Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education

Note: This page provides information on earning a Ph.D. in early childhood education. For details on other degree levels, please see our Early Childhood Education Degree page.

A PhD in Early Childhood Education allows those who are already in the field to extend their knowledge and strengthen their theoretical understandings and expertise. Most PhD or EdD programs are organized into coursework, research, and practical experiences. PhD students may develop skills in administration and advocacy as well as develop greater knowledge through research and analysis skills.

Choosing an Online PhD in Early Childhood Education

Online Phd or EdD programs appeal to busy students who are educators and already hold a master's degree. When choosing an online program, you should establish that a school is reputable and legitimate. If you think online school is right for you, consider the following questions when making your selection:

Is the Program Accredited?

Accreditation should be one of the first steps in helping you select a reputable online degree program. Accreditation shows that an institution of higher education offers a quality education. Early childhood education programs that are accredited should be established around the framework and competencies built by National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). You can learn more about accreditation in the United Stated by visiting:

How Long Has the Program Been Offered?

Find out how long the program has been offered. As a general statement, the longer the better. However, keep in mind that online learning is comparatively new. Be wary of a school or program that has only been around for one or two years. Ask lots of questions.

What Technologies Will Be Used to Facilitate Online Learning?

Online schools and programs utilize virtual learning platforms - this allows you to "attend" class from the comfort of your own home. These online learning platforms, such as Moodle or Canvas, can easily be accessed through a website. There is no need to install an expensive program.

What Resources Will I Have Access To?

Many online schools allow students to access online resources such as scholarly journals, online videos, and personalized library assistance. Other student services such as technology assistance and advising are also a part of these resources. Altogether, these can help make your overall learning experience much easier.

What Skills and Topics Are Covered?

A reputable program will be able to provide a thorough curriculum upon request. This will come in the form of measurable program goals and outcomes of what students will acquire as part of their PhD in Early Childhood Education program. Review the program goals to see how they relate to your personal and professional life.

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

Alumni can often act as career guidance mentors. Find out how their online PhD in Early Child Education has helped them in their career. If it is an option, it may be a good idea to communicate with recent graduates prior to signing on to a program. Be sure to ask a lot of questions and advice on how to excel within program requirements.

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Is an Online PhD Right for You?

A Doctorate degree is a lengthy educational decision. This means that ample time will be taken from work, friends, and family - especially if that degree is earned on a traditional college campus. As with most education degrees, a doctorate in Early Childhood Education can be earned as an Ed.D or Ph.D. Both can be useful in any education related profession for Early Childhood, but Ph.D candidates may be more likely to gain jobs as professors at the college level. Read more to learn about online degree programs:

Flexible Schedule

Online schooling has become a very common and viable way to earn a degree. A lot of the appeal comes from the amount of flexibility it offers. Online degree programs allow students to manage their own schedules, rather than reorganizing their lives to fit a rigid class schedule. This is especially important to working students and those with families. In most cases, instructors post video lectures online and students can watch them at their own convenience - that can be late in the evening after dinner or early in the morning before taking the kids to school. With online schooling, students do not need to worry about missing class lectures because of work or family obligations.


Online schooling is not for everyone. Before jumping on board, assess your learning style. Do you do well with individualized learning, or do you prefer to physically work with peers? If you prefer to work alone, online education might be good for you. Often, those who find success in online schooling are those who can motivate themselves to complete assignments and remain goal oriented. This is important to consider, because in an online learning environment, physical interaction will be very limited.

Tuition and Costs

Overall, earning an online PhD in Early Childhood Education may cost less than a traditional on-campus program. This varies from school to school. Consider the following:

  • No costs having to do with driving to and from campus. Take gas, automobile maintenance, and parking fees into consideration.
  • No need to buy food on campus.
  • No money spent on relocating.
  • No time spent commuting. This allows online students more time to maintain a source of income without altering their work schedule.

Program Curriculum

Online schools should follow a curriculum quite similar to those found in traditional campus settings. However, online programs tend to be accelerated. With that said, online programs may be more rigorous since more work is compacted into a shorter amount of time. When reviewing an online early childhood education program, you can expect to see the following:

  • Due dates and deadlines to help students stay on track. These accountability markers often include reading assignments, projects, action research papers, early childhood education practicums, quizzes, and tests.
  • Whole class chat rooms where students are required to share ideas and collaborate - especially when it comes to reading reflections.
  • A final dissertation, project, portfolio, or comprehensive exam.

PhD Course Topics

The goal of a PhD in Early Childhood Education is to prepare the holder to be a leader in the early education realm. This person should be able to guide, teach, and share their knowledge about early childhood growth, development, and learning. While practicum, teaching assistant, and dissertation opportunities are unique to the individual, many institutions outline the following curricular goals for doctoral students:

  • Analyze family involvement in community advocacy and describe the graduate's role in supporting families as community active members.
  • Examine the factors that lead to empowerment of children and families.
  • Analyze the role of the family as foundational socialization and education
  • Analyze the cultural context of the family unit and how it might affect thought and language
  • Articulate the role of community support programs for early childhood education
  • Compare and contrast various approaches to family involvement in child and family service models.
  • Identify barriers to effective family support and strategies to overcome them.
  • Develop and implement strategies to build partnerships with young families
  • Identify key performance factors for organizations and stakeholders in caring and advocating for families and children
  • Maintain respectful, positive and nurturing relationships with children, family groupings and educational professionals
  • Use effective written, oral, non-verbal, visual, and electronic communication in order to foster responsive and ethical communications in every instance
  • Communicate effectively in regard to child and family needs
  • Utilize insightful and effective observation techniques in pursuit of information and research in an educational or clinical setting
  • Use proven research strategies to ensure best practice in the lab and classroom
  • Conduct procedures with emphasis on a collaborative approach between colleagues, community stakeholders, and families
  • Critically analyze one's own teaching and research practice in order to maximize effectiveness and improve communication and behavior
  • Demonstrate in-depth knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the interplay of society and culture in practice
  • Survey, analyze and synthesize current research on early childhood brain development; inform practice and research to extend current understanding in the field
  • Use professional dialogue and advancements in the field to further expand upon the utilization of brain research
  • Understand and utilize the process of brain maturation in early childhood development and foundational experiences
  • Analyze the various perspectives of learning through information processing
  • Understand optimal conditions in regard to different kinds of learning and retention
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Professional Associations

Another way to strengthen the knowledge and skills of early childhood leaders is to network and collaborate. Through professional organizations, graduate students can benefit from development opportunities and resources. The Association for Early Learning Leaders, for example, aims to promote meaningful and collaborative connections as well as strengthen the leadership skills of its members. Members are provided access to an array of professional resources impacting the field of early childhood education.