Online Master's Programs in Adult Education/Learning

Updated on: 12/13/2018

Adults return to school for many reasons. They may hope to advance in their careers or increase earnings potential. If their secondary education was interrupted, they could aim to finish a high school equivalency program. Some adults may need help mastering basic skills, like reading and writing. Finally, some students may speak English as a second language and might need help with English.

If you earn an online master's in adult education, you can make a difference in these adults' lives by becoming their teachers. Even if you don't consider teaching your ultimate career goal, a degree in adult education can prepare you for positions in career counseling, among other things. The school and career counseling field is projected to grow 13% by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

This guide will teach you about the best online master's programs in adult education and how to choose the program best for you.

What to Know About Online Master's in Adult Education/Learning Coursework

An online master's in adult education typically requires 36 credits. A degree usually takes between 18 months and two years to complete. Part-time students often take even longer to graduate. Learners who bring in transfer credit, on the other hand, may graduate even sooner. Future teachers learn to face the challenges in instructing adult learners. They also learn how to teach around the circumstances unique to adult learners, who often juggle other responsibilities like jobs or families. Future teachers study how to set objectives in the classroom, and how to strategically carry out curriculum plans.

Even though the distance learning format differs from the traditional on-campus learning approach, students still participate in many of the same courses. Several programs require students to complete a seminar before they graduate. The only difference from conventional seminars is that online students participate in the seminar through online discussion boards rather than in-person conversations.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Adult Education/Learning Program?

When you pursue your master's in adult education online, your curriculum depends on which school you choose. Each program administers its own unique courses, and has its own strengths and weaknesses. When researching master's programs, read through the course catalog to get a sense of what to expect from the curriculum. For now, read below to learn about what courses you might encounter.

Adult Basic Education

Thanks to certain life circumstances, sometimes adults miss a critical part of their education during childhood. Without elementary skills like reading, writing, or arithmetic, these adults face many problems in pursuing a career or even going about daily life. In an adult basic education course, future teachers learn how to instruct adults in these foundational skills.

Diversity in Adult Education

Issues of diversity and equity make up a large part of adult education. This course instructs future educators how to approach students from all different backgrounds with various life circumstances. The course covers topics like cultural competence and transformational education. It also teaches them how to help their students confront racism and other forms of discrimination.

Assessment and Evaluation in Adult Education

Assessing students means something different for adult learners. In other words, adult educators cannot grade papers and evaluate adult work the same way they do for children. This course trains future teachers how to use various assessment tools for adult learners. Students in this class also learn how to motivate adult learners through a psychological approach.

Curriculum Development

Teachers must develop strategic lesson plans to effectively teach their students. Future instructors learn how to set course objectives, and then how to evaluate whether they met those objectives. This course delves into topics like course design, needs assessment, learning contexts, and work/task analysis. It goes over potential instructional materials as well.

Mobile Technology for Training

People use mobile technology to help them solve problems in everyday life. This course integrates smartphone and other mobile device usage to help adult learners think critically and find creative solutions. The course also trains future educators how to use mobile technology as a teaching tool in the classroom.

What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Adult Education/Learning Program?

Just like every school provides different courses, every program takes a different approach to concentrations. Some master's in adult education online do not offer any specializations, but only allow students to take core coursework and a few electives. But some schools do give students potential emphasis areas. You can read about a few of those options below.

Teaching English as a Second Language

Adult immigrants often arrive to the U.S. without knowing any of the language. Adjusting to life in a foreign country with a foreign language can seem a nearly impossible task. Educators who teach English as a second language can help foreign learners confront this challenge. This emphasis area trains teachers how to teach English in grammar and applied linguistics courses.

Teaching with Technology

Adults often need flexibility when pursuing an education, especially if they already hold a full-time job or other obligations. Therefore, they find alternative methods to the traditional in-person classroom approach. This specialization trains teachers to use distance learning technology tools to give their students an engaging and quality education.

Adult Learning and Workforce Development

This concentration specifically trains future educators how to teach adult learners how to approach the workforce and advance in their careers. The concentration approaches concepts like teaching students leadership, management, and networking. Future educators also learn how to teach basic workforce skills, like communication and workplace etiquette.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Often, master's degrees in adult education demand students to take a seminar course as a final requirement before they can graduate. The seminar topics vary, but usually provide a forum for future adult educators to discuss what they've learned with other students. Other programs require a cumulative capstone course, which allows students to focus on one area of adult learning. They usually complete a research project or thesis on this particular topic. Finally, select programs may require students to complete an internship in a real-world setting before they finish their degree.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Adult Education/Learning Program?

When searching for a master's in adult education online, prospective students should conduct thorough research to ensure they choose a quality school. Read the professor biographies. Do they possess PhDs? What experience do they show on their CVs? Find graduation rates from the federal IPEDS database. A low graduation rate may be a red flag. Examine course descriptions: are topics covered relevant to your career goals?

Students should also look out for the school's accreditation status. Institutional accreditation serves as a marker that the school has met universal standards of academic excellence, while regional accreditation essentially operates as a guarantee that the program teaches students the skills they need in their profession. Look out for either regional accreditation or credentials from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Career Opportunities With a Master's in Adult Education/Learning Degree

Jobs in adult education do not necessarily need to include teaching. Certainly, a master's in adult education prepares you to become an adult literacy teacher or high school equivalency teacher. However, you can also pursue a career in other positions as well, such as an instructional coordinator for adult education. Keep in mind, a master's degree alone does not guarantee a job. Many positions in this field also require certification or licensure. Read on to find out more about career opportunities after earning your online master's in adult education.

Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Teacher

Adult learning teachers instruct people over 18 who need help with basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills. High school equivalency teachers educate students who never received their high school diplomas, teaching them subjects like social studies, science, math, and language arts. Usually these teachers help students earn their GEDs, an alternative high school equivalency degree. In addition, teachers under this category may help adults from other countries learn English as a second language. Employers often prefer adult education teachers with licensure or certification along with a higher education degree.

Median Salary: $52,100 per year

Currently Employed: 68,200

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: -5%

Career and Technical Education Teacher

Professionals working as career and technical education teachers prepare students to work in specific industries. They typically teach in vocational, technical, and trade schools or at community colleges. These teachers usually specialize in one area, like hospitality or culinary arts. They also teach skills that prepare students to work in fields like welding, construction, or automobile repair. Often career and technical education teachers possess professional experience in the field they teach. A culinary arts teacher, for instance, may have worked as a chef.

Median Salary: $55,240 per year

Currently Employed: 219,400

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 4%

Postsecondary Teacher

Faculty members at colleges and universities prepare students for degrees in higher education. A professional with a master's degree in adult education online may find employment at the community or junior college level, as often professors at four-year universities hold PhDs. Professors must create lesson plans and grade papers. Sometimes postsecondary teachers administer coursework online. A concentration in education technology equips them with the skills they need to conduct distance learning courses.

Median Salary: $76,000 per year

Currently Employed: 1,314,400

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 15%

Instructional Coordinator

Instructional coordinators essentially determine the curriculum for a certain educational program. In the case of adult education, they may set teaching standards for GED, adult literacy, or English-as-a-second-language programs. They may also coordinate the curriculum at community colleges. Instructional coordinators typically need a bit of teaching experience in addition to a master's degree. Licensure and certificate requirements depend on the state and whether they work in a public school.

Median Salary: $63,750 per year

Currently Employed: 163,200

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 11%

School and Career Counselor

In adult education, school and career counselors help adult learners determine their education goals and how those goals can shape their careers. They usually work individually with students, testing their aptitude and interviewing them about their interests. They may help a student choose which degree he or she wants to pursue, or they can guide the student in networking and applying for jobs. Usually school counselors possess master's degrees and licensure. Only some states require career counselors to hold licensure.

Median Salary: $55,410 per year

Currently Employed: 291,700

Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 13%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

What's the Expected Job Growth for Adult Education/Learning Careers?

Although the number of adult literacy and high school equivalency teachers may drop by 5% from by 2026, according to BLS projections, many other occupations in the field of adult education will grow. Opportunities for career and technical education teachers may increase by 4% in that same time period. On top of that, the number of postsecondary teachers in the U.S. — a figure already surpassing one million — could grow by 15%.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Adult Education/Learning

Students may feel too intimidated to join professional associations while they remain in school, but they shouldn't. Professional organizations give students the resources they need to jump start their careers. Students who join these groups can speak to adult educators already in the field, attend conferences, find leads on job boards, and conduct school research through scholarly journals.

  • Adult Higher Education Alliance

    The Adult Higher Education Alliance offers adult educators a forum to discuss their profession with one another. The annual conference draws in teachers and presentations from all over the country, allowing them to network and share strategies.

  • American Association for Adult and Continuing Education

    The American Association for Adult and Continuing Education aims to promote and improve the adult education industry. The group gives awards to exceptional teachers, hosts conferences, and publishes scholarly journals.

  • Commission on Adult Basic Education

    Specifically for teachers who instruct adults in foundational skills, the Commission on Adult Basic Education provides its members with several professional development resources. Members receive access to webinars, a research journal, an employment bulletin board, and a virtual conference.

  • Voice for Adult Literacy United for Education

    The Voice for Adult Literacy United for Education is a nonprofit organization for adult learners and adult educators alike. The organization conducts research and hosts events like the Leadership Institute.

  • National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium

    Established in 1990, the National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium operates through chapters in every state. The organization hopes to promote adult education through networking and advocating for public policy.

How to Pay for a Master's in Adult Education/Learning Degree

Students can find several options to help quell the steep cost of higher education. The federal government, for one, provides low-interest or no-interest loans. Schools often offer graduate students assistantship opportunities, waiving tuition fees if they become research assistants or teaching assistants for undergraduate courses. Plus, students can find many outside sources for scholarships, fellowships, and grants online.

Federal Financial Aid

All students should fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, regardless of education level, subject studied, or income level. The federal government uses the FAFSA to calculate how much federal financial aid each student can receive. States and schools also use the FAFSA to determine whether students qualify for funding as well.

TEACH Grant

The federal government also runs the TEACH Grant program. Students chosen for the grant receive up to $4,000 to study education and begin their careers as teachers. Graduate students may apply, but they should study at a TEACH Grant eligible school. To find out whether your school meets eligibility requirements, reach out to the school's financial aid office.

Ruth Crymes TESOL Fellowship for Graduate Study

Students focusing on teaching English as a Second Language should consider applying for the Ruth Crymes TESOL Fellowship for Graduate Study. If selected, students must complete and present a graduate project or research paper. The award amounts to $1,500. Applicants must provide a research or project proposal, write two short essays, and submit a letter of recommendation.

Educational Advancement Foundation Scholarships

The Educational Advancement Foundation gives away several scholarships to graduate and undergraduate students pursuing degrees in education each year. The amount of funding varies. In order to apply for the award, students must show full-time enrollment at a degree-granting institution. They should also maintain at least a 3.0 GPA and demonstrate a record of community service.