What Training Is Required To Become An Online ProfessorBecoming an online professor takes considerable work, education and focus, and depending on your field, the competition can be fierce.

As you probably know, online education has numerous advantages including setting your own schedule, working around family and other obligations and even performing work in your most casual clothing. Like anything, there are also disadvantages including loneliness and assuming the burden for your ongoing training and professional development.

As you continue to ponder pursuing this field, here are some things you need to consider.

What is not always apparent to those who might want to become an online professor is that the educational requirements are often identical to those of professors who primarily offer instruction on college campuses. Online universities and online classes were once considered the “Wild West” of teaching, but the significant increase of online classes over the past decade has transformed the profession of online professor into a common and respected part of the educational world. In learning how to become an online professor, you might be surprised at the legitimacy and importance of personal education and preparation that is required.

What Preparation Do You Need?

Becoming an online professor requires a number of things. First, you need to have at least a Master’s degree, and today, most schools require that their instructors hold Ph.D. degrees. In some rare cases, a professor with highly specialized on-the-job experience, such as in forensic accounting or criminal justice, might be hired to teach without an advanced degree. Online teaching is highly competitive, so if you have a Master’s degree and want to teach online, you should also get some on-ground teaching experience as well as other related work experience. Since many online students are non-traditional – frequently working full time or managing families – some colleges require ‘real world’ experience in addition to academic credentials and experience. Finally, colleges look for a commitment to scholarly work by doing research and writing articles in your field.

The preparation for becoming an online teacher can begin as soon as you graduate from high school or even earlier. You may find it valuable to begin assisting teachers as early as possible with volunteer work at elementary schools or as helpers for students in middle school or junior high. Further, you can also prepare for becoming an online professor by taking online classes on a subject that interests you, so you can get a good idea of the way online classes are run by today’s teachers. An exploration of the nation’s most respected online universities is a worthwhile project as you transition from high school to college or from a four-year university to graduate school.

Will You Work Full Time or Part Time?

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As an online professor, chances are you will not be hired into a full-time, tenure track position, although it’s not an impossibility. Most likely you’ll assume the role of a part-time, or adjunct, professor and will be hired for a particular course or courses. When you have finished teaching a course, most colleges don’t guarantee ongoing employment, especially if you haven’t met their performance criteria, which, depending on the college, can be extremely rigorous.

However, even if you’re not employed officially as a full-time professor, you might find yourself working hours that approach a full-time schedule. According to the educational periodical “Inside Higher Ed,” many professors work long days and on weekends and must complete various administrative tasks and research when they’re not actively teaching a class. A study cited by the magazine indicated that more than half of faculty members surveyed said they worked more than 40 hours each week. A professor assigned one class worth three credit hours works much more than three hours a week.

What Are The Duties of An Online Professor?

As an online professor, you will have many of the same duties as an on-ground adjunct. First – you will teach, either in a synchronous or asynchronous format. In a synchronous format, your students gather into a digital ‘classroom’ at a set time and you deliver a lecture. Depending on the technology used for synchronous sessions, the students may or may not be able to interact with you during a class session. In the asynchronous format, all course materials are available online, but students are not required to ‘meet’ at a set time. Other duties include holding ‘office hours’ where you are available in real time by phone or video conference to answer students’ questions or help them work through difficulties. Besides teaching, grading is your most important duty. Most schools will provide you with a grade scale and rubric that you’ll need to assess the work of your students. Finally, as an online professor you will probably have other assignments and paperwork to complete as designated by the college.

One of the most significant changes that has occurred in the last few decades for the average professor is the need to work with a class website and deal with technical questions from students. Professors have been keeping basic websites for decades for their students with information on syllabi and other class materials, but online classrooms have created much more online work for the average professor. Accessing online classrooms has become standard practice for on-campus and online professors. For online professors, comprehensive technical knowledge of digital classrooms has become a mandatory part of training.

Choosing a Subject to Teach

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Choosing a subject to teach as an online professor is generally the same as the process you might use to become a traditional professor. Unlike elementary school teachers who must master all of the subjects one might learn in school, future college professors study one area and often specialize in a very targeted area of that subject. For example, a physics professor will earn degrees in physics but may specialize in nuclear physics. Similarly, an English teacher might earn their degrees in English but may then specialize in literature.

One of the differences, too, in training to become a professor is that most colleges and universities don’t require that you earn a teaching degree before you teach a class at the undergraduate or graduate level. Teachers who want to provide instruction to kids in elementary, middle, and high school must earn their teaching credentials, but the same isn’t true for most professors.

