Online Degrees in Adult Education

Faced with a turbulent job market, more adults are returning to their education, pursuing increased professional certification, specialized corporate training, or even new careers. Adult learners are highly motivated and have concrete expectations from their classroom endeavors. Their experience and unique concerns require a drastically different approach to instruction than grade school students. By implementing andragogy, or learning strategies focused on adults, adult educators help these older students acquire the skills they need to succeed in today's workforce.

Degree programs in adult education combine theoretical approaches to adult learning with practical teaching tools. Students acquire advanced communication and research skills while examining the many diverse populations that seek continued education. Along with training techniques, courses typically cover adult psychology, curriculum planning, distance education, and evaluation methods. Additionally, online education degrees offer firsthand experience with the latest technologies in adult learning, such as web conferencing and mobile computing.

Choosing the Right Online Adult Education Degree

Bachelor's Degree in Adult Education: A bachelor's program in adult education takes approximately four years of full-time study to complete, and is typically offered as either a bachelor's of science in adult education or a bachelor's of arts in adult development. Undergraduates learn general teaching practices, as well as key distinctions between adult and childhood education. Along with basic psychology, curriculum focuses on effective instruction methods, trends and social issues in adult learning, and training program design. A bachelor's degree in adult education prepares one to instruct at vocational and technical schools or in the workplace as corporate trainers. Many graduates become basic education teachers, helping adults learn literacy or prepare for their GED.

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Master's Degree in Adult Education: A master's program in adult education is more focused than undergraduate study and usually requires two years of additional coursework to complete. Many online colleges offer the degree as a master of arts, a master of science, or a master of education, with concentrations in adult basic education, human resources development, online teaching, or English as a second language. Master's programs instill the skills necessary to organize training programs and instruct adults at the collegiate level.

At the graduate level, courses emphasize the practical application of advanced adult learning theory, and include study of student assessment, curriculum development, and distance education. Students typically choose a professional focus area, such as job preparation or workplace learning, and complete electives pertaining to that field. Some programs even include an internship in a related adult learning environment. With a master's degree in adult education, graduates can pursue careers in training and development administration or career counseling. Graduates with sufficient teaching experience can even instruct at a community college or join the faculty of some online schools.

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Doctoral Degrees in Adult Education: Doctorates in adult education vary from program to program, but typically take three to six years of further study. Doctoral students are required to master advanced principles of adult education, as well as contribute to the field through innovative research. Many online colleges offer the degree as either a doctor of education (Ed.D.) or a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.), with concentrations in adult learning, postsecondary education, or adult education leadership. The Ed.D., a practitioner's degree, focuses on the professional practice of adult education, while the Ph.D. is primarily academic, concerned with research and advancement of theoretical knowledge.

Doctorate programs typically include three phases: core coursework, doctoral study, and a dissertation. The dissertation, an original contribution to adult learning theory, represents the culmination of a candidate's studies. With a doctoral degree in adult education, graduates can pursue careers as higher education faculty, such as professors or administrators, or institutional researchers, who collect and analyze data about adult students.

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Job Prospects and Adult Education Careers

As college enrollment increases, and employers enforce stricter hiring practices, the demand for adult instruction specialists will continue to grow. Adult educators fill essential training roles in a wide range of for-profit and nonprofit organizations. With a degree in the field, graduates might pursue careers in anything from college instruction and administration to career counseling or human resources. Employment opportunities can be found at vocational schools, traditional universities, online colleges, workforce development centers, and even major corporations.

With a degree in adult education, one can take his or her experience as a learner and apply it to a successful career mentoring others. For details on available programs, check out the information below.

As more adults return to the classroom, and employers place greater emphasis on specialized training, the demand for qualified adult educators continues to grow. An online bachelor's degree program in adult education prepares one to help others acquire the skills or certifications they need to succeed in today's workforce. Core curriculum covers the foundations of mentoring, classroom instruction, and adult psychology, with many online colleges offering the degree as either a bachelor's of science in adult education or a bachelor's of arts in adult development.

What Does a Bachelor's Degree Program in Adult Education Entail?

