Question: Are there any online Doctor of Education (EdD) programs in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), English Language Learning (ELL), and English Language Acquisition (ELA)?

Updated: October 10, 2023

Answer: Yes, there are currently four online EdD programs that allow students to specialize in English Language Learning (ELL), Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), or English Language Acquisition (ELA). Students in these programs earn a doctoral degree in education (EdD) that, in addition to core coursework in education and scholarly research methods, includes specialized training and instruction in the pedagogy and practice of TESOL and strategies for teaching English language skills.

The EdD is a terminal scholar-practitioner degree, which means it is the highest-level degree conferred to scholar-practitioners in education. The Doctor of Philosophy, or PhD, in education is another type of terminal degree in the field, but PhD programs typically place a greater emphasis on academic research rather than applied practice. (For a detailed examination of the differences between these two degrees, see our FAQ on EdD vs. PhD programs.

EdD programs with a TESOL, ELL, or ELA specialization are designed to prepare students for leadership roles in the planning, assessment, and coordination of English language programs for non-English speakers in schools, school districts, community programs, and other settings where English as a second language (ESL) is taught. The TESOL specialization is one of many concentrations offered by EdD programs. Others include Adult Education, Early Childhood Education, Higher Education, and Special Education.

What is TESOL?

TESOL represents a base of knowledge and practices that inform the pedagogy for teaching English language skills, including reading, writing, and speaking English, to students and adults whose primary language is not English. Teaching English as a second language (ESL) is another, older term for TESOL and is considered roughly the equivalent of TESOL in most cases. However, TESOL has become the new term of art for teaching English as a second language. ELL is a similar term that can refer to anyone who is learning English but is generally applied to English language learners in K-12 schools. ELA is short for English Language Acquisition, which is largely equivalent to TESOL and ESL from an academic perspective.

The TESOL specialization is generally classified under the broader Curriculum and Instruction area of education, which encompasses the design, assessment, evaluation, and improvement of curricula based on accepted theories of learning and development. TESOL teachers, program directors, researchers, and administrators apply these principles to teaching English to students and adults whose primary language is not English.

TESOL pedagogy is rooted in an understanding of second-language acquisition, sociolinguistic theories, and evidence-based methods for teaching ESL in a variety of settings, including elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, community programs, workplaces, and private learning centers.

Online EdD in TESOL Program Curriculum

As noted above, TESOL is generally a specialization within the larger area of Curriculum and Instruction, which encompasses the broad pedagogical goals of designing, implementing, and evaluating educational programming in order to improve outcomes. Students in an EdD in TESOL program take foundational courses that cover topics in curriculum development, instructional design, and educational leadership, as well as courses that cover theories of learning and development, trends in the American educational system, educational policy, and classroom technologies.

It is important to note that specific courses vary by school and by program. However, most EdD programs that focus on Curriculum and Instruction provide a broad-based foundation in educational theory, practice, and policy. TESOL specialization coursework builds on this foundation, focusing on the application of general knowledge to TESOL programs and curricula.

A TESOL curriculum at the doctoral level typically includes courses that cover the design, evaluation, and implementation of second language programs; theories of linguistics language acquisition; social, psychological, and cultural factors in learning and teaching English as a second language; and research in the field of TESOL. In addition, many program incorporate coursework in the use of technology in second language teaching, the design and evaluation of training programs for TESOL teachers, and/or strategies for teaching English as a second language in elementary and secondary schools or adult education settings.

Typical EdD in TESOL specialization courses include, but are not limited, to the following:

  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Language Assessments and Analysis
  • Research in Applied Linguistics and TESOL
  • Second Language Performance Assessment
  • Computer-Assisted Language Learning
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Schools of Linguistic Analysis
  • TESOL Methodologies for K-6
  • TESOL Methodologies for 7-12
  • TESOL Methodologies for Adult Learners

In addition to didactic coursework, EdD programs typically require students to complete a doctoral dissertation or a capstone project prior to receiving their degree.

