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Special Licensure, Job Assignment Category, and Professional Development

States and schools are debating the benefits and pitfalls of having a special licensure or job category for online instruction. Some states require specific training for online teachers. While there is general consensus among virtual programs that targeted professional development is necessary, there is ongoing debate and little consensus among virtual programs about whether special licensure or endorsement is necessary.

Some states, districts or programs believe that online teaching is different enough from face-to-face instruction that it merits special requirements. Some states are considering special licensure, endorsement or other certification for online instructors. Their reasoning is that such requirements will force targeted professional development and thus promote quality online teaching. Even without special licensure or endorsements, some states are now requiring that online instructors have professional development. For example, Wisconsin now requires online instructors to have 30 hours of professional development in online teaching.

On the other hand, some argue that online teaching is really just a matter of using a set of tools and techniques. Since we don’t generally have special licensure or endorsements for other instructional tools, there’s no real reason we need it for online teaching. Targeted professional development is sufficient. Furthermore, the growing use of blended courses and technology-enhanced instruction means that it is increasingly difficult to clearly define which courses are face-to-face courses and which are online. This emphasizes that online teaching is the use of a set of tools, which might be used exclusively or in conjunction with other tools or learning. Defining which teachers need special training or licensure becomes problematic when so many face-to-face classes use the online tools for part of their instruction.

The long-term solution of fully integrating online teaching techniques into every teacher licensure program is not likely to occur anytime soon. In the meantime, online learning programs will have to determine what special requirements, if any, apply to online teachers. In conjunction with statewide regulations, policies should answer such questions as:

  • What defines an online course or an online teacher? For example, some programs define any course in which 50% or more of the instructional content is online as an online course and the teacher of any such course as an online teacher.
  • What professional development or experience requirements will your program have for online teachers? Who will be responsible for identifying and providing such professional development? How will its effectiveness be measured?