For full-time students, a bachelor's in adult education typically takes four years to complete. Coursework is designed to give students the communication and analytical skills necessary to lead training sessions in both the classroom and the workplace. Along with general teaching practices, the curriculum offers specific strategies for instructing adults, exploring the personal and professional needs and motivations of this increasingly diverse population. Examples of topics include:

  • Adult Learning: This course attempts to identify and examine today's adult student, highlighting their unique learning process as well as the changing educational landscape they face. Discussion is focused on who these learners are, what they're looking to learn, and why. For example, undergraduates might explore the distinctions between childhood and adult learning, as well as assess new approaches to adult education. Coursework typically examines the many different adult groups that seek training or further education, including immigrants, incarcerated adults, adults with disabilities, and those looking to make a career change.
  • Instructional Methods: In this class, students acquire the techniques to deliver effective and engaging instruction in almost any setting. Emphasis is placed on fundamental teaching tools that foster learning and produce results. Future educators learn how to assess competence, communicate lessons, and facilitate productive discussions in small or large groups. Many courses also cover electronic instruction methods, such as online education, exploring ways to utilize technology to better reach students both in the classroom and across the globe.
  • Program Design: This course provides the basics of designing and implementing a lesson plan. Students learn how to create compelling training programs by establishing clear course objectives and identifying the specific needs of their audience. Most classes include a study of the activities educators use to generate effective learning experiences, such as multimedia presentations and role-play exercises. For example, students might analyze how popular songs or movies could be used to help adults with learning disabilities develop their comprehension skills.

Most bachelor's degrees in adult education also require an introductory psychology class, which explores basic concepts of human behavior, providing insight into adult growth and development. Additionally, undergraduates must fulfill certain general education requirements, such as English, math and science, and complete elective courses, which are usually chosen by the students themselves and should pertain to the topic or discipline they intend to teach. Previous education or work experience in a specialized field is desirable, and knowledge of a second language, while not necessary, is frequently useful. An online bachelor's program is especially beneficial as it offers valuable experience in the growing field of distance education, exposing students to the latest technological advancements in adult learning.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Adult Education

Adult educators fill a wide range of essential training roles and can find employment teaching everything from advanced business skills to basic education, such as literacy and General Education Development (GED). Many find careers teaching a trade or profession they're passionate about or an interesting subject for self-improvement, like a second language. A bachelor's degree in adult education prepares the recipient to instruct at vocational or technical schools, as well as in the workplace as a corporate trainer. Some teaching positions, particularly in career colleges, may require additional licensure or certification.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), growing enrollment in adult education programs, along with continued immigration to the United States, will increase demand for adult literacy and GED teachers by 15 percent between 2010 and 2020. Furthermore, multilingual adult educators are sought after as ESL instructors or mentors to immigrants pursing U.S. citizenship. Individuals interested in furthering their study of adult education and instructing at a collegiate level may pursue a master's degree in the concentration, which prepares them to teach both community college and online degree courses.

Average Salary
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
Special Education Teachers, All Other37,980$60,7509.8%
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

Andragogy -- the art and science of teaching adults -- requires an entirely different approach to education than K-12 instruction. Online master's degree programs in adult education equip graduates with the skills necessary to both administer adult training courses and instruct adults at a collegiate level. Many online colleges offer the degree as a master of arts, a master of science, or a master of education, with concentrations in adult basic education, human resources development, online teaching, or English as a second language.

What Does a Master's Degree Program in Adult Education Entail?

A master's in adult education typically takes two years of full-time study to complete. Core curriculum is more focused than undergraduate study, offering advanced courses in adult learning theory, instructional design, and research methods. Coursework promotes the practical application of teaching knowledge by combining theoretical analysis with case study. Examples of topics include:

  • Assessing Adult Students: This course examines the specific needs of adult learners, addressing the particular challenges and social issues they face, as well as emerging trends in adult education. Emphasis is placed on developing reliable assessment tests that encourage adult students while accurately gauging their performance. Through real world examples, students consider different types of evaluation methods, their purposes, and how to use each effectively. For instance, classes might explore the particular difficulties in motivating incarcerated or homeless adults to achieve, and alternative ways to approach similarly reluctant groups.
  • Distance Education: In this course, students learn how to apply their skills to online learning systems. Coursework highlights specific strategies for engaging adult learners in a nontraditional setting, as well as current technologies in student-teacher and peer-to-peer interaction, such as web conferencing, instant messaging, and mobile computing. Students pursuing an online master's degree gain personal experience with the latest advancements in distance education, observing firsthand how to successfully connect learners around the world.
  • Curriculum Development: This class features advanced skills in program design, development, and delivery. Starting with clear course objectives, students work backwards, mapping lesson plans that engage and guide learners. Coursework typically emphasizes teaching strategies focused on adults, who have concrete expectations and respond more to facilitation than lecturing. For example, students may be asked to design a role play exercise that teaches unemployed adults successful interview skills, having them act out different scenarios and then analyze the situation from opposing viewpoints.

Individuals pursuing a master's program must already have a bachelor's degree, preferably in education or another specialized field they intend to teach. Along with core courses, students are required to complete electives in a professional focus area, such as administration, literacy, job development, or workplace learning. Some online programs also include an internship in an adult learning setting, where students can gain practical experience in their concentration. Coursework typically culminates in a capstone seminar or master thesis, research projects designed to encompass and exhibit the degree candidate's cumulative studies.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Master's Degree Programs in Adult Education

Online master's programs in adult education help to prepare graduates for careers in a variety of academic, community, military, governmental, and commercial organizations. Degree holders with sufficient education experience may pursue teaching or administrative positions at community colleges and some online schools. In addition, graduates might find opportunities at major corporations, designing and implementing employee training programs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), the demand for training and development managers is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2010 and 2020. While a bachelor's degree is sometimes sufficient, most companies require that candidates hold a master's to administer employer-sponsored programs or manage human resources.

