Online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Programs


The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) is considered the highest graduate degree for education practitioners seeking additional training and credentials in applied education leadership. Traditionally serving educators in primary, secondary, and higher education settings, the Ed.D. has recently seen an expansion in scope to encompass other professionals who want to apply pedagogical principles, leadership theory, and advanced research methods to improving educational and/or organizational outcomes. As a result, Ed.D. programs have also attracted students from the health care sector, business, non-profit leadership, the military, and more.

Additionally, with the advent of online Ed.D. programs that enable working professionals to earn their doctoral degree without disrupting their careers, Ed.D. programs nationwide have seen an increase in the diversity of their applicants and student cohorts, which has led to richer educational experiences for all students who gain from the diverse perspectives of their classmates. Specializations for Doctor of Education degrees range from Education Administration and Leadership to Curriculum and Instruction, Organizational Leadership and Change, Education Policy, Education Technology, and Nursing and Healthcare Education.

Advantages of Online EdD Programs: A Practitioner’s Degree Tailored to the Working Professional

As fundamentally a practitioner’s degree, the Ed.D. is typically geared towards experienced educators and other professionals who focus on training, leading, and/or mentoring groups in achieving key organizational goals. Students of Ed.D. programs have typically been working in their industry for several years, and wish to take the next step in their leadership trajectory. For these students, an online Ed.D. program can be the ideal option because it enables them to earn their degree while continuing to work. This offers them the particular advantage of being able to directly apply what they learn in their Ed.D. to their current job, while minimizing any work or schedule disruptions that can occur in more traditional, campus-based programs that require relocation or a commute.

With online Ed.D. programs come a number of other benefits, including but not limited to:

  • The opportunity to interact with students from across the nation, and in some cases all over the world, whose unique backgrounds and professional experiences can enhance all students’ learning outcomes and insights.
  • The opportunity to pursue additional specializations that are not offered by local programs, and access to graduate education for students who do not live within commuting distance of a university offering an Ed.D. program.
  • For busy professionals, no commuting to and from campus for weekly classes and depending on the type of online instruction, the ability to review course materials at any time of day or night.
  • The ability to attend lectures and complete readings and class assignments from anywhere with an internet connection.
  • The opportunity to receive the same kinds of faculty mentorship, research guidance, and professional development as campus-based programs but through an interactive online learning platform.

While online education provides several advantages compared to traditional campus-based learning, online programs are not for everyone. While some programs utilize live online sessions for lectures and discussions, others programs provide students with course materials that they review on their own time. In the absence of weekly scheduled lectures, online students must be able to manage their time effectively and be comfortable with independent learning. In addition, students who desire face-to-face interactions or learn better through impromptu discussions may prefer a campus program over an online one.

Students who need the flexibility of an online program but who desire an educational experience that more closely aligns with traditional classroom environments should explore online programs that include campus visits as part of the curriculum, as well as programs that utilize synchronous instruction. See below for more information on both of these structural elements of online programs.

Note: OnlineEdDPrograms.com categorizes programs by the number of campus visits they require students to attend. At this time, programs that require three or fewer campus visits per year are classified as online programs. Programs that require more than three campus visits per year are classified as hybrid or campus programs and are not currently included on the site.

Types of Doctor of Education Programs: Educational Administration and Organizational Leadership

As mentioned previously, while many online EdD programs offer different specializations within education, such as educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, or higher education administration, there are also programs that focus more broadly on organizational leadership. These programs are designed to prepare students for leadership roles in private companies, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and other settings, including within schools, school systems, and institutions of higher education, where organizational change and optimization is needed. There are also EdD programs that offer specializations in areas such as human resources, workforce and talent development, and even healthcare administration.

For students who wish to pursue leadership opportunities in education, there are online EdD programs in a variety of specializations that allow students to focus their doctorate on specific educational settings. Students can pursue programs that offer defined specializations or emphasize curricula in special education, K-12 leadership, adult learning, curriculum and instruction, post-secondary/higher education, early childhood education, e-learning and educational technology, instructional design, and more. There are also programs that offer coursework in niche specializations like nursing or Christian education leadership.

While the majority of online EdD programs are offered through Schools or Colleges of Education, some programs may be offered through other departments, including Colleges of Professional Studies, Schools of Nursing, and Schools of Health Professions or Human Services. OnlineEdDPrograms.com strongly advises prospective students to review programs thoroughly before applying to ensure the curriculum meets their personal and professional goals.

