If there was a job in American school systems which absolutely no one had ever heard of before the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning administrator was probably it.
Now, there isn’t a single teacher or administrator who isn’t familiar with the role… or sometimes, in dire emergency, has had to occupy it themselves.
But both before and after the pandemic-caused school closures, online, or distance learning, administrators were already becoming an important and respected role. In some rural school districts, they were already far along in a quest to reach out to remote students through new technologies. Even in the heart of big city school districts, online learning was beginning to transform accessibility for students with mobility issues or who were homeless.
If it’s not a job that already exists in your school or district, rest assured that it’s on the way. And if you’re interested in getting ahead of the pack, keep reading to learn more about the role and the requirements in licensing and education you will need to get it.
Online Administrators Are Forging New Roles in School Systems
While the job of online administrator has become increasingly common and even necessary across the country, there’s no formal definition or job title. A lot of districts are still figuring out the details.
The job comes with many different titles that can vary from school to school or district to district:
In some cases, these positions report directly to school principals or district superintendents. But in large systems, there will be many specialized online administrative roles, reporting to positions like Assistant Superintendent of Alternative Learning or other big umbrella roles.
The role is also sometimes combined with general instructional technology support, including the garden variety on-premises systems. This is particularly the case in smaller districts or schools. The close ties between online systems and classroom instructional systems can make this inevitable when integration is required.
The actual day-to-day duties of these jobs depend a lot on what level of the hierarchy they fill. A middle-school digital learning manager might spend most of their day troubleshooting systems problems, working with individual teachers on lessons or curriculum integration, or dealing with software installations and maintenance.
An online services administrator at the district level, on the other hand, may take on a more expansive set of tasks: helping the superintendent craft a cyber-bullying policy, budgeting for server expenditures for the next fiscal year, or holding a workshop for principals on a new LMS that is being installed.
And in many cases, smaller districts have a position that runs the whole gamut, top-to-bottom, with everything from wiping laptops to setting access policies on the agenda for a given day.
Cultivating the Digital and Leadership Skillset Needed to Be an Effective Online Learning Administrator
Increasingly, the kind of basic skills required of online learning administrators are becoming standard in many teaching programs. After all, every educator has had to adapt to online grading, testing, and assignment tracking. In an increasingly digital world, there’s becoming little difference between the typical classroom environment and performing the same functions over the internet.
Chances are that the inclusion of more online learning and remote studies classes in the standard teaching curriculum have already introduced you to many of the skills online learning administrators need.
Still, online learning administrators are expected to be specialists in these new techniques and technologies. To that end, they need to master skillset such as:
The way that materials are presented and how information is absorbed is different in a remote environment. Leaders in digital learning need to absorb the psychological and behavioral data on online learning and use it to adapt curriculum plans to new and effective formats for online courses.
The entire structure of online learning sits on top of internet and computer systems of great complexity. Online learning administrators need the skills to manage Learning Management System (LMS) platforms, troubleshoot connection issues, and deal with all manner of glitches, bugs, and incompatibilities.
It takes a different level of communication skill to successfully interact with people online all day long. The traditional side channels of expression, tone, and gesture are mostly or completely lost in online study. So online administrators have to be able to convey complete and accurate information through text, with nuance and sensitivity.
The hidden opportunities in online learning come through the integration of these systems with data collection. Tremendous amounts of information are generated through every interaction. Online learning administrators learn to parse and evaluate this data and use it to improve the systems they administer and advise their teams.
And they must demonstrate leadership skills in all the traditional veins:
As both guide and resource for district staff, they can’t just sit in a back office and punch buttons. They have to develop the fine interpersonal skills to make connections with other administrators and teachers, to guide them through a kind of learning experience that may be completely foreign to them.
Finding and Fulfilling Licensing Requirements to Work as an Online Learning Leader
Just as not every district has exactly settled on the duties and title for these roles, not every state has yet come to terms with exactly how to classify and license jobs in online education administration yet.
Some forward-thinking states have already put together licenses for positions in digital instructional leadership.
Other states don’t have a specific license category for online learning administrators, but recognize that the role exists as a sub-category in credential areas like program coordinator, professional administrator, or supervisor/director licensing.