Qualified adult educators can also find employment in social service agencies, helping adults improve basic education skills or conducting personal development and workforce preparation programs. Many assist unemployed adults in finding new jobs, or instruct at corporate career centers, where they advise working adults on potential career changes. Due to the turbulent job market, bls.gov projects that employment of career counselors will increase 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, filling adult guidance roles in state government centers, prisons, colleges, and private practices. Graduates interested in continuing their studies can pursue a doctoral degree in adult education, which prepares them to lead courses and inform policy at traditional universities.

The highest degree in the discipline, a doctorate in adult education prepares graduates to administer and advance the latest approaches to adult learning. Online doctoral programs require candidates to both master the principles of adult education as well as contribute to the field through innovative research. Many online colleges offer the degree as either a doctor of education (Ed.D.) or a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.), with concentrations in adult learning, postsecondary education, or adult education leadership. While the two degrees are considered equivalent by the U.S. Department of Education, they're often very different in focus and study.

The Ed.D. is a practitioner's degree, which means curriculum is primarily focused on the practice of adult education in professional settings. Emphasis is placed on applying advanced theory and research to adult learning experiences, as well as enhancing course planning and leadership skills. As a result, online Ed.D. programs are geared towards students interested in organizing and implementing collegiate level instruction, and typically offer specializations such as college administration or human resources development.

Ph.D. programs, on the other hand, are more research focused, emphasizing critical analysis of adult education theory and practice. With this academic degree, students conduct original, independent research on adult learning in order to produce new knowledge or advance theory in the field. Ph.D. candidates study cognitive development, learning environments, and social trends in the pursuit of advancing adult education methods.

What Does a Doctorate Degree Program in Adult Education Entail?

Online doctoral coursework and requirements vary according to each student's goals, experience, and study focus. Depending on the nature of the research, doctorate programs in adult education typically take anywhere from three to six years to complete. Most require a master's degree for admission, and give preference to candidates who are working in adult education or have experience in the field. Both Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs generally have three main components: coursework in core subjects and electives, intensive research, and a doctoral dissertation.

Core curriculum for the Ed.D. is primarily focused on best practices in postsecondary adult instruction. Most online colleges offer advanced courses in problem solving, student assessment, and program design, along with professional focus classes like faculty administration. Ph.D. courses, on the other hand, push students to think broadly about adult learning, emphasizing critical analysis and research skills over instructional tools. Examples of topics include social and historical issues in adult education, global perspectives on adult learning, student development, and advanced reasoning.

The culmination of either program is a doctoral dissertation, an original contribution to adult education that combines comprehensive study and applied research in the field. Ph.D. dissertations usually offer original theoretical approaches to adult learning, while Ed.D. dissertations focus on the practical application of existing research. Doctoral study is typically supervised by a small committee of faculty members selected by the student. Most online doctorate programs also require students to attend several short residencies, where classmates and faculty can meet, discuss research topics, and share insight.

Career Outlook for Graduates of Doctorate Programs in Adult Education

An online doctorate degree helps to prepare graduates to design and lead adult education programs in a variety of for-profit and nonprofit organizations, including higher education institutions, corporations, and workforce development centers. Graduates with teaching experience often pursue positions in higher education, such as assistant or associate professors, and teach courses in topics such as professional development or human resource training. Due to increased college enrollment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012) projects that demand for postsecondary teachers will grow by 17 percent from 2010 to 2020.

While a master's degree is accepted for some academic leadership roles, primarily in community colleges, a doctoral degree is required for higher level administrative positions. With a Ph.D. or Ed.D. in adult education, graduates may be eligible to enter the tenure track and eventually become college professors. Other roles include deans and provosts, who help develop education policies, direct curriculum, and oversee campus wide decision making. Bls.gov projects that, between 2010 and 2020, employment of postsecondary administrators will increase 19 percent, partially due to growing online college attendance. Ph.D. holders can also pursue careers as institutional researchers, collecting and analyzing adult learning data for universities or government bodies.

"Adult Literacy and GED Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/adult-literacy-and-ged-teachers.htm
"Postsecondary Education Administrators," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm
"Postsecondary Teachers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm
"School and Career Counselors," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm
"Structure of U.S. Education," U.S. Department of Education http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ous/international/usnei/us/edlite-structure-us.html
"Training and Development Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2012-13 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/training-and-development-managers.htm

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