Ph.D. in Adult Education

Who Gets a Ph.D. in Adult Education & What to Expect

Earning a Ph.D. in adult education online suits education professionals who want to work with nontraditional students to make their goals a reality. After completing foundational degrees and gaining substantial field experience, teachers may want to continue growing in their vocation and career prospects — and this doctorate might be the next step.

Graduates of Ph.D. in adult education online programs act as thoughtful practitioners, committed to best practices, pushing the field forward, and helping others reach their potential. A master’s degree qualifies graduates for some upper-level roles in adult education, but a Ph.D. in the subject prepares professionals to work in roles reserved for those with the highest levels of education and expertise. Read on to learn about common careers, courses, degree requirements, and useful resources for those pursuing an online Ph.D. in adult education.

Reasons to Pursue an Online Ph.D. in Adult Education

Ph.D. in adult education online programs feature a host of benefits to support degree candidates’ career goals, including the following:

  • Icon Career Advancement Graduates with a Ph.D. in adult education online qualify and compete for jobs in the highest echelon of education. These positions are typically reserved for those with advanced levels of education and experience.
  • Icon Expertise Development Learners gain nuanced skill sets that they couldn’t learn in bachelor’s or master’s programs. These allow them to influence and shape the field with their expert knowledge.
  • Icon Personal Interest Some students enroll in Ph.D. programs because of their passion for adult education and helping adult learners achieve their potential.
  • Icon Research Research plays an integral role in adult education, equipping professionals with the skills to conduct research studies and projects and positioning them to fully understand learners’ challenges and potential.
  • Icon Increased Income As studies continually show, higher salaries correlate with higher levels of education. A Ph.D. can help boost your earning potential.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Adult Education?

When researching prospective Ph.D. in adult education online programs, students may also encounter Ed.D. programs in adult education. Each degree offers unique outcomes, so learners understand their options before applying. The Ph.D. traditionally prepares individuals to fill academic or research positions, while the Ed.D. suits those aiming to work in more professional roles. Graduates of both degrees usually work in high-level leadership positions.

Ed.D. programs usually take 3-5 years to complete, making them a popular option for degree-seekers who want to begin working more quickly. We’ve listed some potential career paths below to give an idea of the roles available to these graduates.

Common Career Paths and Salaries

An array of professional paths exist for graduates of Ph.D. in adult education online programs, but learners should know the area of discipline in which they want to work. Those highlighted below represent only a few potential career options available to graduates.

Postsecondary Teacher

These professors train prospective educators to teach nontraditional students, such as adult learners. They give lectures and assignments, grade papers, and provide mentorship to degree candidates.

Average Annual Salary: $78,470

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators work alongside teachers and other pedagogical professionals to develop curricula that speak to the unique needs and life experiences of adult students.

Average Annual Salary: $64,450

Adult Education Researcher

These professionals propel the field of adult education forward by conducting studies, gathering data, and observing how the discipline and its students change over time.

Average Annual Salary: $95,236

Adult Education University Executive

These executives may work in C-level positions at universities and other centers of learning that cater to adult students.

Average Annual Salary: $104,980

Education and Career Counselor

Like traditional students, adult learners sometimes need guidance on which classes they should take, academic opportunities they should pursue, and how to position themselves for career success. Counselors can help with these questions and more.

Average Annual Salary: $56,310

Adult Education Ph.D. Program Requirements and Outcomes

To gain admission to a Ph.D. in adult education online, applicants must supply several documents. These typically include evidence of a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree, official transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a completed application. Some Ph.D. programs combine master’s and doctoral studies, while others expect students to hold a master’s before applying.

Standard doctoral programs that do not incorporate master’s level studies usually mandate 60-72 credits and require 5-7 years of full-time study. Distance learners can complete much of their coursework online, but they should prepare to participate in an in-person practicum experience, which students can usually complete locally. Some programs also incorporate intensive residencies, which allow degree-seekers to build skills while interacting with their peers and professors.