Finally, some states treat these roles as a sort of specialist teaching position, and offer endorsements such as Instructional Technology Specialist to stack on top of a base teaching license.
The highest level of supervision for online program administration may come at the assistant superintendent or assistant principal level. In those cases, the license required will be the state building administrator or superintendent license, just as with any other senior leadership position.
In general, the requirements for any of these licenses are similar. They include:
In some states, you may also be required to undergo several hours of supervised experience on the job to become fully licensed. And, as with teacher licenses, there can be various levels of administration license to progress through, from initial through provisional to professional.
For general administrative licenses, the test is most likely to be a Praxis exam, and usually the Educational Leadership: Administration and Supervision test.
Finding the Right Degrees to Fit Online Learning Administration Jobs
If all the uncertainty about online learning administrators in terms of job descriptions and licenses has been disconcerting, you can relax when it comes to figuring out what degree to earn for the job.
That’s because there are a lot of programs that will give you the basic elements you need to find success in digital learning administration. It is essentially a leadership role: you’re breaking new ground, and you need to have the vision, managerial, and people-handling skills to do it.
The demand is such that specialized master’s degree programs have started to pop up in the field, like the Master of Science in Learning Experience Design and Educational Technology. These degrees sometimes overlap with programs for instructional and curriculum leadership jobs and include EPP coursework designed to prepare you for those licenses.
There are also programs like the Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership: Digital Technologies and Connected Learning, which have a cross-over with other kinds of teacher leader roles, but offer the specific education in online learning management you need for administration in the field. And a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Learning Technologies may offer many of the technological skills necessary.
All these degrees will cover some of the most important skillsets for hands-on digital learning administrators, including:
There are also many master’s programs that are primarily leadership-oriented, but which come with concentrations or focus areas in instructional technology or remote learning. These include degrees like a Master of Education in Educational Leadership, or a Master of Science in Educational Administration.
They have the elements that schools and districts look for in educational leaders, such as training in:
Also, these programs are often the ones that include the EPP coursework required for state licensure in general program administration or educational leadership roles. If your state doesn’t have a more specific online learning license, then these are your best bet for easy licensure.
Degrees that offer EPP coursework required for your state will also usually cover any kind of practicum or field experience necessary for licensure.
Finally, you will find these types of educational leadership programs offered by some schools with specializations in digital education management or learning technology leadership and innovation. This offers exactly the blend you need of systems planning, instructional design, and solid leadership and management skills.
What Sort of Salaries Do Online Learning Administrators Earn?
Although becoming an online program administrator is like getting a job in high-tech, it doesn’t come with the same paycheck you’d find at Google or Amazon. But there are some amazing benefits and a lot of potential along this career path.
Online administrators can find jobs in both public and private schools, and even in colleges these days. Indeed, there are some private schools and many university degree programs that have gone entirely online, putting more importance than ever on the job of digital learning leaders.
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) job categories have not yet caught up to the state of the art in online instructional leadership. Instead, to get some idea of what paychecks might look like in the field, you must turn to similar positions under which the job is currently categorized.
That can fall into two general buckets:
This category includes both building and district administration jobs, as well as a catch-all sub-category called “Educational Administrators, All Other.” That’s you, digital learning leaders, and for 2021 BLS found that the average salary was $90,560.
In states where online learning admins are treated as extensions of teaching positions for licensing, you’re likely to find their salaries collated in one of these categories. BLS splits them up by grade level. It doesn’t specifically separate out teacher leaders or supervisors, but we have taken the salary level earned by the top ten percent of the profession as a ballpark for these leadership positions:
Another bonus to online learning administrators who are treated as teachers is the traditional benefit packages these jobs typically come with. That means top-notch healthcare, solid pension benefits, and that perk to end all perks, summers off.
Administrators at the district level may keep most of those benefits but lose their free summers.
On the other hand, it’s a job that is in great demand and which will only continue to increase in importance. So you should have a bright future ahead, and a lot of options to find positions that suit your interests and ideals.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, High School Teachers, Middle School Teachers, and Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.