Earning a Master's in Adult Education Online

Teachers with advanced degrees earn an average of 10% more than those with bachelor's degrees. As only 9.3% of the U.S population over 25 hold a graduate degree, students can distinguish themselves from fellow applicants by earning a master's in adult education.

Educators who specialize in teaching adults work in a wide variety of settings, including schools, colleges, corporations, nonprofits, professional associations, and government agencies. They work as corporate trainers, human resources specialists, and teachers. For educators wishing to advance their careers, a master's degree is a must. An online master's degree in adult education can open the door to new jobs, higher salaries, and greater responsibilities.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Adult Education?

For college graduates considering an online master's, this guide offers valuable information about your options. Whether hoping to change jobs, specialize in an education subfield, move into administration, or increase earnings, an online master's degree in adult education can help you advance your career. In the field of adult education, many professional and licensed positions require a master's degree. An online master's benefits those hoping to advance their careers and gain necessary skills and training.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Adult Education?

Pursuing Specialization

Adult educators work in a variety of settings, including schools and government agencies. A master's degree qualifies graduates to teach adults with compassion and prepare training materials and programs. Degree holders may also take their skill set to new employers, providing a wider range of job opportunities to educators with this specialization.

Career Advancement Opportunities

A master's degree is the minimum requirement for many jobs in adult education. Degree holders may qualify to move from instructional positions into supervisory posts or program development positions. An online master's in adult education degree can open the door to management positions such as department chair, training manager, or human resources director.

Online Learning Technology

This degree enables educators to update their communications and educational technology skills, which remain essential for educators developing workplace training materials or online professional development courses.

Prerequisites for Online Adult Education Programs

Online master's in adult education programs differ slightly in their application requirements and prerequisites. See below for a list of common program requirements.

  • Work Experience: Most programs do not require work experience, although such experience is helpful in providing a foundation and purpose for coursework and demonstrating a commitment to the field.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Most master's programs in education require GRE scores, although some schools waive this requirement for students with professional work experience. Schools typically require a recent TOEFL score for international students.
  • Coursework: All master's programs require a bachelor's degree. Many look for an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or above in applicants, although this varies by school. Most adult education programs do not require applicants to demonstrate completion of specific undergraduate courses.
  • Recommendations: Most schools require two or three letters of recommendation written by those who can attest to the applicant's readiness for graduate-level work in the field such as undergraduate professors or work supervisors.
  • Essays: A personal statement or essay asks applicants to explain how an online master's in adult education program can help meet career goals and why a particular program appeals to them.
  • Interviews: Some programs require or permit an interview, although this is not common with these online programs.
  • International Students: U.S. graduate programs conducted in English typically require international students to demonstrate mastery of English. Many require international applicants to meet minimum TOEFL or IELTS scores.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Adult Education?

The salary range for professionals working in the field of adult education varies greatly, depending on the type of employer, specific job functions, and level of experience. Almost every industry needs employees who know the latest methods for teaching adults how to use a product or work effectively and efficiently. Think broadly and creatively about the skill set an online master's in adult education offers when applying to positions such as the ones listed below.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Adult Education Graduates

Career Stats Description

Adult Literacy and High School Equivalency Teacher

Median Pay: $52,100

Job Growth: -5%

Adult literacy and GED teachers work in schools, community colleges, and community agencies to help adults learn basic skills or earn their GED.

Ideal for: Patient, compassionate educators with excellent communication and people skills.

ESL Teacher

Median Pay: $52,100

Job Growth: -5%

These educators teach students whose first language is not English to read, speak, and write English. They typically work in schools and community agencies.

Ideal for: Patient, caring teachers with excellent communication skills with fluency in at least two languages.

Training and Development Specialist

Median Pay: $60,360

Job Growth: 11%

Training specialists plan and deliver workplace training programs for corporations, government agencies, and nonprofits.

Ideal for: People-oriented professionals with excellent communication, organizational, and technical skills.

Training and Development Manager

Median Pay: $108,250

Job Growth: 10%

These managers oversee the training and professional development programs for companies and organizations. The role incorporates supervising instructors, assessing organizational needs, and developing training programs and materials.

Ideal for: Experienced training professionals with excellent people and communication skills who enjoy teamwork.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Adult Education Graduates

Career Stats Description

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

These educators ensure that teachers possess the training and resources needed to implement curriculum and meet state and district curriculum standards.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented, experienced educators skilled in curriculum design and working with other teachers.

Postsecondary Teachers

Median Pay: $56,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary teachers instruct students attending two- and four-year colleges and universities and conduct research in their field of study. Many instructor positions at universities require a doctorate.

Ideal for: Dedicated educators passionate about their field of study, teaching at the postsecondary level, and conducting research.

Human Resources Specialist

Median Pay: $60,350

Job Growth: 7%

Some HR specialists specializing in workforce development oversee employee training, designing and implementing training programs.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented HR professionals with excellent communication skills.

Human Resources Manager

Median Pay: $110,120

Job Growth: 9%

HR managers oversee the hiring, wellbeing, benefits, and training of an organization's employees.