Common Courses

Courses in a Ph.D. in adult education online program help graduates prepare for high-level academic, research, or program-directing roles. Classes vary by school, so interested students should contact individual departments to get a clearer sense of requirements. We’ve listed some common courses for adult education doctoral programs below. Intro to Adult Learning Leadership

Taken in the first semester, this foundational course helps acclimate learners with the world of adult education and how it functions. Students consider questions surrounding pedagogy and methodology and how adult education has evolved over time. Issues in Adult Learning

This course helps degree-seekers identify some common issues as they relate to adult learning, for students and teachers alike. Learners review the societal, cultural, and economic factors affecting whether an individual pursues education as a nontraditional student. Curriculum Development for Adult Learners

Learners consider theories, models, trends, and strategies for educating adults, with special emphasis on how these plans of study should differ from those offered to traditional students. Degree-seekers review case studies and example curricula to learn more. Teaching Adults

With a focus on developing teaching skills that complement adult learning styles, this course walks future professors through best practices of instilling these skills in others. They also consider how to incorporate technology into lesson plans. Adult Learning Program-Planning

This course gives degree-seekers the skills to develop or improve adult learning programs with emerging theories and pedagogy. Students consider how to create adult learning programs based on institution, funding, and other factors.

Other Requirements

Ph.D. in adult education online learners must complete several extracurricular requirements to earn their degrees. These mandates tend to vary between programs, but this section provides a general sense of what to expect.


Practicums take place at approved schools, community centers, and other organizations offering adult education services. Students usually spend a semester working under the supervision of an adult educator to gain skills that serve them after graduation.


This longform piece of unique research and writing pulls together primary and secondary sources to answer a unique question about the discipline. Learners may conduct interviews, develop case studies, and/or process data to draw conclusions that help move the field forward.

Oral Defense

After turning in their dissertations, degree-seekers must go before a panel of supervisors and other academic specialists to defend their thesis. They must answer questions about processes and outcomes, after which the panel evaluates the dissertation.

Skills and Competencies

Graduates of Ph.D. in adult education online programs gain a variety of skills and competencies throughout the degree, some of which we highlight in this section. Consider how these skills may benefit you in your ideal career.


Students spend hundreds of hours researching primary and secondary sources when writing papers and completing assignments. This equips graduates to continue researching in professional roles.

Oral and Written Communication

Ph.D. learners must write and defend their dissertations, building written and oral communication skills along the way.


Most Ph.D. in adult education online programs require learners to work as teaching assistants, honing their skills in leading and managing classrooms.

Best Practices

Adult education represents an ever-evolving field in which students learn about emerging methodologies and practices that help push the field forward.


Whether leading students, colleagues, or stakeholders, adult education professionals must know how to bring together diverse groups of people and keep them on task.

Strategic Planning

Adult education leaders must plan strategically, whether working in the classroom or in administration. Specific plans may revolve around curriculum development, budget management, or recruiting.

Adult Education Professional Organizations

Professional adult education organizations offer several benefits to their members, including students, recent graduates, and industry veterans. Members of these organizations gain access to resources that help them advance their careers and standing in the field.

Common benefits for members of professional organizations include continuing education and training, annual conferences, webinars, regional chapters, in-house publications, career support, job postings, membership directories, certification, awards and scholarships, and advocacy efforts.

To make the most of your membership, find ways to get involved. Consider joining a committee or volunteering at the annual conference to meet and network with industry leaders. Groups offering scholarships often need volunteers to review applications and make recommendations on top applicants. Look at the opportunities listed by each prospective organization to choose the best one for you.

American Association for Adult and Continuing Education

  • AAACE supports adult educators by providing awards for excellence, commissions, scholarly journals, an international compendium, an active blog, and access to an annual conference.

Adult Higher Education Alliance

  • Members of AHEA enjoy opportunities to contribute to publications, plus an annual conference, student and professional memberships, and connections with industry leaders.

Coalition on Adult Basic Education

  • Adult educators who join COABE can participate in strategic initiatives, meaningful partnerships, webinars, legislative advocacy programs, conferences, an employment bulletin board, and award and grant opportunities.

National Association for Adults with Special Learning Needs

  • NAASLN makes membership worthwhile by offering an e-community to adult educators, trainers, employers, and human service professionals. Specific benefits include special interest groups, leadership opportunities, webinars, and networking opportunities.

National Association of State Directors of Adult Education

  • Representing adult education administrators from 50 states and seven territories, NASDAE offers an annual training institute, in-person and online meetings and events, adult education resources, and a state-level adult education directory.

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