Question: Are there any online EdD programs that do not require a dissertation?

Answer: Yes – A number of schools offer Doctor of Education degrees online that do not require students to complete a traditional dissertation. However, these programs typically include another type of capstone requirement, such as an applied project or a “dissertation-in-practice.” A traditional dissertation has a formal five-chapter structure and aims to contribute to the existing scholarly literature on a topic in education development or leadership. In contrast, both the applied project and the dissertation-in-practice are distinct from the traditional dissertation in that they have a more applied objective that relates to investigating or solving an educational practice or learning outcomes problem. In most cases, students who choose an applied project or a dissertation-in-practice are tasked with examining an education challenge at their current place of employment (or one that is present regionally), and making an improvement to strategies or methods used in their organization or district.

At this time, the majority of online EdD programs require students to complete a dissertation in order to earn their doctorate. There are, however, options for those who do not wish to write a traditional research-based thesis. As mentioned above, several programs now offer students the opportunity to develop and implement a more action-oriented capstone project or dissertation-in-practice. While these projects also require a considerable amount of research and writing, they differ from traditional dissertations in many ways, focusing more on producing direct solutions to existing problems in education or organizational leadership, instead of furthering theory in the field.

Note: At this time, all online EdD programs require students to complete some sort of a capstone experience whether it is a traditional research dissertation, an applied doctoral project, or a dissertation-in-practice.

To learn more about the differences between these three capstone experiences, and to see a list of online programs that include an applied project and/or disertation-in-practice option, continue reading below.

EdD Dissertation vs. Applied Project and Dissertation-In-Practice

While each is an extensive undertaking, intended to represent the culmination of one’s doctoral studies, a traditional EdD dissertation, an applied capstone project, and a dissertation-in-practice are all distinct from each other in several key ways. The dissertation is an original research study, in which students use qualitative and/or quantitative research methods to examine and analyze a specific issue related to education. The goal of this project is to contribute new insights on a particular topic in the field, making a positive impact on established methods or theories by advancing existing research.

Students typically begin the dissertation process by formulating a specific research question to investigate. After reviewing past research on the subject, they then design and conduct a study of their own and analyze the results. The final product is a five-chapter document detailing the entire dissertation process, including students’ research methodology and conclusions drawn from their findings. Overall, students can expect to spend a significant portion of their EdD studies planning for and completing their dissertation. Most programs include multiple courses related to dissertation research and development, and allow for one or more years of independent study to finish the project. The entire process is typically overseen by a dissertation committee comprised of program faculty, who provide mentorship and make sure students reach certain deadlines along the way. In most cases, students must present their initial research proposal to this committee for approval, as well as explain their findings during a formal dissertation defense at the end of their studies.

While it involves many similar elements, an EdD capstone project is quite different than a traditional dissertation. Instead of focusing on furthering scholarly understanding of a particular issue in education, the goal of these applied projects is to address a specific problem of practice. The result is typically a much more concrete deliverable, designed to be implemented immediately with the goal of improving performance or learning outcomes in a particular setting. This can take many different forms, such as a new curriculum plan for students, a staff training program, a piece of learning software, a district-wide technology strategy, potential policy changes, or recommendations for other organizational improvements that may help solve a current educational issue.

As with a dissertation, students typically complete this project under the guidance of faculty mentors. They must submit their initial proposal for approval, as well as defend the final product in front of their project committee. Most EdD programs that have an applied project option also include a number of credits or courses directly related to capstone development, as well as certain deadlines students must meet during the process. In the end, these projects are generally just as rigorous as a traditional dissertation, requiring a similar time commitment as well as substantial research and writing.

The dissertation-in-practice is, in many ways, a compromise between the structure and methodologies of the traditional dissertation and the applied objectives of the capstone project. Students who elect to complete a dissertation-in-practice identify a research question pertaining to a specific problem they wish to solve in their own place of work, or an educational issue that is affecting their region (e.g. school district or community). Students completing a dissertation-in-practice utilize qualitative and/or quantitative research methodologies to investigate their research question, and to gather data that will provide insights on addressing, preventing, or mitigating their chosen education problem. They also generally follow the same process that students completing traditional dissertations follow, which includes forming a faculty research committee, submitting and presenting a research proposal, writing their paper, and presenting their final conclusions to their committee. In general, dissertations-in-practice also follow the same formal five-chapter structure as a traditional dissertation, but the implications of students’ research are much more aligned with those of an applied capstone project: direct use in practice to improve learning outcomes.

Note: There are also programs with a dissertation-in-practice option that allow students to write a research paper that does not strictly abide by the five-chapter guidelines of a traditional dissertation. For the most detailed information on a program’s dissertation or capstone requirement–as well as how the program may define a traditional dissertation vs. a dissertation-in-practice–it is always best to contact the program directly.

Unlike a PhD in Education, the Doctor of Education degree is more focused on practice than scholarly research. Indeed, with the establishment of the Carnegie Project for the Education Doctorate (CPED) several years ago as a guiding organization in the area of EdD curriculum development, a growing number of EdD programs have joined CPED and expressed their commitment to the scholar-practitioner model. As such, many EdD programs are beginning to offer alternative dissertation options that more closely align with the EdD’s role as a practitioner’s degree. Therefore, students who prefer to focus on practical skills and real-world application over intensive academic inquiry should look for programs that offer an applied project and/or a dissertation-in-practice option.

For a closer look at all of these EdD capstone options, check out our in-depth guide to Online Doctor of Education Dissertations and Doctoral Research Projects.

Online EdD Programs: No Dissertation Required

The following is a list of online Doctor of Education programs that include an applied project or a dissertation-in-practice instead of a traditional dissertation as their capstone requirement. Students interested in earning their EdD without completing a dissertation have a variety of degree options to choose from, with specializations ranging from P-12 Educational Administration to Global Sport Leadership. Keep in mind, the requirements and goal of each program’s capstone project dissertation-in-practice or may vary, depending largely on the degree’s particular area of focus within education or organizational leadership.

Below are the schools that currently offer EdD programs online which do not require a dissertation:

  • Baylor University – Doctor of Education in Learning and Organizational Change
  • East Tennessee State University – Doctor of Education in Global Sport Leadership
  • Morehead State University – Doctor of Education with specializations in Adult and Higher Education Leadership, P-12 Administrative Leadership, or Educational Technology Leadership
  • Nebraska Methodist College – Doctor of Education in Education and Leadership in Healthcare
  • New York University – Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation
  • The University of Southern Mississippi – Doctor of Education in P-12 Educational Administration, Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration
  • University of Miami – Doctor of Education in Applied Learning Sciences
  • University of Virginia – Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Vanderbilt University – Doctor of Education in Leadership and Learning in Organizations

When researching potential programs, students should decide which type of capstone experience best fits their academic and professional goals. Ultimately, it is important to choose a degree that both aligns with one’s particular learning style and provides them with the type of training needed to advance in their field of interest. To learn more about any of the EdD programs listed above, as well as their specific capstone requirements, students should visit the school’s website or contact an admissions representative.