Online Teaching: Is Certification Right for You?

online teaching“Is there a specialized training or certification process for online teaching? I taught for many years without certification, do you find it valuable?” I recently received this question via Twitter and the brief conversation that followed sent me searching for more information.

Last December I was asked to complete an online teaching certification program offered by one of the institutions where I am already teaching online. It was introduced as a required faculty development program, developed to fulfill a requirement from the school’s accrediting agency.

Did I find it valuable? Yes, although at first I resisted adding this five-week course to my schedule, it was a great way to experience our new learning management system. I also met a few new people and reconnected with colleagues I hadn’t worked with in a while.

With all of the new education and training options available, what do online instructors, and instructors who are interested in teaching online, need to know?

Skill Assessment is a Good Place to Start

What are your specific interests related to online education, and where do you need more practice or information? Before researching the options, or enrolling in a training program, it may be helpful to identify the skills you already have, as well as areas in which you need to improve. Here are a few tools to help you assess your skills and readiness for online teaching:

Program Options Vary Widely

How do you want to participate in training? How might becoming certified be relevant to your career goals and professional development plans? Take a closer look at what is available as you begin your research of the different formats available:

  • Faculty Development and Orientations: My institution developed its own certificate program and many others are doing the same. From new faculty orientation sessions to faculty development offerings, the possibilities range from self-paced tutorials to working with an assigned mentor. Completing an online teaching course may also be part of the hiring process to become “qualified” to teach at a particular institution before you are assigned classes. The University of Phoenix, for example, provides a “four-week certification program focuse[d] on the learning environment and skills for facilitating discussion-oriented classes.”
  • Academic Programs: These training and education opportunities are offered by colleges and universities, and usually include multiple courses and a more formal structure. The University of Wisconsin, Continuing Studies’ Professional Certificate in Online Education is made up of eight online classes, while the UC San Diego, Extension’s Teaching Online Certificate includes required and elective courses.
  • Informal Learning Opportunities: A full academic program may be more than you need or want. Watch for reports and webinars provided by technology vendors, publishers, and other groups with an interest in improving online education. Many require some sort of registration, but are free to access. Explore the upcoming options offered by Blackboard, McGraw-Hill Education, SoftChalk, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
  • Open Access Materials: Additional no-cost opportunities to develop your online teaching skills can be found through open resources like MERLOT.org‘s collection of related materials and the Learning to Teach Online video series provided by the University of New South Wales.
  • Professional and Regional Organizations: If you hold membership in an educational association, check for professional development opportunities related to online teaching. The Sloan Consortium, for example, offers two online teaching certificates in a cohort format. Other organizations and consortia also offer training options, such as the Illinois Online Network’s Master Online Teacher Certificate.
  • Certificate vs. Certification: These terms are often used interchangeably, but it’s helpful to note which one is used by the program you are interested in attending. Certification can imply a more rigorous assessment process related to credentialing or licensure in some way.

As a prospective student, you should compare the options available and find the best match for your needs, preferences, and resources. This list of program features and components provides a place to start your comparison of online teaching training programs:

  • Breakdown of Topics: Look for a list of lessons, modules, or other overview of the content that will be covered. Some training sessions include a strong focus on instructional design, while others emphasize technology or pedagogy.
  • Assessment: How will your learning be evaluated? Who will provide feedback? This can range from self- or peer-assessment activities to more involved practical assignments and portfolio development reviewed by advisors or instructors with expertise in teaching online.
  • Fees: The costs to participate in this kind of training can vary widely from free to thousands of dollars. Programs with multiple courses or workshops may charge tuition by the class or session, or have an overall fee that includes all required courses and materials. Don’t forget to factor in costs for any additional resources you might need to participate (e.g., hardware, software, Internet access) and application fees when required.
  • Structure: How is the training organized? What kind of interaction can you expect with the content, facilitators, and/or classmates? Look for evidence of both asynchronous and synchronous requirements, as well as a list of activities and assignments. There may also be published deadlines within the program, or course start and end dates.
  • Results and Documentation: What will you receive at the end of the program? If you need evidence of successful completion (e.g., certificate, transcript, diploma, digital badges), or are looking for specific results (e.g., academic credit, CEUs) contact the provider to make sure your expectations are accurate.

It’s Not Required … At Least Not Yet

Advertisements for online teaching jobs rarely list “certification” as a requirement, but the opportunities for training seem to be more available than ever, offered by a range of organizations. Minimum requirements to teach online at the college level vary by institution, but usually include a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited school, as well as relevant work experience and credentials.

While the requirement to complete online teaching certification before you apply is not the norm, this could be changing as schools seek to meet the growing accreditation requirement, or hire experienced instructors who don’t need additional training to teach successfully online. There are also benefits to completing this kind of training on your own:

  • As a resume or C.V. builder, to demonstrate your initiative to keep your skills up-to-date and prepare for teaching online.
  • As a professional development activity to explore new techniques and refresh skills you have already mastered.
  • As an avenue to expand your professional network of education and technology professionals.
  • As a way to experience what it is like to be an online learner, perhaps one of the best ways to prepare for online teaching.

If you are already teaching online:

Ask your institution(s) about any in-house options that may be available, as well as any preferences they may have for particular certificates or training programs. Certification may not be requirement now, but related discussions and future planning could be taking place.

If you are not already teaching online, but want to:

Scan job announcements from the schools you are interested in working for – what skills and qualifications are required? How could a certificate program or informal learning option prepare you to be a more competitive applicant? Certification is not a guarantee you’ll get hired, but it may help you meet established required or preferred qualifications.

Have you completed an online teaching certificate program? Consider sharing your feedback about the experience. Was it right for you?

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Source: Inside Online Learning Blog