon graduation, students are qualified to apply for a teaching license.
  • Non-Licensure The MEd degree commonly offers a non-practicum degree option, with curriculum that concentrates on professional skill development, for educators seeking to advance in their careers.
  • Certification These programs are for licensed elementary and middle school teachers who want to add an additional subject- or content-based endorsement to their teaching licenses. These programs generally include a student-teaching practicum.

Credit hours and time to completion vary widely by program. Many require 30 to 36+ credit hours, completed over two to three years of full-time study.

Doctoral programs in elementary education are the highest level of degree in elementary education. They are designed for licensed educators who want to pursue research-focused careers or move into administrative and educational leadership positions. There are two distinct academic tracks at the doctoral level: Doctor of Philosophy and Doctor of Education.

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Doctor of Philosophy programs are for individuals who want to conduct original research in elementary education, in areas such as curriculum development, educational technology and student assessment. Depending on the program, students are required to complete between 55 and 90 credit hours of study, usually divided between core coursework, major and minor classes, and electives. They must also write and defend a dissertation.
  • Doctor of Education (EdD) The Doctor of Education is for educators who want to pursue administrative and supervisory positions, such as principals or superintendents. Curriculum focuses on transforming educational theory into practical applications in the classroom. Like the PhD, the EdD divides coursework between core classes, electives and major requirements. This allows students to explore academic areas of interest such as student behavior, curriculum development and instructional performance. Required program hours vary widely, typically between 54 and 90 credits, and students must produce an original dissertation.

A graduate certificate in elementary education is another option for individuals with a bachelor’s degree who want to earn a K-8 teaching license, or who wish to add a second endorsement to their existing teaching license. These non-degree teacher preparation programs usually require between 15 and 45 credit hours of study to complete. For individuals in initial licensure certificate programs, a student-teaching internship may be required. Curriculum covers the foundational principles of teaching elementary education, including the study of educational technology, curriculum development, literacy, and subject areas such as mathematics and science. Most programs require students to pass the Praxis subject assessment test as designated by their state for licensure.

Specialization Tracks in Elementary Education

Students may also choose to specialize their studies in a degree concentration; specialty areas vary by specific program, but common concentrations in elementary education include the following:

  • Autism
  • Child Development and Learning
  • Computer Education
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Gifted and Talented Education
  • Health Education
  • Library Science
  • Reading and Literacy
  • Special Education

Common Elementary Education Degree Courses

Elementary education curriculum is designed to prepare educators to teach in K-6 and, in some programs, K-8 classrooms. The curriculum is divided between instruction in knowledge-based areas such as literacy, science and social studies, and field practicums that provide students with hands-on learning in real classrooms. Below is a list of common coursework students may encounter in online elementary education degree programs.

Course Description
Family Culture and School

Covers family dynamics and the role they play in the education of children. Topics include family structures, family values, socioeconomic factors, and strategies for communicating with and involving families in instructional planning.

Communication Skills and Reading Comprehension

Introduces core concepts in reading instruction, covering subjects such as reading development and reading programs, teaching methodologies, and modern research in language arts.

K-6 Classroom Management

Prepares future educators to become effective communicators in the classroom, learning how to manage classrooms, develop systematic strategies to lead students, employ techniques to keep students on task, and foster an open atmosphere of communication in the classroom.

Instructional Design and Curriculum

Explores instructional design in teaching and learning in the elementary classroom, covering principles of assessment and curriculum development and how to apply them in designing appropriate approaches to instruction.

Technology for Teachers

Examines the role of technology in education, providing students with an understanding of how to leverage technology to facilitate student growth, how to integrate technological learning tools (such as the Internet), and how to conduct research and student assessments.

Choosing an Online Elementary Education Program

The decision to earn an online elementary education degree requires research and preparation. Future students should ensure their chosen program meets accreditation standards, provides a comprehensive curriculum, qualifies them for licensure examinations, and uses an online instructional delivery system that meshes with their learning style. Below is a checklist of factors students should consider to select the right online elementary education program.

  • Is the program accredited? Attending a program accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is a must, as this is required to earn licensure and certification in each state.
  • Is the program state-approved? The Department of Education in each state maintains a list of approved teacher preparation programs. Attending a state-approved program is typically required to be eligible for teacher certification and licensure in each state.
  • Does the program offer local practicums? Students should seek out programs that allow them to complete their student teaching internship and field experiences at a local elementary school. Some universities may not be able to offer placements in certain states.
  • Are courses taught by full-time faculty? Students should review the program faculty, ensuring that it doesn’t rely heavily on part-time or adjunct faculty.
  • What grades are qualified for licensure? Different programs cover different grade levels (e.g. K-6, Pre-K-6, or 1-8), so students should check the scope of grades covered.

Elementary Education Program Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary review process of institutions and educational programs that ensures adherence to recognized quality standards. The primary accrediting body for teaching programs is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Example accreditation standards include content and pedagogical knowledge, clinical partnerships, program quality, and program impact. It is important to attend an accredited program, as most state boards of education require it for licensure.

