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Best Online Master's Programs in Training & Development

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Updated on: 10/24/2018

Training and development professionals combine expertise in educational technology, instructional design, and teaching methods to help their organizations grow and change. Those with advanced skills acquired through graduate work in training and development are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 11% job growth for training and development specialists by 2026. A master’s degree can position you to compete for better jobs, earn more, or move into a leadership position. Training and development managers with master's degrees often command six-figure salaries, and these positions are also projected to grow at an above-average rate. This guide to online master’s degrees in training and development includes information about career pathways, sample courses, professional resources, and financial aid possibilities.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Training & Development Program?

In a master’s program in training and development, you learn to determine the training needs of your organization, develop effective trainings that engage adult learners, maximize the use of current technologies, and assess the impact of instruction. Courses include topics such as organizational change, needs assessment, qualities of adult learners, and instructional design. Some programs place more emphasis on human resource management, while others focus on teaching strategies or educational technology. Many programs require a final portfolio or capstone project that provides hands-on experience designing a training module for the workplace.

This degree typically requires 36 credits of coursework, and takes two to three years of part-time study to complete. On-campus feature similar course requirements to their online counterparts, but master’s in training and development online programs are generally more flexible regarding course sequence and pacing, better meeting the needs of working professionals.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in training & development program?

Each training and development master’s program requires different courses, depending on the school and department. However, all programs provide training in organizational needs assessment, selection and design of training materials, and teaching methods appropriate for adult learners. Refer to the sample courses below.

Organizational Change

In this course, students explore theories of organizational change that explain why and how organizations effectively restructure, create new processes, and respond to challenges. They also explore the role of talent development in meeting organizational goals. This course prepares training specialists to work as part of a leadership team responsible for determining organizational needs and goals.

The Adult Learner

Since the focus of all training and development work is adults in the workplace, it is essential to understand how adults learn best. This course describes the unique characteristics of adult learners. Participants learn to apply educational theory and practice in preparing instructional materials for the workplace, and the design of educational experiences that motivate and engage adults and foster collaboration.

Instructional Design

This course introduces the basic elements of instructional design theory and practice, including steps in the design process from needs assessment through evaluation. The appropriate and skilled use of current technologies by instructional designers enables them to create organized educational experiences in all industries, while also considering modern workplace realities.

Needs Assessment

This course covers techniques for determining an organization’s training needs. Needs assessment plays an essential role in workforce development. Training and development professionals identify the training needs of their workplace and create plans to meet those needs through professional development.

Integrating Technology

Employers particularly seek out professionals who can integrate digital media and educational technology into their trainings and course offerings. This course prepares training professionals to use the latest technology to create and enhance their instructional programs. Participants analyze how technology benefits and impacts teaching and learning.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Master’s in training and development online programs frequently include a final capstone project. This project requires students to demonstrate an advanced understanding of the entire workplace training or instructional design process. You select an organization or workplace and conduct a needs assessment, then develop a plan to meet the organization's training needs, creating at least one training module and all supporting materials. Your program may require you to deliver this instruction yourself, or prepare a presentation of your plan and materials. Finally, you may need to demonstrate how you would evaluate the effectiveness of your instruction and materials.

What specializations are available in a master’s in training & development program?

Many graduate degrees offer areas of specialization. Concentrations vary by school, usually depending on which department within the school offers the degree and whether the degree caters to working professionals in a particular field. We listed several common specializations for master’s in training and development online programs below.

Human Resource Administration

Some schools offer master’s programs in training and development, designed primarily for human resources professionals who wish to manage training programs, supervise trainers, and use training programs to create organizational change. This specialization in the business side of training adults prepares students for a leadership position in human resources.

Adult Education

Some programs in training and development emphasize the educational aspects of teaching adults. A master’s in education (M.Ed.) prepares graduates to design curricula, and become expert trainers. This specialization qualifies degree holders to teach in a variety of settings or train less-experienced instructors.

Instructional Design

Those interested in designing online courses and other instructional materials to incorporate technology may wish to specialize in instructional design. Instructional designers work with managers, content area specialists, technical specialists, and instructors to assess their organizations' training needs and implement effective training programs to meet those needs.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Training & Development Degree?

A master’s in training and development online opens the door to a variety of career paths, some of which are listed below. This degree prepares you to work for organizations that need talented instructors to train their employees. Many training and development professionals work in corporate human resources departments to deliver training programs that build a skilled workforce. This degree may enable you to pursue a more specialized position in the creation and design of training programs, teaching adults, or human resources management, or to take on leadership roles.

Training and Development Specialist

These specialists select or create, prepare, schedule, deliver, and evaluate trainings to meet the workforce development goals of corporate, nonprofit, and governmental organizations. Employers generally require a bachelor’s degree and prior professional experience for this position, though they may prefer a master’s degree or accept one in place of experience. The position requires strong communication and organizational skills. As workplace instruction increasingly incorporates technology, employers prefer specialists with expertise in educational technology and instructional design.

Training and Development Manager

This senior position typically requires a master’s degree, such as a master’s in training and development online. These managers collaborate with other organizational leaders to determine how workplace training programs can help their organizations grow and respond to change. Training managers oversee the development and implementation of training programs, supervise and train instructors and program developers, manage training budgets, and evaluate the impact of their programs.

Human Resources Specialist

These specialists work in human resources departments to hire and train new employees and manage the benefits, records, working conditions, and ongoing professional development of all employees. Most organizations with more than a few employees staff their own human resources departments. Human resources specialists with expertise in training can specialize in workforce development. A master’s degree in human resources with a focus on training and development can help you become a corporate trainer.

