For Teachers Updated January 23, 2020

Differences Between Master of Arts in Teaching and Master of Education

By The Room 241 Team June 16, 2011

Interested in getting an education-related master’s degree, but not sure which one is right for you: a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) or a Master of Education (MEd)? Read this before you continue researching programs.

As two graduate degrees with very similar names, the MAT and the MEd may sound like variations on the same thing. And while both degrees empower educators to serve students to the best of their abilities, they focus on two very different sides of the teaching profession. Make sure you carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of both degrees before deciding on a program.

What is an MAT? Key traits of the Master of Arts in Teaching

  • The Master of Arts in Teaching is a degree program centered on practical skills and knowledge in a subject area.
  • For those who are not already licensed teachers, an MAT degree can position graduates to qualify for their preliminary teaching license.

The Master of Arts in Teaching (sometimes called a Master’s in Teaching) is a degree program centered on practical skills and subject-specific information. A traditional MAT program takes two years to complete and may position students to earn initial state teaching certification.

The first few semesters will likely be devoted to topics such as classroom management, evaluation and assessment, planning and instruction, and the study of specific subject areas such as math, reading, science, etc. The end of an MAT program will usually consist of a clinical placement in a classroom, such as a practicum and/or student teaching experience where the MAT student will gradually take on full-time teaching responsibilities and practice leading a real classroom.

What is an MEd? Key traits of the Master of Education

  • The Master of Education is a degree program focused on the theory and practice of education, and useful approaches to classroom instruction.
  • Specialized programs offer concentrated study of specific specialties.
  • Intended for education professionals with existing classroom experience.

The Master of Education (sometimes called a Master’s in Education), in contrast to a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree, focuses less on subject-specific practical skills and more on preparing students to understand and critically evaluate the practice of education. Although MEd students learn useful approaches to classroom instruction, they can also investigate the theory and practice of teaching more broadly.

In addition, specialized Master in Education programs offer concentrated study of specific specialties, including Curriculum and Instruction, Educational Leadership, Education Technology and Learning Design, Mathematics, Career and Technical Education, Social Studies, and Science. Depending on the program or modality you choose, you may be able to complete your MEd in one to two years. Several of Concordia University-Portland’s online MEd program options, for example, can be completed in one year. Material is taught to allow students to implement what they learn the next day in the classroom or workplace setting.

MAT vs MEd: Similarities and Differences in Benefits of Each Degree

  • MAT degree programs will typically lead to preliminary licensure for those who do not already have a teaching license. They are also great for strengthening subject matter knowledge and general classroom skills while providing clinical experience in a classroom.
  • MEd degree programs are great for students who want to improve or refine their teaching skills and may have ambitions including instructional or school leadership. The MEd is designed for those who already have or do not need teaching licensure or certification.

Both MAT and MEd programs offer advantages and disadvantages. Master of Arts in Teaching degree programs are rich in practical, discipline-specific information. This honed-in focus presents an advantage for students who wish to strengthen their subject matter knowledge, but may be a disadvantage for those who have educational ambitions beyond classroom teaching. MATs can be excellent options for individuals with bachelor’s degrees in another field looking to switch careers.

In comparison, MEd degrees often require more theoretical coursework and offer a fuller understanding of the teaching profession as a whole, including an in-depth understanding of the pedagogy or instructional strategies related to the area of concentration. The Master of Education is the best degree for students whose ambitions include service as an instructional or school leader. In addition, an MEd may be the first stage in educational doctoral programs, enabling interested students to pursue further advanced study at a later date.

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