Online Education and Teaching Degree Programs

  • Discover how campus and online programs in education work, from tuition and fees to curriculum and tech. Find degree programs by cost, college type and location.
  • Learn how online education programs work at each academic level, from simple certificates to doctorate work in the field.
  • Find scholarships, internships and free open courses to help you get started on the right path. Explore career resources and salary tools to see what you can earn in your area.

When most people think of a career in education, they picture a teacher standing at the chalkboard in an elementary, middle, or high school classroom. However, the scope of a professional career in education can be much broader. Educators not only work as teachers in public schools, but also as college professors, vocational instructors, school administrators, instructional coordinators, teaching assistants, special education teachers and in many other highly-specialized positions.

As one might expect, the range of degree options for those interested in a career in education is as broad as the profession itself, ranging from associate degree and certificate programs for entry-level positions to doctoral degree programs for those who aspire to work at the very top of the profession. Given this broad range of career and degree options, it is not surprising that education courses of study are extremely popular at post-secondary institutions throughout the nation.

Online degree programs in education are plentiful, available from traditional, well-established colleges and universities, as well as from reputable primarily-online degree providers. Those considering an online degree program in education may find that their biggest problem will be sorting through all the available choices to find the one that best fits their specific needs. It is, therefore, important for an individual to have a firm understanding of his or her career goals before starting down the road of a formal post-secondary education program.

Types of Education and Teaching Degrees

The following is a brief overview of the most common online education degree choices currently available:

  • Associate Degree: An associate degree in education typically serves to prepare individuals for entry-level employment in jobs with titles such as “teaching assistant,” “teacher’s aide,” or “day-care teacher.” Popular programs at the associate degree level include elementary education and early childhood education. Online AA in Education degree programs are readily available, offered mostly by primarily-online providers. There are, however, a growing number of community colleges and state universities developing these types of distance-learning degree programs.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: Anyone interested in a career in education beyond an entry-level position will need to earn a bachelor’s degree. In fact, all states today require public school K-12 teachers to have a bachelor’s degree at minimum. Most school districts require kindergarten and elementary teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, while middle and high school teachers are often required to hold a degree in a specific subject area, such as mathematics, chemistry, geology, or English. In addition to majoring in a specific subject, most future teachers typically enroll in a teacher preparation program at their college or university where they will complete courses in such areas as fundamentals in teaching, teaching technology and child psychology.

    Online bachelor degree programs in elementary education, as well as in most core teaching subjects, are plentiful and offered by primarily-distance education schools and established public and private institutions alike.

  • Master’s and Doctoral Degrees: Master’s degree programs in a wide variety of education specialization subjects are extremely popular. Many states and school districts require that teachers with a bachelor’s degree and teaching certification also complete a master’s degree program in order to maintain their public school teaching positions. A doctoral degree in education is typically only required of those professionals who wish to advance into administrative or supervisory positions. Most individuals will pursue their post-graduate degrees while continuing to work as full-time teachers. As a result, online master’s (and even some doctoral) degree programs in education are abundant, giving working teachers the flexibility they need to fit a course of study into their busy lives.

What to Look for in an Education Degree Program

When evaluating education degree programs, especially those delivered online, many different factors should be considered: tuition, career goals and time-to-completion to name a few. However, the following two elements could be the most important:

  • Accreditation: As with any post-secondary education program, whether online or at a traditional brick-and-mortar campus, full accreditation is critical. Virtually all reputable degree programs in the United States will be accredited in two ways: institutional accreditation and academic accreditation. Institutional accreditation takes the form of regional accreditation by one of six agencies recognized by the Department of Education. Academic accreditation in the field of education is handled by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Anyone considering an online degree program should confirm that it is fully accredited both institutionally and academically.
  • State Licensing Requirements: All states mandate that public school teachers be licensed or certified in addition to meeting specific formal education requirements. Licensure requirements are complex and vary substantially from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. It is important, therefore, that anyone considering a degree program in education with an eye toward teaching (particularly in a public school) be fully acquainted with his or her state’s unique licensing requirements. An education degree program should prepare the graduate for state licensure and certification.
Education Certifications

Unlike most occupations, where professional certification typically refers to a credential awarded by any one of a number of professional associations and organizations, certification in the education field commonly refers to one of two types of credentialing: State licensing and certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