Choosing a Type of School

The journey of how to become an online professor always begins with education, but the good news is that future online professors can attend virtually any accredited school in their journey to become a teacher. However, attending one of the nation’s best schools isn’t a requirement for becoming an online professor. According to “U.S. News & World Report,” some of the best teaching schools in the nation are Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of California at Los Angeles.

However, online professors don’t necessarily need one of these schools on their CV to qualify for employment. Simply attending a university that is regionally accredited is enough when it comes to learning everything you need to know to become an online professor. Although online professor spots are highly competitive, a degree that has Harvard or Yale on it certainly isn’t a requirement. Engaging in post-graduate activities like publishing research papers, conducting fieldwork, and working outside of academia are all helpful activities for the future professor.

Is a Doctorate Required for Online Professors?

teaching college online

A doctorate is an exceptionally valuable degree when you want to become a professor, but it’s not mandatory for all college and university teachers. PhDs are often considered a teaching and research degree, while graduate degrees like the Master of Fine Arts is a degree earned by individuals who want to enter the non-teaching workforce and practice their craft. A doctorate is an ideal tool for anyone who wants to pursue a life in academia and engage in valuable research and publishing during their career. But the process of how to become an online professor doesn’t always include a Ph.D. Every teacher is different.

At a bare minimum, university professors need a graduate degree to assume a teaching job, and the same is true for traditional professors and online professors. Sometimes, the subject a professor wants to teach impacts whether a Ph.D. is required or whether a Master of Arts or Master of Science is enough. Some online professors may also benefit from earning a professional degree. For example, a Juris Doctor (J.D.), which is the degree practicing lawyers earn, may benefit a professor who wants to teach a law class online. A future business teacher might want to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

Take Classes to Learn How to Teach Online

Becoming an online teacher often means learning to deal with the technology that is required to operate an online classroom, and it may benefit an online professor to take courses on delivering lessons online, as well as study the different types of technology in use in the average online classroom. Learning to teach online is often as simple as taking an online class from a reputable institution, educational facility, or non-profit organization. In addition to taking online courses that help you learn how to deliver lessons online, you can also find valuable knowledge from organizations like the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

Benefits of Offering Online Education

At one time, online education wasn’t a respected facet of the world’s university and college system, and many of the online opportunities given to students were nothing more than diploma mills where no legitimate teaching was offered. The evolution of online education has been dramatic over the past few decades, and virtually every traditional university and college has started offering online classes. In addition, educational facilities have been created with the sole purpose of providing online classes. With this growth, opportunities have grown for individuals interested in how to become online professors.

Some of the benefits that online classes have offered students include the ability for students to take classes at their own pace and on their own schedule. Traditional classes have proven difficult for working adults and parents with small children, and online classes without strict scheduling requirements have made it possible for busy adults to earn degrees. Online classes have also helped reduce the cost of attending college for many students because of the reduced cost of brick-and-mortar facilities. Becoming an online professor may not only offer an excellent paycheck, but it may also help students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend an on-campus class to earn a degree.

Skills That Help Online Professors

Intelligence, patience, and dedication are important qualities for professors of all types, but online professors must also have other qualities and skills that a traditional professor might not need. For example, all professors must have good time management skills that help them communicate regularly with students, keep a schedule for virtual office visits, and grade papers and tests on time and before school deadlines. However, an online professor must also have technical skills that will allow them to post lessons and other details online without excessive delays. It might not hurt for future online professors who aren’t otherwise technologically inclined to take a remedial course on online classroom technology.

Experience Expected of Online Professors

During the application process for becoming an online professor, you’ll need to provide information about your educational credentials, your work history, and your previous teaching experience. Even though you’ll be applying for an online professor job, your chosen school might require that you participate in an interview on their campus or at a physical location. During your interview and within the job application materials you send your future employer, you’ll need to demonstrate critical thinking skills, excellent communication skills, and leadership qualities. You’ll also need to demonstrate that you know your way around a computer and can think creatively when it comes to creating a vibrant and interesting lesson plan for your students.


Anyone who wants to learn how to become an online professor should start with the pursuit of an excellent college education. Online professors must have multiple college degrees from fully accredited institutions, which means the journey for some future online teachers may begin the moment they step over the threshold of their college or log in for their first online class. As you embark upon your journey to becoming an online professor, stay focused on your goal, prepare yourself with education and appropriate experience, and get set to enjoy an exciting and fulfilling career.

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