Question: What is the difference between an EdD and a PhD in Education?

Answer: While Doctor of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education programs may cover many similar topics related to education and learning theory, the primary difference between them lies in their overall focus and intended career outcomes. The EdD is fundamentally a practitioner’s degree, intended for working professionals interested in taking on academic leadership roles. PhDs in Education, on the other hand, are more research-oriented, designed for those looking to pursue scholarly work or teach in collegiate settings.

An EdD and PhD are both doctorates and regarded as two of the three terminal degrees in the field of education (the other being an Educational Specialist [EdS] degree). The difference between them essentially boils down to practice vs. scholarship. Where the EdD focuses on real-world application, preparing students with the knowledge and tools they need to effectively lead in educational settings, a PhD in Education is concerned with research and theory, aimed at students who want to advance current thought in the field. While they may touch on many of the same topics, such as learning theory, educational policy, and advanced research methods, these programs typically attract different students and lead to different careers.

To learn more about each degree, as well as the similarities and differences between them, continue reading below.

Doctor of Education (EdD) Programs

The Doctor of Education is generally considered an advanced practice degree. These programs are designed for students interested in administrative leadership, professionals seeking concrete problem-solving skills and advanced strategies they can apply to real-world challenges. While not always the case, EdD students are typically working educators or administrators, pursuing their degree in hopes of gaining expertise that will help them improve in their current role, implement change at their current organization, and/or prepare them for career advancement.

EdD programs are available in a number of different concentrations, all of which involve leading education programs in different academic or organizational settings. Examples of potential specializations include higher education leadership, PK/K-12 educational administration, early childhood education, curriculum and instruction, adult education, educational technology, special education, and organizational leadership. Curriculum in these programs often includes some coursework in theory and research, but combines that more theoretical study with practical knowledge in areas such as organizational management, finance and budgeting, curriculum design and assessment, professional development, instructional methods, educational technology, and legal issues related to teaching or running an educational facility.

Students typically pursue an EdD in order to move into high-level educational leadership roles in schools, school districts, nonprofits, the government, or related private sector organizations. Graduates might work in administration, as principals, directors, superintendents, or deans, or take on management positions in curriculum design or instructional coaching. Depending on their particular specialization, they could also become executive directors of youth or childcare facilities or oversee adult learning or vocational training centers. Some EdD graduates go on to teach in their area of focus, instructing at a college or university after gaining several years of professional experience. Earning an EdD in Organizational Leadership prepares students for a much wider range of positions both in and outside of school settings. Graduates of these programs can apply their expertise to upper management positions in nearly any type of organization, or use their knowledge to lead training and development efforts for businesses or other entities.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education Programs

As opposed to the more applied EdD, a Doctor of Philosophy in Education is primarily concerned with conducting research. Students in these programs collect and analyze data related to specific areas of education, and then use their findings to advance theory in the field, generate new instructional strategies, or otherwise enhance the teaching profession or educational system as a whole. In general, those pursuing a PhD are full-time doctoral students, fully committed to their research and associated academic endeavors (e.g., teaching or assisting with courses within their department).

PhD programs generally take a more theoretical, study-based approach to coursework. Students can expect to spend the majority of their time designing and conducting research projects and interpreting the results. When it comes to degree specializations, schools might offer education-related PhDs in areas such as education policy, literacy, program assessment, educational technology, human development, or learning and teaching, or concentrations in specific fields, such as special education, educational administration, adult learning, or early childhood education. Courses typically focus on topics that will help students in their research pursuits, focusing on qualitative and quantitative research methods, approaches to inquiry, research design, data analysis, and writing, as well as historical and emerging theories related to their area of focus.

In general, students earn a PhD in Education with the intention of building careers in academia or research. Graduates typically become postsecondary educators or researchers, working or teaching in colleges, universities, or related organizations. As mentioned before, their ultimate goal is often to develop original research in a given subject and add their findings to the existing literature on the topic. This might mean having their work published in an academic journal or similar scholarly outlet and presenting it at national (or even international) conferences. Depending on its subject matter, their findings may then be used to teach future generations of educators, or help make improvements to the current educational system.

EdD vs. PhD in Education

As detailed above, there are several key differences between an EdD and a PhD in Education. Overall, the EdD is much more applied, focused on preparing graduates with practical job skills they can immediately use in professional settings. Students typically pursue the degree for career advancement, either to move into leadership roles or improve in their current position. The PhD, on the other hand, is more theoretical, with a greater emphasis on research and inquiry. These programs are typically for students who want to stay in academia, using their advance knowledge to teach others and further thought in the field of education.

There are a few other factors to consider when deciding which degree to pursue, an EdD or PhD in Education. Students should note that most PhD programs are campus-based, meaning they will need to live in close proximity to their school in order attend lectures, participate in research projects, and otherwise assist with departmental duties. In contrast, EdD programs can be pursued online or on campus, with a wide range of options available for fully online study (or with minimal campus requirements). An EdD generally takes around three years to complete and, in most cases, requires a master’s degree for admission. PhDs take slightly longer, usually four to five years, but students can often enter with only a bachelor’s degree.