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Online Teaching Jobs: How to Get Started

Turn your expertise into a profitable part-time or even-full time income by teaching online.


The internet is radically changing education. Students from remote corners of the earth can now take courses in business management, education, self-improvement and more. And they can study from the comfort of their own homes. With this proliferation of online courses, qualified teachers are more and more in demand to teach them. Whatever your expertise, you can turn it into a profitable part-time or even-full time income by teaching online.
The first consideration for carving out a niche in online education is what to teach. Virtually anything you have an enthusiasm for and knowledge of can be turned into an income-generating online course. A brief internet search will turn up online courses in construction, art, creative writing, gardening, and new age and alternative beliefs. While some topics may lend themselves to brief weekend seminars, others may be more appropriate as four-, eight- or twelve-week courses with regular readings and assignments to be turned in for evaluation.

Kimberly Kradel, a self-employed writer, artist, photographer and publisher of the travel website artist-at-large.com, turned her passion for photography into an online course that is connected to her website. To access the workshop or “The ArtStudio,” students must purchase a subscription with a password. This gains them access to a private discussion board and gallery where they can upload their digital photographs for critique and instructor review. Kradel says, “One reason for making the entire ArtStudio private is to give the forum users a sense of a classroom, where discussion would not be censored because of being in the public eye.”

To get started, you also will need to decide whether, like Kradel, you will market your own course or apply to teach for an already established institution. For those with a Masters degree or higher, many community colleges, state or private colleges and universities now are offering at least some courses online. Other options for an umbrella institution include high school--many high schools have online enrichment courses, homeschool programs and trade schools. In some states, The Department of Corrections offers online courses for juvenile offenders. Students in the military frequently take online classes for a degree—often from far-flung corners of the globe. Salaries vary widely at these umbrella institutions. Colleges and universities usually pay highest while others may be barely minimum wage. However, one advantage is that the classes and assignments have already been developed. Plus, enrolment and collecting registration fees will be taken care of for you. All you have to do is log in at the required time and teach the class.

Creating and marketing your own course allows for more creativity and flexibility, but it also requires more time and effort. Developing a good online course is time-consuming, but once it’s finished, it can be used over and over. Most online courses are set up in one-week increments that include a written weekly lecture, a discussion forum with weekly questions and regular assignments with due dates. You may also want to include a calendar, a dropbox for submitting assignments, and tests or quizzes that can be taken online. While courses that can be taken for college credit may have mandatory chat sessions, most courses offer a weekly chat as an option. Your class may include students from several different time zones so making chat times convenient for everyone can be a challenge. Power Point presentations, videos and other advanced technology may enhance your classm but remember that some students may not have the most up-to-date equipment and may become frustrated if they are unable to download something for the class. As for the teaching platform, if you plan to turn online teaching into a full-time career, your own website may be a good idea. However, if you are just beginning and want to test the waters first, there are other options such as Nicenet (www.nicenet.org), which offers a free platform to design your course.

Most courses can be taught with just a basic internet connection. While some classes make use of video conferencing, this, like chat rooms, has some disadvantages. Teachers and students alike agree that one of the appealing aspects of an online course is that you can do it on your own time. Once you begin to incorporate virtual classes into real time, you lose some of the flexibility of an asynchronous format.

If you are teaching courses with a strong written component, keeping updated versions of Microsoft Word is recommended. Recently, when the 2007 version of Word came out, a number of writing teachers found they were unable to open some of their students’ assignments. A good long-distance calling plan such as Skype is also a good idea. Although, you will probably rarely use it, occasionally situations arise where you prefer to discuss something with a student by phone rather than email. It’s also useful to have a separate email address and Instant Messenger user name just for the course.

Most teachers who create their own course find marketing the class to be one of the most challenging aspects. Unless you are already well-established in your field with a wide reputation, you are going to have to work hard to not only market your course but market yourself as well. Kradel corroborates that marketing is the most difficult part of her job: “At the moment I am relying on viral marketing and google AdWords. Viral marketing being posting the workshop announcements on the site, by word of mouth, whether that is as a post on someone's blog, or links in my .sig files on various discussion boards that I participate on and at the bottom of my emails.” Starting an emailing list or newsletter is an effective tool for many online educators. Patience is key. If you plan to take on the whole process of advertising, designing, marketing and teaching it will take time. But if you are a good instructor and offer an exciting and dynamic online class, it will catch on.

If you plan to register applicants yourself, you also will want to be equipped to accept Visa or Mastercard. Paypal is becoming more widely used in the online community and enables credit card payments, but many individuals will still want to pay with a credit card on their own.

Teaching an online course can be more work than a traditional classroom, especially in the beginning. You need to be disciplined. You need to be prompt in responding to your students, and you need impeccable writing skills in order to be professional and instill confidence in your students. Even if your topic is basket weaving, correct grammar and spelling as well as the ability to give clear, concise written instructions is essential.
However, it’s also important to limit your online time to avoid burnout and still have time for other projects. Some online teachers suggest only logging onto your class and checking your class email once a day so you don’t find yourself spending too much time in front of the computer. Try to get outside at least once a day even if it’s just for a walk around the block.

Online teaching can be an exciting and rewarding job. It’s flexible. You can work any time of the day or night. And you can work from anywhere in the world. It’s easy to justify a vacation to a tropical beach if you’re earning money with your laptop while you lounge in the sun!

Pros and Cons of an Umbrella
Many people who work at home are also self-employed. However, if you are considering online teaching, you might want to consider, at least when starting out, applying to work for an already established institution. There are literally thousands of schools and organizations that hire online teachers, and for many of them the entire hiring process happens online.
Some of the advantages of an umbrella organization are:

  • They do the marketing, advertising and enrolling.
  • Lectures, homework and assignments will probably already be in place. You just monitor discussions and provide feedback.
  • Many organizations will provide free training if you’ve never taught online before.
  • You will probably be paid by the class, so even if there is low enrollment you will collect a paycheck.
  • Most organizations will have technical support that students can contact for computer-related problems.
  • Disadvantages
  • Less creative freedom. You will very likely be teaching a class that someone else has developed.
  • No control over the number of students. You may be given a class with 10 students or 35. Be sure to read your contract carefully. Some organizations will compensate you if the enrollment goes over a certain number; others won’t.
  • Your class could be cancelled if not enough students enroll.

Personalizing Your Online Classroom
The most common complaint about online courses is that they lack the personal touch of a live classroom. However, there are a number of things you can do to add a more personal feel to your class.

  • Always include a photograph with your instructor bio. Try to make it a photo that shows you doing something—gardening, on a family vacation or engaged in some activity. This allows students to feel more connected, like they are taking a class with a “real” instructor.
  • Add an off-topic discussion board where students can share favorite books, movies, recipes or talk about anything that is not course-related.
  • Always allow some time at the beginning of chat sessions for students to “check in” and say what they’ve been doing that day. Just be sure to monitor the time and bring the discussion back to the topic at hand.

image: FreeDigitalPhotos.com

Categories: Home-Based Business