Online degree programs offer a wealth of opportunities to teachers
For Administrators

Five Questions Teachers Should Ask Before Pursuing a Master’s Degree Online

By Brian Gatens September 22, 2014

The emergence of online-learning options has created an explosion of opportunity for teachers looking to pursue advanced degrees. The number of schools, both traditional brick-and-mortar and online-only, that now offer computer-based learning has grown considerably, bringing a wealth of choice for teachers looking to grow as professionals.

Before you dive into online learning, here are some questions to consider:
Online degree programs offer a wealth of opportunities to teachers

What is my school’s policy about online degrees?

Each school district has a different approach to online learning. Be certain to research your district’s policies on:

  • How many credits can be accrued within a certain time period.
  • Whether you will be reimbursed (and if so, how much).
  • How your earned credits affect your salary.

One benefit of the self-directed nature of some online learning options is that you can move through the courses at a self-directed pace. This allows a faster credit accumulation than a traditional program — so it’s best to confirm how quickly your district expects you to earn credits.

How much classwork is ‘appointment time’ versus self-directed learning?

All successful teachers dedicate time outside the classroom to lesson preparation, professional development and grading student work. Given that most online courses allow a greater amount of independent work, this flexibility enables you to use your time as you would like.

Be sure to research how often you have to be at a specific time and place for the coursework. I encourage you to work with the program that offers you the most latitude in deciding how to use your personal time.

How long will the program take to complete?

Aside from considering the day-to-day time commitment for your online learning, be certain to find out how many months (and perhaps years) the completion of the degree will take.

Online learning usually enables you to move faster from start to finish, and it’s good to know just how much time will be expected of you. This long-range knowledge will play a key role in how you tackle other life commitments like job changes, increased work responsibilities and personal matters.

Also confirm whether there are additional expectations at the end of the course. This includes the completion of a thesis, a graduate seminar or any other time-intensive activity.

Have any of my colleagues worked with the same school?

Ask your colleagues what online schools they have worked with. You’ll find a wide variety of opinions about the ease of the online interface, teacher access, degree options and the amount of time you’ll have to set aside for the program.

A great thing about online learning is that the “tyranny of place” has been eliminated. Now you can take a course being offered in the next town or even the next state, and I’m sure that the next country isn’t too far in the future.

What’s the long-term value of the degree?

Earning an advanced degree is a laudable goal and an appropriate point of pride for all teachers. It is also essential to consider how the degree will open opportunities and doors for you in the future. If you pursue an advanced degree in a field that is already awash in qualified candidates, a glut may prevent you from moving to a new position.

If you instead earn a degree in a field that has a lot of openings, you’ll find that the options will rise to meet you. The most important thing is to find the sweet spot between what you want to pursue and what the job market demands.

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