PhD in Adult Education

Note: This page provides details on getting your Ph.D. in Adult Education, for Master's degree information please see our Master's in Adult Education page.

The PhD in Adult Education is designed to prepare individuals for leadership careers related to adult education, adult learning, and organizational development. One of the major benefits of earning a degree in Adult Education is the number of options available for career pathways. Depending on the path you choose, you could find yourself running a community center, teaching adults in a classroom setting in a college or university, or leading corporate retreats. Job availability will vary from place to place as will duties for each job. The key is finding the area you wish to work in and a specialized degree in that forum. There are two forms of Adult Education Doctorates. An Ed.D is a Doctorate of Education and will focus more on research method courses and working with adults in postsecondary or classroom settings. A PhD in Adult Education will also have research classes, but usually offers a wider range of options as far as employment in fields outside of education.

Choosing an Online Doctorate in Adult Education Program

When surveying a college or university for a doctorate degree, whether online or on-campus, it is very imperative to look for institutions that are reputable. The following questions may help you make a decision:

Is the Program Accredited?

Accreditation is like a stamp of approval. Accreditation is an assessment conducted by a third party to ensure that a degree program and school meet specific standards of quality. Reputable online degree programs should be accredited by agencies recognized by CHEA (Council for Higher Education Accreditation) or the Department of Education. More information on accreditation can be found here:

How Long Has the Program Been Offered?

Knowing how long a program has been in existence is a good way to assess its credibility and success. Although online programs are a relatively new mode for learning, even of few years of proven success is comforting. Second guess a school that has not been in service long enough to gain full accreditation by a reputable agency. Remember, if a school is not properly accredited, your degree will not be valid.

What Technologies Will Be Used to Facilitate Online Learning?

Schools use different online learning environments to help facilitate instruction. These technologies act as virtual classrooms and will be the main way teachers and students of the program post communicate. Through these portals, students access learning materials, assignments, and grades. Some programs are more user friendly than others. Navigating through the system beforehand might give you a good understanding of how learning will occur.

What Resources Will I Have Access To?

Colleges and universities, both online and on-campus, should give students access to useful resources and other learning materials to help support students during their time working on degree requirements. In a PhD program, you will be required to conduct research. With that said, resources such as online research databases will prove to be very beneficial. It will be a good idea to find out what student services are offered to help support your learning experience.

What Skills and Topics Are Covered?

Good schools should be able to provide prospective students with goals and outcomes for their students. This will help you decide whether or not the program is right for you and your career. Most program outcomes are observable and measurable. Use these as a guide to see what you will lean over the course of the program. If a program seems too easy, it may be a red flag.

Do You Have Job Placement Information for Students Who Recently Graduated from the Program?

Knowing what recent graduates have been able to do with their Doctorate in Adult Education is another way to assess whether the program is right for your intended career path. If given the opportunity to connect with adult education graduates, be sure to ask questions about the program and how their online degree has helped them reach career goals.

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Is an Online Degree Right for You?

Online schooling has become a very reputable and popular way to earn a degree. It has become a viable option for those who are currently working full time and for those who have families to tend to. When considering online degree programs, take the following into account:

Flexible Schedule

It seems as though one of the greatest appeals of online schooling is the flexible schedule. Many doctoral candidates have a full-time job and cannot afford to fall off their working schedule. Since commuting and physical attendance will most likely not be required, students will not be required to dramatically alter their daily schedule. Online students have the luxury of completing their school assignments whenever and wherever. This truly opens up many opportunities for students who otherwise would not have been able to commit to a class schedule.

Opportunity and Accessibility

Traditionally, students choose a school based on their ability to commute to campus. In other cases, students relocate to get close to the school. However, many people who wish to earn a doctorate degree do not live near a college campus and do not have the ability to relocate. With online schooling, students will not be forced to pick a degree program based on one's proximity to the campus. With that said, students have a wider variety of options to choose from. This alone broadens your chance to earn a degree. When researching different programs, make sure to ask about accreditation. Any program you choose should be accredited.

Tuition and Costs

Tuition and overall cost is a big deciding component when pursuing higher education. In general, tuition and fees tend to be higher at traditional brick and mortar schools compared to online schools. The following are some points to think about when considering online education:

  • Since online students do not need to commute to class or relocate to live closer to school, they avoid costs associated with room and board as well as transportation and parking.
  • Students can continue working at their current job in order to maintain a source of income.
  • Online students may not need to pay out-of-state fees.
  • Online schools often have less overhead thus making them more inexpensive.

Program Curriculum

The curriculum of online degree programs should be similar to traditional ones or even more rigorous. In a solid online program, you may notice:

  • Deadlines and accountability targets to help keep students on schedule and on the right track. This may include things such as assignments, quizzes, presentation, and reading reflections.
  • Class message boards in order to help you network and build career acquaintances.
  • Field experience components.
  • Final cumulative exam, thesis, portfolio, or project.