Online EdD Programs with a Specialization in TESOL

Currently, four accredited universities offer online EdD programs with a TESOL, ELL, or ELA specialization. A brief description of each program is provided below.

National University, a private online university located in San Diego, CA, has an online EdD program with 17 specializations, including an English Language Learning (ELL) specialization. Students in the program are required to complete 16 courses and a dissertation for a total of 48 credits and can earn their degree in as few as 33 months. Admission to the program requires a post-baccalaureate master’s or doctoral degree. The ELL specialization consists of four courses that cover topics in teaching, assessing, and developing ELL curricula and contemporary issues in teaching English as a second language. This program does not require students to attend any campus visits. For more information on the program, visit

The University of Central Florida (UCF) has a fully online EdD program with a TESOL specialization. The program does not require students to attend any campus visits. Students in the program are required to complete 36 credits of course work and an 18-credit dissertation for a total of 54 credits prior to receiving their degree. The TESOL specialization consists of five courses that provide training and instruction in language acquisition processes, second language literacy, sociolinguistics, and TESOL teacher education. Students can complete UCF’s program in three years. To be eligible for the program, applicants must hold a master’s degree in education or a related field. For additional information about the program, visit the UCF’s College of Community Innovation and Education website at

The University of Virginia (UVA) offers an online EdD in Curriculum and Instruction program through its School of Education and Human Development. The program has an ESL specialization comprised of four courses that confer 12 of the 72 credits required to earn the degree. Students in the program can take graduate courses in the structure of the English language, sociolinguistics, ESL assessment and curriculum design, and applied linguistics. The program does not require any campus visits. The EdD program, which can be completed in four years, does not require a dissertation. Instead, students must complete a capstone project as part of their studies. Applicants must hold a master’s degree and have four years of prior teaching experience. For more information on the program, visit UVA’s School of Education and Human Development at

The University of West Georgia (UWG) offers an online EdD in School Improvement with an Area of Concentration (AoC) in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). This program consists of core courses in areas such as culturally proficient leadership, policy analysis and development for school improvement, advanced instructional practices, and qualitative and quantitative research methods. The ESOL AoC is comprised of courses in cultural and linguistic diversity, second language acquisition and linguistics, and the application of TESOL methods, materials, and assessments through clinical practice. Students’ culminating experience in this doctoral program is a dissertation through which they examine a problem of practice relating to their area of study in linguistics and second language instruction and learning. Applicants to this program must have earned a master’s degree from an institution of higher education that has received regional and/or national accreditation. For more information about this program, please visit UWG’s School of Education at

Advantages of Online EdD in TESOL Programs

Online EdD programs are designed to provide students who cannot or would prefer not to commute to a campus for classes with a pathway to earn a doctorate in education. In addition, they provide students and professionals who do not live near a university that offers a doctoral program in TESOL the ability to pursue a terminal degree without having to relocate. While these are the primary advantages of an online program, additional advantages include being able to access coursework and course materials from anywhere and at any time, the ability to review recorded lectures multiple times for greater comprehension and understanding, and the ability to meet people and classmates from around the country (and maybe even from around the globe) who can share a greater diversity of voices and experiences.

Because online programs do not require students to commute to campus for lectures and discussion sessions, they are typically more flexible and convenient compared to their campus-based counterparts. For example, many online courses are delivered using asynchronous instruction, which means students can access pre-recorded lectures and presentation via a secure internet connection at their convenience, 24-7. Courses that are taught in real time using synchronous instruction are commonly scheduled for evenings and/or weekends so as not to conflict with work hours for students who maintain employment while earning their degree. Finally, students and interact with professors and classmates through online learning platforms that often allow both electronic communications (e.g., email and discussion boards) and the ability to interact in real-time through videoconferencing or chat rooms.

Many online EdD programs do not require students to attend any campus visits in order to earn their degree. However, some programs incorporate a limited number of on-campus sessions to allow for in-person lectures, seminars, and/or workshops. These campus visits are typically short in length and can be a valuable addition to the online learning experience. If traveling is not an option, students should consult with a program representative prior to submitting an application to determine whether or not campus visits are required.