  • State Licensing: As discussed briefly above, all states require that a teacher be licensed by the state to teach in its public school system. Additionally, although not mandated by the state, many private schools also require that their teachers hold state licenses. Requirements vary by jurisdiction and often involve some form of tiered licensing scheme. Information regarding each state’s specific licensing requirements can be accessed through the U.S. Department of Education.
  • National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) Certification: The NBPTS is a non-profit, independent organization whose mission is to, among other things, “…advance student learning and achievement by establishing the definitive standards and systems for certifying accomplished educators.” NBPTS certification is an advanced credential that involves a rigorous, peer-reviewed process in which teachers must submit a “portfolio” that includes videos of their teaching abilities and student work samples. Candidates must also successfully complete a three-hour assessment examination. To be eligible for the certification process, a teacher must possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, complete three years of successful teaching and hold a valid state teaching license.

Education Internships/Practical Experience

Student teaching internship programs are extremely popular and, in many cases, a requirement for earning a college degree or teaching credential. In addition, many states employ internships as part of an alternative method to fulfilling certain licensing requirements for new teachers or experienced teachers locating from other jurisdictions. Whether specifically required or not, student internships are highly recommended for anyone seeking to enter the teaching profession. Internships are designed to provide an intensive, hands-on, real-life classroom experience that allows student teachers to develop and refine the skills and competencies learned in their college degree programs.

Internship programs are most commonly made available to student teachers through public school districts, independent private schools, and college and university education departments. As mentioned, these student teaching internships are often incorporated into the curriculum of degree programs. Anyone seriously considering an online degree in the education field should inquire into the availability of quality internships offered as part of the distance learning institution’s degree program.

Open Online Education Classes

Advanced Instructional Strategies in the Virtual Classroom

University of California-Irvine

This five-week course, consisting of short weekly lecture videos with embedded quiz questions, is designed to expand the student’s understanding of blended and online instruction, and to hone his or her skills in the implementation of instructional strategies.

Applying Principles of Behavior in the K-12 Classroom

University of Houston System

This four-week course focuses on how to conduct functional behavior assessment (FBA) and apply principles of behavior in the public school classroom. Topics include Foundations of Functional Behavior Assessment and Developing Function Based Intervention Methods. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a Statement of Accomplishment.

Designing for Deeper Learning: How to Develop Performance Tasks for the Common Core

Stanford University

Offered by the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE), this nine-week course focuses on building an educator’s capacity to use, develop and implement curriculum-embedded performance assessments that fit local contexts. It is designed for grade six to 12 teachers working in the core disciplines of mathematics, language arts, history/social studies and science.

Genetics and Society: A Course for Educators

American Museum of Natural History

is four-week course explores the social, legal and ethical issues surrounding modern-day genetics. Students will be given an understanding of the science and technology behind breakthroughs, such as therapeutic cloning and the sequencing of the human genome.

Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’

University of Wisconsin-Madison

This seven-week course is designed to examine issues related to the globalization of higher education and research. Its objective is to help students better understand how and why universities are globalizing, and the key implications of that process.

Inquiry Science Learning: Perspectives & Practices 4 - Student-Centered Inquiry

Rice University

The purpose of this course is to help teachers move from a top-down content delivery model of science instruction to one where the teacher acts as a guide, enabling students to create shared meaning of important science concepts. This four-week course is taught by university faculty and staff members.

Shaping the Way We Teach English, 1: The Landscape of English Language Teaching

University of Oregon

Co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, this course is one of two based on the internationally-recognized “Shaping the Way We Teach English” videos and corresponding resources. It is aimed at EFL instructors to provide effective approaches to English language teaching.

University Teaching 101

Johns Hopkins University

University Teaching 101 is a six-week course presented to provide higher education professionals and others with a foundational knowledge of the science of teaching and learning, and to help individuals develop skills and strategies for teaching at the university level.

Using the Next Generation Science Standards for Students’ Deeper Understanding

Rice University

This four-week course is designed to guide science educators toward an understanding of the NRC Framework and how to integrate the Scientific and Engineering Design Practices into their class instruction. The course is most helpful to science teachers with three or more years of teaching experience.


Most internship programs for student teachers are typically offered by local public school districts or private schools through associations with college and university education departments. Whether working on a degree online or through a more traditional institution, students should check with their school for available internship or student teacher opportunities. There are, however, a number of education internships to be found with private companies, government agencies, or non-profits. Examples include:

  • American Museum of Natural History

    Museum Education and Employment Program (MEEP) interns are responsible for developing and presenting themed tours to visiting camp groups and engaging visitors at educational touch carts in the Museum halls. The program provides on-the-job training and exposure to careers in science, museum education and related fields. Participants work closely with Museum scientists and educators exploring scientific content and learning valuable skills for working with and teaching learners of all ages. Interns must be New York City residents.