To learn more about the accreditation process, visit our page on accreditation and accrediting bodies.

Preparing for a Master’s in Elementary Education

The admissions processes to online programs in elementary education are structured somewhat differently, and students should familiarize themselves with the necessary steps, due dates and deadlines required by their targeted programs. Below is a sample preparation timeline for an individual with a bachelor’s degree in a different field who wishes to complete a master’s program.

Time Before Program Start Date
Step 1

Complete bachelor’s degree (any field)

1 to 4+ Years
Step 2

Complete master’s program prerequisite coursework (e.g. language arts, social sciences)

1 to 2 Years
Step 3

Request official college transcripts and letters of reference, and prepare professional resume

6 months
Step 4

Write professional statement/essay or prepare professional portfolio

6 months

Step 5

Prepare and submit application

3 to 10 months

Postsecondary education can be competitive, especially at the graduate level where many programs receive more applications than there are spots available. Prospective candidates seeking entrance to a master’s program in elementary education should take the necessary steps to be as competitive as possible during the application process. Below are some ways students can polish their applications and improve their chances for admission

Tailor your resume

Resumes should demonstrate how students’ professional experience relates to education, as well as their readiness to take on the academic rigors of graduate study.

Serve as a substitute teacher

Developing real-world experience in the classroom as a substitute teacher not only demonstrates a commitment to education, but allows candidates to refine the skills necessary to being a successful educator.

Work as a volunteer

Prospective elementary school teachers can volunteer with children- or youth-focused organizations (e.g. Boys and Girls Club) to gain experience working with similar student populations.

Build subject expertise

Elementary education teachers need to possess solid subject knowledge in a range of areas, from social studies to literacy. Brushing up on core subjects through professional development or refresher courses can help candidates show their willingness to learn and develop their content knowledge.

Elementary Education: Salary & Career Outlook

Multiple variables impact the occupational growth for elementary school teachers, including state and local district budgets and enrollment projections. Overall, the U.S. Department of Education projects a national enrollment of more than 36 million students in grades K-8 nationally by 2020; that translates to a nationwide growth rate of 6 percent for kindergarten and elementary school teachers between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earnings for elementary school teachers range from approximately $33,000 to upward of $80,000 per year. The following chart shows how elementary school teacher salaries compare to other careers in education.

Career National Median Annual Salary (May 2014) National Projected Job Growth (2012 – 2024) Minimum Education
Elementary School Teachers $54,120 6% Bachelor’s Degree
Childcare Worker $19,730 5% High School Diploma
Preschool Teacher $28,120 7% Associate Degree
Teacher Assistant $24,430 6% Some College, No Degree
Special Education Teacher $55,980 6% Bachelor’s Degree

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Teaching Licensure & Professional Certifications

Before standing in front of a classroom, most prospective educators need become certified to teach through state licensure, although it’s worth noting that some private schools may not require this. Students may also choose to complete optional professional certification programs to enhance their skills and advance their careers. Below is an overview of the teaching credentialing and certification process.

Elementary Education Teaching Credential

Licenses are administered at the state level, with rules and regulations established by individual state boards of education. Typically, there are three major components: 1) education; 2) knowledge competency examinations; and 3) field experience. Below is a checklist of common licensing steps for elementary school teachers.

Elementary Education Teaching Certifications

Elementary school educators may also choose to pursue advanced professional credentials and training to expand their knowledge and potentially advance their careers. Credentialing programs are available from several organizations, including the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, as well as the American Board.

  • National Board Certification

    The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards sponsors certification in 25 subject areas across K-8 education. Applicable elementary-level certificate areas include the following:

  • Art
  • English as a New Language
  • Exceptional Needs Specialist
  • Generalist (Ages 3-8)
  • Library Media
  • Literacy
  • Music
  • Physical Education
  • School Counseling

Related Online Teaching Degree Programs

Students interested in a career in education, but who do not wish to concentrate on the elementary level, may select from a variety of teacher preparation programs that open up the field to working with children of different ages—from infants and toddlers to high-schoolers. Below are three related educational paths of study for individuals interested in becoming teachers.

Online Degrees in Child Development

Online child development programs prepare educators to work in the field of early education. Courses are designed to equip teachers with fundamental knowledge and skills to fashion effective learning environments for young children in a variety of professional roles and work environments.

Online Degrees in Early Childhood Education

Online early childhood education programs are founded upon the core principles of youth development, following curriculum standards established by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Offered at the associate, bachelor’s and graduate levels, these programs prepare educators to work in both public and private youth-focused organizations, such as public schools or Head Start.

Online Degrees in Secondary Education

Online degree programs in secondary education prepare students to assume teacher positions in K-12 classrooms in specific subject areas, such as social studies, science, mathematics or English. Available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, secondary education programs include both classroom-based and field learning experiences—equipping students with the skills necessary to become effective educators.

Elementary Education Organizations & Resources