Ideal for: Organized HR professionals with excellent teamwork, management, and communication skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Adult Education

Industrious graduate students can find many ways to save money on school costs and pay for their degree. Compare tuition rates and required fees and consider how the pace of a program impacts the overall cost. By taking more courses at a time, students can avoid paying tuition increases. Many educational, private, charitable, and government organizations offer aid to graduate students in adult education.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

Organizations offering scholarships to students planning graduate study in adult education include corporations, foundations, professional associations, and the federal government. See below for examples of available grants.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Adult Education Program

A master's degree in adult education online typically requires 30–40 credits, including an internship, capstone project, or thesis. While typically designed for students to complete in two years of part-time study, many programs offer flexible pacing options for working professionals. Graduation requirements include core education courses, specialization coursework or electives, and a capstone or practicum opportunity for real-world application of acquired skills.

Major Milestones

  1. Degree Plan

    Many programs require students to complete a degree plan when beginning their coursework, especially if the pace or sequence of their planned course of study differs from the recommended one or if students plan to transfer credits.

  2. Core Coursework

    Core education courses provide a foundation in theories and methods relevant to adult learners. Topics include characteristics of adult learners, instructional strategies, and assessment.

  3. Specialization Coursework

    Electives and courses in an area of specialization may include research leading to completion of a thesis or capstone project.

  4. Capstone Project or Internship Planning and Completion

    Students complete a capstone project or practicum requiring the application of skills and knowledge gained through coursework. Requirements vary by program and typically allow students to plan their internship or project with a supervising faculty advisor.

  5. Thesis Completion and Defense

    Some programs offer a thesis option, which may require completion of additional research credits. Students research a topic of interest within the field, write a thesis, and defend the thesis before a faculty committee.

  6. Professional License or Certification Exam Prep

    For graduates entering careers that require an additional license or certification, students must identify testing requirements and ensure they meet all eligibility requirements. Students then register and prepare for exams.


The specific courses required vary by school and according to program focus. All programs offer courses related to the particular needs of adult learners and strategies for appropriate program development. See sample courses below.

Foundations of Adult Education

This course explores the role of adult and continuing education in communities, past and present. Students examine current educational research, literature, and case studies.

Adult Learning

This course introduces the study of andragogy, the method and practice of teaching adult learners. Topics include relevant learning theories and appropriate instructional and assessment strategies.

Program Development for Adults

Students apply educational theory and instructional design methods to the practical development of adult education, higher education, continuing education, and workplace training programs.

Instructional Technologies

Instructors discuss the use and integration of current technologies such as digital and mobile media into the design and delivery of adult continuing education programs.

Distance Education

Students explore the application of adult learning theories to the development, delivery, and evaluation of interactive online courses in a variety of workplace and educational settings.

Requirements to Practice

Specific careers may require a post-graduate certification or licensure from adult education degree holders. Adult education teaching jobs in public schools, for example, require state licensure. To teach at the postsecondary level, instructors must typically possess a doctorate degree, or at least a master's in their area of expertise. Many businesses prefer their educational professionals hold one of the many professional certifications available. See sample career requirements below.

  • Teaching License: Each state licenses public school teachers and licensure requirements vary from state to state. States typically require completion of a bachelor's degree, a teacher preparation program, and passage of PRAXIS tests.
  • TESOL Certificates: TESOL International Association offers several online English Language Teaching (ELT) certificates. Certificates include training in core competencies, advanced skills, leadership, and development of online programs.
  • Association for Talent Development (ATD) Certification: Adult education degree holders pursuing a career in business talent development may seek professional certification from human resources organizations. ATD offers training professionals two levels of certification (APTD or CPLD) based on experience level.
  • Certified Professional in Training Management: Degree holders hoping to become training managers may wish to pursue this certification. Training Industry's CPTM program includes online training modules, participation in an online or on site practicum, and a final exam.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations offer graduate students and adult education professionals networking opportunities such as conferences and online discussion boards. These organizations keep members up to date on the latest research, best practices, and policy issues in their field. Some provide professional certifications, continuing education courses, workshops, online job boards, and webinars.

  • American Association for Adult and Continuing Education: AAACE promotes best practices in the field of adult education through annual conferences, journals, advocacy, and awards.
  • Association for Talent Development: ATD offers professional certification, skills certificates, and professional development courses to corporate trainers and instructors, training program designers, and HR managers. ATD networking opportunities include conferences and chapter membership.
  • Adult Higher Education Alliance: AHEA promotes the needs of adult learners within higher education through conferences, research, and advocacy. It offers discounted student memberships.
  • Association for Continuing Higher Education: ACHE advocates networking among continuing education professionals through conferences, membership, and committees. It operates an online job board, publishes a scholarly journal, and offers awards and scholarships to students.
  • International Association for Continuing Education and Training: IACET accredits continuing education providers and offers resources including webinars and workshops. It funds research projects and sets standards for continuing education.
  • National Adult Education Professional Development Consortium: NAEPDC provides training institutes and publications to member states and their directors of adult education and staff. It leads advocacy efforts related to adult literacy and education at the national level.
  • National Human Resources Association: NHRA offers a variety of professional development opportunities to human resources professionals, including workshops, conferences, and webinars.
  • Heldrich Center for Workforce Development: This university-based policy center identifies challenges related to workforce development, conducts research, and publicizes findings. It organizes seminars and conferences and produces videos and reports on best practices.
  • Association for Educational Communications and Technology: AECT offers educational technology professionals resources including journals and reports. It provides an annual conference and runs a graduate student assembly.
  • Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education: This office of the federal government's Department of Education provides information about laws and regulations relevant to adult education. It also administers grant programs and issues reports highlighting relevant data.