  • Association of American Universities

    The Association of American Universities offers two unpaid internships with a focus on science and higher education policy for college undergraduates in the spring, summer, and fall semesters.

  • Breakthrough Collaborative

    The Breakthrough Collaborative is a non-profit organization bringing together programs throughout the United States with the goal of effecting positive change at urban schools. Teaching internships for these programs are available to college students at locations throughout the country. Candidates are required to submit essays, a sample teaching video, transcripts, and a letter of recommendation. Internships are non-paid positions.

  • California Alternative Route to Certification (Intern Programs)

    This site provides information regarding the State of California’s preliminary teaching credential program, one that allows individuals the opportunity to complete required teacher preparation coursework concurrent with their first years in a paid teaching position. Prospective teachers must complete a minimum of 120 hours of intern pre-service preparation as a prerequisite to participation in the program.

  • Children’s Defense Fund

    The Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) is a non-profit child advocacy organization whose goal is to “ensure a level playing field for all children.” Approximately 70 undergraduate students, graduate students, and recent graduates intern in the CDF’s Washington D.C. office annually. Internship opportunities are available in a number of practice areas, including the CDC Freedom Schools program, which provides literacy-rich summer programs to disadvantaged communities.

  • Institute for Higher Education Policy

    The Jamie P. Merisotis and Colleen T. O’Brien Internship Program, named for the IHEP co-founders, provides an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to develop skills in administrative support, higher education policy, program management, and research. Each internship lasts for approximately 14 weeks and offers a stipend (amount varies based on experience and weekly availability).

  • PBS Station WGBH

    WGBH is a leading developer of educational media and resources, providing millions of teachers and students with curricula and tools that augment classroom capabilities and inspire learners of all ages to explore their world and discover new ones. Interns working on its Education team work on projects such as creating materials that give preschoolers their first glimpse of life beyond their backyard or developing resources that improve literacy and engage kids in science, technology, engineering, math and personal health.

  • Pell Education Research and Policy Internship

    The Pell Institute Education Research & Policy Internship program is a non-paid research experience that offers graduate students the opportunity to develop or refine research skills and cultivate an understanding of the nexus between education research, public policy, and educational practice. The internship can be four, eight or 12 weeks long and is open to students who are interested in gaining research experience in the higher education policy arena.

  • Smithsonian Science Education Center

    The Smithsonian Institution offers over sixty internship programs throughout its system of museums and offices. Of particular interest to student teachers is the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s internship program. Science Center internships are available to eligible high school, college undergraduate and graduate students in the Center’s Professional Services, Publications, and Finance & Administration Divisions. Paid internships for college students are ten weeks long and offer flexible start/stop dates.

  • Students First Leading Change Academy

    StudentsFirst’s Leading Change Academy is an internship program designed to provide top undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates with the opportunity to gain practical experience in a fast-paced, national education reform organization. Interns are charged with high-level work that is supplemented with professional development opportunities, including skill- building and policy workshops, participation in key organizational meetings, school site visits and networking opportunities.

  • Teaching for Change

    Teaching for Change provides fellows and volunteers with the chance to make a meaningful contribution to social justice education, hands-on experience, and opportunities to attend local and national forums on education. Internship opportunities are varied.

  • Urban Education Leaders Internship Program

    The Washington, D.C. Public Schools’ Urban Education Leaders Internship Program (UELIP) enables undergraduate, graduate and recent graduates to experience the work of managing an urban school district. UELIP Associates have the opportunity to participate in mission-critical projects for DCPS and to be on the front lines to see the positive changes to close the achievement gap being implemented in urban education.

  • U.S. Department of Education

    The U.S. Department of Education offers fall, spring and summer non-teaching internships to students interested in seeking experience in government and federal education policy and administration. Eligibility requirements include enrollment in an accredited educational institution, permission from the institution for participation and enrollment of no less than half-time in a course of study related to the work to be performed. These positions are available primarily in the Washington, D.C. area.

  • Zoo New England

    Zoo New England offers internships in its Education Program. Duties include assisting full-time education staff in conducting programs on and off-site, assisting with program development, conducting informal public presentations, developing full day school vacation week and/or summer day camp programming and assisting in the development of program assessment methods

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