Human Resources Manager

These managers oversee human resources departments, which train employees, hire new staff, maintain employee records, and administer benefits. Human resources managers can work in almost any industry, often commanding high salaries. This position typically requires a master's degree, and a degree in human resources with a focus on training and development can qualify you for this senior leadership position.

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators typically work for school systems, though they may also work in other settings offering educational services, such as government agencies. These experienced professionals oversee curriculum development and ensure all instruction meets current standards. These coordinators may recommend teaching materials, strategies, or technological tools to teachers or administrators. This position generally requires a master’s degree and relevant work experience. A degree in education with an emphasis on training and development can help you move into this job.

Professional organizations offer training and development professionals a variety of opportunities for professional growth. They hold conferences, offer online courses, and provide resources, such as publications and videos. These associations inform professionals about the latest developments in their field through research, standards, best practices, and advocacy.

Association for Talent Development

ATD offers professional development to managers, trainers, and instructional designers through live, online, and self-paced courses, along with its extensive media library. ATD also provides skills certificates and professional certification in talent development.

Quality Matters Instructional Designers Association

QM IDA provides professional development, mentoring, job placement, and networking opportunities to instructional designers. Members gain information about the latest developments in their field, including research and best practices.

Society for Human Resource Management

SHRM leads advocacy efforts and provides human resources professionals with expert articles, sample workplace tools and documents, and updates on legal issues. It provides professional development through skills certificates, webcasts, and professional certification.

International Association for Human Resource Information Management

This association provides professional development through courses and webinars, conferences, and publications, such as journals. IHRM hosts an online community, offers professional certification, and runs a nonprofit foundation that fosters research in the field.

National Human Resources Association

This nonprofit provides professional development and networking opportunities to human resources professionals, such as meetings, workshops, and conferences. It also provides more flexible online offerings, such as webinars and podcasts. Members may join local affiliates.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Training & Development?

As you see in the chart below, training and development professionals typically earn more than $60,000 a year, and those in management roles can make more than $100,000. Holding a master’s degree in training and development does not guarantee that you will earn this much, but this degree can help you to enter any of the well-paying career paths below, advance in your field, or pursue a leadership role.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Training and Development Specialist Less than $33,150 $60,360 More than $102,340 +11%
Training and Development Manager Less than $59,170 $108,250 More than $187,670 +10%
Human Resources Specialist Less than $35,810 $60,350 More than $103,570 +7%
Human Resources Manager Less than $65,040 $110,120 More than $197,720 +9%
Instructional Coordinator Less than $35,550 $63,750 More than $101,500 +11%

Source: BLS 2018

As you may note in the chart above, training and development jobs enjoy an excellent growth outlook. After all, most organizations need to train their employees. The BLS projects average or above-average job growth from 2016 to 2026 for all of these positions. Because workplace training increasingly requires the use of technology, the BLS notes that employers particularly seek those skilled in creating online and mobile training programs.

While a bachelor’s degree is sufficient to find a job in training and development, a master’s degree boosts your earning potential by giving you valuable technical expertise or qualifying you for management positions requiring a graduate degree. Also, Georgetown’s Center for Education and the Workforce reports that the difference in the median annual salary for human resources and personnel management professionals with a bachelor’s degree and those holding a master’s is $17,000.

Online Master’s in Training & Development Program Accreditation

Attending an accredited institution is essential to demonstrate your program of study meets the standards employers desire. Students must also attend accredited schools in order to qualify for federal financial aid. Regional accreditation is more valuable than national accreditation, because you can more easily transfer any credits you earn at a regionally accredited institution to another school.

Aside from institutional accreditation, some programs achieve programmatic accreditation from specialized accrediting bodies. Not all master’s degrees in training and development boast specialized accreditation, as this type of accreditation is not standard in the field, but some programs offer degrees in education accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Some professional organizations, such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), certify programs that meet their standards or curriculum guidelines. See the SHRM directory of human resources programs for examples of such degrees.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Training & Development Degree

Many part-time graduate students continue to work full-time and pay for classes as they study, sometimes with the help of private loans or tuition assistance from employers. Others seek financial aid. Some forms of aid cater only to full- or half-time students, while others, such as employer tuition assistance, do not depend on your course load.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    To qualify for financial aid, most graduate schools and the federal government require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This online application opens each year on Oct. 1. The federal government considers graduate students independent, so the form does not require you to provide your parents' information. Completing the FAFSA may qualify you for federal low-interest direct unsubsidized loans or direct PLUS loans, as long as you are enrolled half-time and meet eligibility requirements. Completing the FAFSA may open the door to state and institutional aid, as well.

  • Employer Tuition Assistance

    Many employers understand what they gain from helping their employees grow pursue a graduate degree and grow professionally. If you are currently working, ask your employer about tuition reimbursement or assistance opportunities. Even if your employer does not typically offer this benefit, find out if they would consider doing so if advancing your education would directly benefit your organization.

  • Departmental Aid

    Check with the department offering your degree at your school to see if it offers any grants, stipends, or fellowships to graduate students. Some departments provide grants to students who demonstrate financial need. Others give stipends or fellowships to students who intern or provide some service to the department, such as research or teaching undergraduates.

  • Organizational Scholarships

    Many foundations and professional organizations provide scholarships to graduate students. Check with your member organizations and professional associations to see if they offer scholarships or fellowships. For example, SHRM offers a $10,000 fellowship to those pursuing graduate studies in human resources.