For more information on EdD specializations, check out our Online EdD Programs Specializations page which includes the most common specializations offered by colleges and universities.

Note: Some schools offer EdD programs in counseling, counselor education, and educational psychology. At this time, EdD programs in counseling and psychology are not included on the site.

The Benefits of Earning an EdD Degree

The EdD degree prepares individuals to assume leadership positions in a variety of education-related and non-education settings in both the public and the private sector. EdD graduates can work as university or college deans, secondary school principals, school district superintendents, teachers, education researchers, or leaders in education non-profit organizations and government agencies. In many cases, students of EdD programs already work in education administration, leadership, program development, or student affairs and would like to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to take on more responsibility in their current role, or advance to a different role within their field.

Completing an EdD degree may help students obtain advanced jobs in fields that are experiencing steady growth. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), elementary, middle school, and high school principals earned a median salary of $96,400 annually in 2019, while their expected job growth rate is the same as the national average (bls.gov). The mean annual wage for education administrators at the primary and secondary school levels, which include not only principals but also district superintendents, was $100,340 as of May 2019. Post-secondary education administrators, which include college deans, presidents, and chancellors, made a median annual salary of $95,410 per year in 2019. (Note: Salaries are highly dependent on geography, position, and educational and work experience, and national average growth rate estimates can vary year over year.) Earning an EdD may help individuals interested in becoming leaders in education or other fields gain the knowledge and skills necessary to increase their job opportunities and salary potential.

Note: Licensure for teachers and principals typically does not require a Doctor of Education degree and, therefore, EdD programs may not prepare students for licensure. Consequently, students interested in earning licensure as a principal should contact their state’s board of education for the most up-to-date information on licensing requirements.

Overview of Online Doctor of Education Programs

Online EdD programs are typically comprised of a combination of core coursework in the foundations of education or organizational leadership, and concentration coursework in a student’s desired field of practice post-graduation. Depending on the program and the number of course credits they complete each term, students generally take between 3 to 5 years to earn their EdD. The number of course credits required to complete an EdD program varies somewhat by school, but is typically between 40 and 70 credits total of post-master’s study.

For more information on the typical course requirements including core, specialization and elective courses, check out our resource on the Structure of Online EdD Programs.

Capstone Requirements: Dissertations and Applied Projects

Most online EdD programs require students to complete a doctoral research project, which gives students the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in applying qualitative and/or quantitative research to improving education programming and systems, or organizational outcomes. Depending on the Ed.D. program and its emphasis, the required doctoral research project can be in the form of a traditional five-chapter dissertation (which may be referred to as a dissertation in practice depending on the scope of a student’s doctoral research) or a capstone project that takes a less traditional form, such as a sequence of journal articles or a concrete deliverable (such as an education plan, a technological solution, a training protocol, etc.) that seeks to address a problem of practice in the student’s place of employment.

The problem of practice is a key way in which the doctoral research project for the Ed.D., whether it is a dissertation or a capstone project, is distinct from the dissertations that are characteristic of Ph.D. programs. Ed.D. dissertations and capstone projects typically focus on a key challenge or problem that students have observed in their current or desired place of work, and through their research students seek to investigate, analyze, and solve this problem. This is different from a Ph.D. dissertation, which is often broader in scope and seeks to add to the existing scholarly literature on a topic or theoretical framework.

During their research, students receive support from a program faculty member. Programs requiring a dissertation generally have students complete dissertation-focused classes that provide additional structure and guidance. These courses are typically in seminar format, and/or entail one-on-one work between a student and his or her research mentor. Dissertation seminars may cover topics such as submitting a strong research proposal, designing and conducting a research study, writing about and discussing research findings with peers, and the process of academic publication and dissemination of research findings for application to professional practice.

In fact, more Ed.D. programs are using a focused, “embedded dissertation” model, which entails having students begin thinking about their dissertation or doctoral capstone from the first few classes in their program. By integrating work on students’ dissertations or capstones from the beginning of their enrollment, Ed.D. programs help ensure that students are able to earn their doctorate within a specific time frame and also apply the course concepts they are learning in their courses directly to their problem of practice, without waiting until they finish their coursework to start their dissertation or capstone research.

For more information about Ed.D. dissertations and capstone projects, please refer to our Online Doctor of Education Dissertations and Doctoral Capstone Projects resource page. For a list of EdD programs that allow students to complete a capstone project in lieu of a dissertation, see our Online EdD Programs No Dissertation Required FAQ.

Residency and Internship Requirements

Some but not all online EdD programs require students to attend one or more on-campus residencies, and/or participate in an internship where they apply the advanced concepts they have learned in class to work in professional environments. On-campus residencies, sometimes known as intensives, typically entail visits to the school campus to participate in in-person lectures and discussions, hands-on learning activities, and networking events. Some programs also start with an on-campus orientation that typically takes place during the summer and is designed to introduce students to the school and the program.

Programs that have residency requirements vary in how many on-campus intensives they require, and when these intensives are held during the academic year. For example, some programs ask that students attend a one-week residency session during the summer term, while others ask students to attend a weekend-long campus session twice a year. Prospective online EdD students should note that they are generally expected to cover the costs of travel and lodging for these residencies, and that these costs should be factored into their overall budget when deciding between programs.

In addition to or in place of a residency requirement, some online EdD programs require students to complete an internship or practicum at a local school or organization. During these practicums, students typically observe professionals in their desired area of education or leadership, and apply the concepts they have learned to actual work under the supervision of a mentor. EdD practicum requirements vary from program to program. For example, some programs only require students to take one practicum class, while others may require two or more. Students generally need to complete prerequisites prior to starting their practicums. In addition, the practicum placement process for students can also vary, with some schools finding sites and supervisors for students, while others ask students to make their own internship arrangements and seek approval from their program’s practicum department. Moreover, depending on the program’s requirements and students’ professional goals, Ed.D. students may be able to complete their practicum at their current place of work.

Full-Time versus Part-Time Online EdD Programs

Many EdD programs offer students the option to pursue a part-time course of study, with the knowledge that most EdD students are already professionals in education administration or leadership who would like to continue working as they complete their degree. When deciding between full-time and part-time courses of study, students should weigh the benefits of completing their program sooner, versus having a greater course load and managing professional and school responsibilities. Most EdD programs are designed to be completed in three years, which would be considered full-time enrollment. Programs that offer part-time options typically take four to five years to complete.

One important consideration for students is whether or not a program uses a cohort model, where students enter and proceed through the program together in a group. The cohort model has several advantages in that students are more likely to form bonds as they take courses and complete assignments together throughout the program. This leads to the development of a professional network, which students can utilize during the program and after they graduate. The cohort model also typically uses a set schedule of courses, so students do not need to worry about which classes they need to enroll in and when in order to graduate on time. One disadvantage of the cohort model is that courses may only be offered during specific terms, and if students need to miss a term, they may have to wait an entire year for the courses to be offered again. This is especially true for programs that only admit students once per year.

Instruction Methods in Online EdD Programs: Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction

There are two main types of instruction methods for online EdD programs: synchronous and asynchronous. While all online programs include asynchronous elements (e.g., readings, assignments, discussion forums that students can access whenever they have time), some programs utilize real-time or synchronous instruction, where students attend live lectures. Conversely, there are programs that mainly use asynchronous instruction, which may incorporate a limited number of synchronous sessions, and others that only use asynchronous instruction (e.g., no required live sessions). Programs that only use asynchronous instruction often offer live office hours where students can chat with instructors, but these sessions are not typically required.

For a more detailed description of synchronous and asynchronous instruction, including the benefits and potential drawbacks of each type of instruction, check out our Structure of Online EdD Programs page.

Admission Requirements for Online EdD Programs

Admissions requirements for Ed.D. programs depends on the program and its specialization. For example, while Ed.D. programs with an academic focus (such as those with specializations in Higher Education Administration or Curriculum and Instruction) may require applicants to have a master’s degree in an education-related field, Ed.D. programs in Organizational Leadership may accept students with a variety of degree types. However, all Ed.D. programs require applicants to have completed a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and most require a master’s degree, from an accredited academic institution. (There are also a few online Ed.D. programs that require an EdS for admission.)

For more information, check out our resource on Admissions Requirements for Online EdD Programs. Students should also consult the office of admissions at their schools of interest for the most up-to-date information regarding admissions requirements for a particular program.