What Is an Online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT)?
The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is a degree designed for both current and prospective K–12 teachers who are looking to either obtain their initial teaching license or who are looking for additional certification 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.
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 technologyhave 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 watchvideo, “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.
Childhood Education Early childhood education MAT programs are designed for students looking to become early childhood or preschool teachers, typically working with children from birth to age 4 (although some programs extend certification into first grade). Students earning their MAT in early childhood education are provided with a foundational coursework in infant/toddler development, early childhood curriculum, integrating music and arts, and developing social behaviors. Early childhood education MAT programs also include one or two semesters of student teaching, which provides students with hands-on experience within environments such as preschools, elementary schools and child development centers.
Elementary Education MAT programs in elementary education (also referred to as childhood education) prepare students to succeed as elementary school teachers in a K–6 classroom, providing foundational coursework in teaching methods, student learning styles and education issues such as linguistic and cultural diversity. Coursework includes classes focusing on teaching multiple subject areas (elementary math, social studies, science, and English language arts), literacy and multicultural perspectives. Elementary education MAT programs also include one or two semesters of student teaching, which provides students with hands-on experience within a K–6 classroom.
Secondary Education Earning your MAT in secondary education (also referred to as adolescent education) prepares students to become a middle school teacher or a high school teacher in a grade 7–12 classroom and provides foundational coursework in teaching methods, student learning styles and education issues such as linguistic and cultural diversity.
Secondary education MAT programs lead to professional certification in the areas of English, social studies, science or mathematics. Schools may also offer concentrations in areas such as economics, psychology, business and marketing. Secondary education MAT programs also include one or two semesters of student teaching, which provides students with hands-on experience within a grade 7–12 classroom.
English concentration: Curriculum focuses on both English language and literature, in addition to educational theory and practice. Coursework includes classes on writing, studies in criticism and theory, American and British literature, literacy development and English Language Learners (ELL).
Social studies concentration: Curriculum focuses on both U.S. and world history, as well as educational theory and practice. Coursework includes classes on economics, western civilization, American government, sociology, foundations of education and teaching social studies. Schools may offer additional areas of specialization such as economics, marketing or business education.
Science concentration: Curriculum may focus on general science studies or may be broken into specific content areas such as biology, earth science or physics. Coursework includes classes on literacy across content areas, adolescent development and courses focusing on specific content areas.
Mathematics concentration: Curriculum focuses on mathematical theory, practice and applications alongside educational pedagogy and teaching methods. Coursework includes classes on the history of mathematics, calculus, probability, differential equations, foundations of education and educational technology.
Special Education Obtaining a MAT degree in Special Education prepares prospective teachers to provide instruction specifically designed for students with disabilities and to work within a number of educational settings. While the majority of schools offer MAT degree programs specifically geared toward a Master in Special Education, there are also programs, such as our partner USC Rossier Online, that offer special education credentials — degree extensions and/or certificates that new and experienced teachers can add onto their existing teaching licensure. The curriculum focus for special education MAT programs is dependent on your area of study. Available special education programs include learning disabilities, behavior disorders and teacher of the deaf/hard of hearing. Contact your desired college or university to find out more about their available special education programs and concentration areas.
Gifted Education Earning an advanced degree in gifted education prepares teachers to provide instruction specifically designed for talented and gifted (TAG) students. While there is no standard definition of what constitutes a TAG student, the academic label of “gifted” identifies students with an above average intellectual ability, aptitude or competence. Similar to special education programs, most schools offer an option of obtaining your gifted education credentials, which allows new and experienced teachers to add a certificate in TAG onto their existing teaching licensure. Gifted education coursework focuses on political and academic issues of TAG students and differentiated instruction.
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 (like the concentration areas listed above)
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:
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.
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.
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.
The 8-week Harvard Bok Teaching Certificate online short course is delivered by Harvard’s Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, in association with HarvardX. Students in this course will engage deeply with the most relevant research on effective teaching methods in the higher education context, while refining their own practices, portfolio, and teaching philosophy.
Online or Traditional: Which Program is Right for You?
The answer to that question depends on a number of other questions: What are your 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:
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 course load. 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.
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.
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.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2015, common job titles and employment figures for MAT-related occupations include:
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: