Online EdD Programs in Adult Education, Career Education and Lifelong Learning

Updated: March 27, 2024

Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and now more than ever, adults are returning to the classroom in order to stay competitive in an ever-changing workforce. Teaching adults presents a number of unique challenges, as those seeking continuing education possess much different motivations than traditional students, and are often less susceptible to new ways of thinking. There are currently 10 schools that offer online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) programs with a specialization in Adult Education.

Online EdD in Adult Education programs help prepare educators and other professionals with the advanced knowledge and skills to not only effectively teach adult students, but drive innovation in lifelong learning. Graduates in the field can put this expertise to use in a wide range of settings, from college or vocational instruction to technical or corporate training programs, taking on leadership roles in nearly any situation that involves educating or supporting adult learners.

Note: This page only includes online EdD programs with a specific concentration in adult education. These may be distinct from programs in higher education leadership, focusing on either adult education in schools or training adults in other settings (e.g., businesses, organizations). Students interested in broader higher education or organizational leadership programs should check out our Online EdD in Higher Education Administration and/or Online EdD in Organizational Leadership specialization pages.

Curriculum for Online EdD Programs in Adult Education

Students looking to pursue an EdD in Adult Education online have a number of options to choose from. This particular specialization may go by different names at different schools, and be offered as its own degree program, or as a concentration option within a more general Teaching or Educational Leadership program. Some examples of available programs include:

  • Online Doctor of Education in Adult and Career Education
  • Online Doctor of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning
  • Online Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
  • Online Doctor of Education with a Concentration in Adult Education
  • Online Doctorate of Education in Higher and Adult Education with a Concentration in Adult Education

When researching programs, students should be sure to pay close attention to course offerings and degree requirements, in order to find a program that best aligns with their academic and professional goals.

Online EdD programs in Adult Education generally consist of anywhere from 40 to 70 credit hours. Most students can expect to complete their degree in around three to five years of study. While exact requirements will vary by program, in most cases, curriculum is comprised of the following four elements: core coursework, concentration courses, electives, and dissertation research.

Core courses in an Adult Education EdD program tend to focus on advanced study of fundamental theories and principles in the field, as well as qualitative and quantitative research methods students might use in completing their dissertation. Below are a few examples of topics commonly covered in this core curriculum:

  • Adult Learning Theory: Advanced study of andragogical principles and models, focusing on the stages of cognitive development, and theories behind effective approaches to adult education, such as transformational, experiential, and self-directed learning.
  • Leadership in Adult Education: A look at best practices and proven strategies for leading in adult learning settings, considering different leadership styles and theories, and how to provide the most positive environment for students and staff.
  • Legal and Ethical Issues in Adult Learning: This course examines the legislation, regulations, and guidelines that govern adult education, as well as the code of ethics these educators should follow, typically featuring case studies of historical and contemporary events in the field.
  • History and Philosophy of Teaching: In this course, students analyze educational methods, policies, and ideas throughout history, exploring fundamental issues and arguments while constructing their own personal teaching philosophy.

Once students have completed core courses, they typically move into more specialized coursework, studying specific topics and skills in the field of adult education instruction and program leadership. The exact focus of these concentration courses will vary by program; however, here are several areas often covered in this portion of the curriculum:

  • Cognitive Coaching: This course explores various methods by which adult educators can make students more aware of their own thinking processes, in an effort to foster independent learning and confident problem-solving skills.
  • Current Issues in Adult Education: Students examine current and emerging trends and challenges in the adult education space, from the impact of online and on-demand learning, to the changing needs of today’s workforce and most in-demand skills for career advancement.
  • Teaching Diverse Learners: How to effectively reach adult students from a wide array of educational, social, and cultural backgrounds, accommodating different learning styles, skill levels, language proficiencies, and physical and learning disabilities.
  • Program Evaluation: In this course, students consider different ways to measure the effectiveness of instructional programs and training methods, looking at tools used for data collection and analysis, as well as strategies for improving learning outcomes.

Finally, some EdD programs give students the opportunity to customize their studies by choosing one or more elective courses, allowing them to explore particular interests or career skills that may not be covered in the standard curriculum. These electives might be additional offerings from the same department as the EdD program or come from another department at the school, pending approval of program faculty. Here are two examples of elective topics that might interest students pursuing an EdD in Adult Education:

  • Organizational Management: A study of management theories and strategies for overseeing operations at a complex organization, including how to handle finances, staff, and other resources, and drive institutional improvement.
  • Coaching, Mentorship, and Collaboration: This course further explores the relationship between instructor and student, examining the unique dynamics at play, as well as effective methods of reinforcement and guidance techniques.

Most online EdD programs in Adult Education culminate in completion of a dissertation, where students demonstrate their mastery of concepts covered in the curriculum by performing original research on an issue in the field. Students work on this extensive research project throughout their studies, typically under the guidance of a faculty advisor or dissertation committee, and ultimately present their findings in the form of a multipage document. Some programs also require students to defend their dissertation orally, which entails explaining their rationale and analysis in front of a panel of faculty members. In order to help with the dissertation process, most EdD programs include one or more courses dedicated specifically to dissertation research and development. Many also grant credit hours for the independent study involved.

To learn more about the dissertation process and EdD capstone requirements, check out our resource page on Doctor of Education Dissertations and Doctoral Capstone Projects. For additional information about pursuing an EdD online, please refer to our Structure of Online EdD Programs and Admission Requirements for Online EdD Programs pages.

Career Paths for Graduates of EdD Programs in Adult Education

There are a wide range of careers one might pursue with an EdD in Adult Education. Not surprisingly, many graduates find work in education, taking on teaching or administrative positions at two- or four-year colleges, universities, professional schools, or trade schools. Depending on their background and area of expertise, they might also lead technical training programs, or training and development initiatives for companies or other organizations. Keep in mind, some of these roles may require additional skills or certifications, such as specialized vocational training or proficiency in a second language.
To give students a better idea of their options after graduation, below are a few examples of potential career paths one might pursue with an EdD in Adult Education:

  • College Administrator: There are a variety of positions in higher education leadership well suited to those with a degree in adult learning, particularly at junior or community colleges, which tend to enroll a higher number of adult students. Graduates might work in academic affairs, overseeing or developing curricula or degree programs; student services, managing academic advising or otherwise supporting student success; or even as a dean, in charge of an entire school or department within the college.
  • Vocational School Director: These administrators manage technical or trade schools, where students learn hands-on skills specific to a certain profession or field of study, such as auto repair or healthcare. Along with supervising staff and budget, their responsibilities typically include making top decisions regarding curricula and training methods, as well as keeping the school up to various industry standards.
  • Training and Development Manager: These professionals oversee and coordinate employee training programs for businesses and other organizations, either as a part of the organization themselves or an outside party. Working with administration, they assess employee training needs, and then develop the appropriate instruction strategies and materials, all while managing training staff and associated budget.
  • Professor: With an EdD, graduates might also go on to teach at a college or university, either in the field of adult education itself, passing on their knowledge and furthering research in adult learning, or in another subject, instructing adult students at the postsecondary level. Along with leading traditional campus-based courses, these educators might also teach online, helping to develop or oversee distance learning programs.

Online Ed.D. Programs in Adult Education

The following schools are sorted by state for easy reference; however, most online EdD programs accept students from other states as well. For out-of-state programs, students should confirm with an admissions advisor that the program accepts students from their state of residence before applying.



Grand Canyon University

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
Department: College of Doctoral Studies


Aurora University

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


Kansas State University

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission, NCATE
Department: College of Education


Morehead State University

Accreditation: SACSCOC, CAEP


Northwestern State University of Louisiana

Accreditation: SACSCOC, CAEP


Accreditation: MSCHE, CAEP


University of St. Thomas, Minnesota

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


University of Memphis

Accreditation: SACSCOC, CAEP
Department: College of Education - Department of Leadership


Regent University

(Virginia Beach)
Accreditation: SACSCOC, TEAC
Department: School of Education


City University of Seattle

Accreditation: NWCCU