Faculty and Staff

Faculty and staff play a significant role in the overall success of an online degree program. Online teachers should be held to the same standards as on-campus teachers. The caliber of a program's faculty is a good assessment of the program. Here are some things to consider:

  • Have any of the teachers published scholarly writings? Are any of them involved in their own research? Are they collaborating with campus partners such as corporations, adult centers, or other colleges?
  • What kind of real-world experience do they have? Have they worked in the field they are teaching?
  • Are the teachers tenured, part-time, full-time?

PhD Program Course Topics

The objective of adult education programs is to prepare graduates for a career in working with and educating adults. Some programs will focus on the corporate world while others focus more on working with those that may be attending community college. A Doctorate in Adult Education will prepare you to step into the leadership role. The following are some classes you may need to take as part of your doctorate program in adult education.

Adult Teaching and Learning

This class will prepare the student to teach an adult population. Adults think, reason, and learn differently than children and these strategies are shared in this class. You will delve into theories which will help aid further instruction.

Distance Education

With the growing number of online courses available, those that work in adult education need to know and understand how to teach online for the adult distance learners that may quickly become part of their career.

Literacy for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations

For those teaching adults learning English (or any second language) there are a number of strategies that may need to be employed. These adults will need to learn the new language quickly, but accurately in a real-life environment. This class will help prepare you to do accomplish this task.

More Course Topics:

  • Foundational theory regarding adult education as a distinct field of study
  • Adult education as a perspective or framework through which to examine further pedagogical concepts and practices
  • Focus on adult education theory and best practice from diverse and international contexts
  • Examination of how intercultural influences and contexts may impact lifelong learning processes
  • Analysis of the relationship between adult learners' language, literacy, identity and culture and how it may affect pedagogy
  • The role of women as educational activists and gatekeepers
  • Literacy from a human rights context
  • The origin, historical development, methodological assumptions and models, and the practice of research in adult education
  • Analysis of adult education outside North America, including international agency involvement
  • Examination of the concept of ‘lifelong learning'; candidates will analyze issues and problems in context
  • Examination of policy development and actors in ‘lifelong learning', with the intent of establishing appropriate institutional structures
  • Comparison of educational mobility and late stage remediation in adult learners
  • How ethnicity and cultural identity affect and influence education in adult learners
  • Planning educational techniques in developing nations
  • Analysis of national education policies
  • Creation of dissertation with proper understanding of academic rigor and structure; using established techniques to create knowledge and further research in the field of adult education
  • Enable doctoral candidates to apply developing evaluative skills to areas of current research and scholarship as they fall within the curricula and a
  • Analyze complex systemic and situational issues, thereby creating a strategy to empower the adult learner in the classroom
  • Criteria on applying research to a doctoral candidate's practical and original practice in the classroom
  • Refinement of academic ethics and initiative in academics and research
  • Refinement of responsibility and accountability in professional practice
  • Refinement of qualities of self-governance and continuing professional development
  • How to apply knowledge gained to particular situations, students and issues
  • Communicate ideas, problems and solutions regarding research and practice in a compelling, concise and accurate manner
  • Continually develop awareness of limits of self-knowledge as it applies to both theory and practice in the classroom

What Can I Do With a PhD in Adult Education?

A Doctorate in Adult Education opens up a world of opportunities in a variety of settings. Some areas will offer more opportunity than others. Here are a few careers that are suitable for those with a PhD or EdD in Adult Education.

College Professor

A college professor will be responsible for creating a syllabus, implementing learning objectives, and meeting students either online or face to face in a college type environment. Some professors may teach strictly online and communicate digitally, but others may serve in an actual brick and mortar classroom. As more people begin to further their education, this is becoming a rapidly growing field.

Learning Specialist

A learning specialist works with small groups of people to improve skills. Those working with adults often work in the corporate world to train associates to learn to be more productive in order to enhance the work environment. Learning specialists can be highly specialized, so some areas see more growth than others. However, a learning specialist that works as a consultant with multiple companies or organizations has the ability to set their own goals.

Adult Basic Education Instructor

An adult basic education instructor may find themselves working in a variety of settings, dependent upon what is being taught. For example, a physical therapist who is trained to educate adults may work in a hospital for close to $100,000 a year and one who teaches medical coding may work in an office for $60,000 yearly. This area is stable as different forms of adult education are needed each year.

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Professional Organizations

Professional organizations offer opportunities for adult educators to become dynamically connected by expanding their knowledge and contributing to the development of the field. The Adult Education Research Conference is a yearly conference that provides a forum for adult education professionals and researchers to share their experiences and studies with other researchers and practitioners. There are many other organizations for professionals in the adult education realm. It may be a good idea to learn about such organizations as a way to stay connected.