What is an Online MAT?



A Master of Arts in Teaching (commonly abbreviated as MAT) is a degree designed for both prospective K-12 teachers who are looking to either obtain their initial teaching license and current K-12 educators who aim to earn additional certifications as a means of career advancement inside the classroom. An online MAT is the same degree delivered through a blend of Internet technologies and real-world experiences.

The goal of any Master of Arts in Teaching degree program is to prepare aspiring teachers to become effective K-12 instructors or equip current educators with the knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to obtain further certification. Accordingly, MAT programs focus on blending learning theory with hands-on, field-based teaching experiences. Prominent themes can include:

  • Role of diversity in learning
  • Incorporation of technology in the classroom
  • Integration of Common Core standards

Broadly speaking, learning goals focus on enabling students to build positive classroom environments to meet the challenges of today’s schools.

Adaptations in educational technology have enabled online programs to be better suited than ever for 21st-century learning. Built-in cameras and microphones in our computers, the ability to quickly and easily watch video, “Web 2.0” structures that allow for discussions and exams – these are all basic technologies that most people have access to, and the best online master’s degree programs put these technologies to good use.

Strong online programs should have the following:

  • Live virtual classes;
  • Learning management systems;
  • Interactive course content;
  • Technical support;
  • Mobile access.

Who is it targeted for?

As mentioned, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is a degree targeted for prospective teachers, who hope to earn their initial teaching license, and current educators, who would like to obtain additional certifications. An online MAT program is best suited for aspiring teachers or working educators who either cannot relocate or commute to an on-campus program, or those who wish to take advantage of the flexibility, convenience, and accessibility of an online program.

Although working educators can pursue their online MATs to improve their career prospects, the degree program itself is designed to accommodate students who do not have previous teaching experience or credentials. Therefore, online MAT programs do not require prerequisite courses in education. Minimum admissions standards typically only necessitate that candidates hold a bachelor’s degree or greater from an accredited institution of higher education. No other credentials or education are often necessary.

Online MAT Curriculum

The curriculum of an online MAT is nearly identical to that of a traditional MAT program pursued on campus. MAT coursework focuses on grade level and subject area, including multiple subject certification for elementary education degrees and/or subject-specific certification (e.g. English, mathematics, social studies, science) for secondary education degrees. Many MAT programs also offer certification and extension in specialized areas of instruction, like:

  • Special education
  • Gifted education
  • Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL)

A Master of Arts in Teaching degree equips students with the foundational knowledge, hands-on field experience and teaching strategies to integrate the Common Core standards, improve student outcomes and be an effective and confident educator in any learning environment. Core classes explore:

  • Learning theories
  • Classroom technology
  • Teaching methods
  • Language
  • Literacy

The curriculum typically culminates with a capstone, which can take the form of a dissertation or research project.

Student teaching is a requirement for all students who are looking to obtain their initial teaching license or for those who are gaining additional certification in a new grade and/or subject area, so fieldwork is incorporated in all MAT programs. This practical experience is gained through student teaching in a school environment related to the particular area of study. Online MAT programs should have offline components for students to gain practical experience, such as fieldwork and student teaching in a K-12 classroom. In addition, some programs offer on-campus immersions and networking opportunities to support the online curriculum.

The requirements, coursework, and goals of an online MAT program may differ according to its specialization or concentration area. Students are typically able to choose between program options to better direct their learning toward their desired career goals. Often, specialization options will include:

  • Early childhood education: for those looking to work with children from birth to age 4;
  • Elementary education: for those wanting to instruct K-6 classes;
  • Secondary education: for those hoping to teach a specific subject (e.g. English, social studies, science, mathematics) in grades 7-12;
  • Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL): for those looking to teach English as a second language;
  • Special education: for those wanting to help students who are mentally, physically, socially and/or emotionally delayed;
  • Gifted education: for those hoping to work with students who demonstrate outstanding levels of aptitude.

Disclaimer: Each online MAT program is unique, with the governing institution stipulating its own prerequisites, courses, hours, credit requirements, and other particulars. For information regarding a specific program, be sure to contact the administering school.

Requirements for an Online MAT

As mentioned above, while working educators can pursue their Master of Arts in Teaching degree, the program itself is designed to accommodate students who do not have any previous teaching experience. Therefore, online MAT programs do not require students to have completed prerequisite courses in education. Minimum admissions standards typically only include a bachelor’s degree or greater from an accredited institution of higher education.

MAT vs. Online MAT

The answer to that question depends on a number of other questions: What are you current responsibilities and obligations? Are you able to quit your job to attend school or do you need to keep it? Do you have children or other family members whom you must be near? Do you have your heart set on a certain school or program? Are you comfortable using technology?

These are all questions to ask yourself when determining whether you should pursue your Master of Arts in Teaching online or on-campus, because neither can be the perfect answer for everyone.

Who Should Get an Online MAT?

The benefits of an online degree program include flexibility, convenience, and accessibility. Therefore, an online MAT is the best fit for those students who are pressed for time, who want to access a program from a far-away campus or who can’t (or simply don’t want to) leave their professional or personal obligations to relocate for school. You can take online classes at home – or from your desk after work or your hotel on vacation – and the time commitment is limited to lives classes, homework, and studying. No commuting to class is required. That makes online MAT programs a great fit for:

  • Full-time workers;
  • Parents who work or stay at home;
  • Those who can’t relocate or commute to school;
  • Those who live far from a desired program with an online component.

An online MAT may also allow students to obtain their degrees faster than otherwise possible at a traditional on-campus program. The logistics of commuting could force an on-campus student to pursue his or her degree part-time, while the flexibility and convenience of an online program could allow that same student to take a full-time courseload. The difference between pursuing an MAT full-time and a part-time could be the difference of earning your degree in one year or three!

But again, that’s not to say an online MAT program is right for everyone. For one thing, not every school offers an online version of their MAT program. So if you already have a specific school in mind and it’s on-campus only, an online program is, of course, out of the question. The same goes for people who highly value in-person interaction in their classes. Perhaps you spend all day in front of a computer and would rather prefer lectures in a room full of classmates. If that sounds like you, you might get more out of a traditional program.

MAT vs. Online MAT Coursework

A key difference between traditional and online MAT programs is the coursework experience. Depending on the program you enroll in, your experience will vary, but the best programs shouldn’t differ drastically in terms of their coursework. Much like the distinction between in-class assignments and homework in a traditional on-campus program, online programs have synchronous and asynchronous elements.

  • Synchronous elements require real-time interaction through tools like text chat, voice chat and video conferencing.
  • Asynchronous elements can be addressed at your leisure, like reading documents, viewing presentations, listening to audio files or watching videos.

E-mails, discussion boards, social networks, collaborative documents and e-portfolios are also asynchronous elements. Like homework in a regular classroom, these offline components support the online curriculum. You’ll be expected to have watched lectures and completed homework assignments prior to attending live class sessions so you’re ready to participate in discussions and other in-class activities.

Online MAT vs. Online ME

Many people use the terms Master of Arts in Teaching and Master’s in Education (commonly abbreviated as ME) interchangeably, assuming the distinction is subtle or nonexistent. The difference, however, is considerable, and understanding it will steer you in the direction that’s right for your career.

Online MAT

As mentioned above, an online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) focuses primarily on the advancement of your teaching career. This is the degree most often pursued by those who want hands-on teaching experience and are seeking to work directly with students. An online MAT program focuses heavily on advanced coursework to hone subject-area expertise, pedagogical theory and implementation. Essentially, an online MAT will teach you how to be a better teacher.

Online ME

An online Master’s in Education (ME) is an advanced degree geared more towards moving beyond the classroom and into the education system itself. Certified teachers and aspiring ones can pursue an online ME and still remain in the classroom, but the degree allows for broader applications. Online ME students typically focus on one of three majors, each of which opens its own career paths:

  1. Curriculum and instruction: for those interested in curriculum development, teacher leadership and human development;
  2. Counselor education: for those aspiring to become a guidance counselor or school mental health professional;
  3. Educational administration: for those looking to advance to a principal or higher level school administrator.

Online MAT Job Outlook and Salaries

While most states do not require educational professionals to hold an advanced degree, there are a number of benefits to earning your MAT. Having an advanced degree, both inside and outside the classroom, provides you with greater career options and the opportunity to earn a higher salary.

Working Environments for Online MAT Graduates

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015, common job titles and employment figures for MAT-related occupations include:

  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers: 1.5 million jobs;
  • Middle school teachers: 627,500 jobs;
  • High school teachers: 961,600 jobs;
  • Special education teachers: 450,700 jobs;
  • Career and technical education teachers: 231,800 jobs.

MAT-holders work as teachers in kindergartens, elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. They may work in public, private, magnet, charter or religious schools. In these work environments, they may teach traditional subjects (e.g. English, social studies, science, mathematics) or more specialized ones, such as special education or career and technical education.

Special education teachers may additionally work in childcare centers, residential facilities, hospitals and students’ homes. Some career and technical education teacher may also work in postsecondary schools, such as two-year colleges, or technical, trade and business schools. MAT-holders typically work in the United States, but some, especially those certified in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), may choose to work abroad. Distinctions are also usually made regarding high-needs environments, with some districts offering teachers higher salaries, grants or student loan forgiveness for working in low-income or teacher shortage areas.

Choosing your specialization will narrow down the type of workplace you might land in, but if you need inspiration, check out our interview series with former teachers who moved into new careers with additional education:

  • From Teacher to Teacher Resources Entrepreneur: 8 Questions with Betsy Weigle
  • From Teacher to Tech-Savvy Principal: 8 Questions with Jeff Herb

Salaries of MAT Graduates

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015, common job titles, median annual salaries and employment growth through 2024 for MAT-related occupations are:

  • Kindergarten and elementary school teachers: $54,550, 6%;
  • Middle school teachers: $55,860, 6%;
  • High school teachers: $57,000, 6%;
  • Special education teachers: $56,800, 6%;
  • Career and technical education teachers: $52,800, 4%.

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