How Much Does Instructor Get In Different Online Learning Platforms

New study shows that educator pay is a lot less in different online learning platforms.

This is an excerpt from Christine Hollen’s upcoming book Going Off Script: Learning Something Big Without Breaking The Rules.

Learning from other people’s mistakes is one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your skills. But when you’re a novice in a new field, the best way to learn from other people’s mistakes is to never do it at all. That’s certainly not the way to succeed in an online course. While the promise of experience and payouts may be exciting to those of us who want to gain experience online, the reality is that most instructors who teach online courses never succeed in reaching the milestones they set. This effectively costs students money in the form of time that would have been better spent learning.

I spent three years teaching live online courses from Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles, and Caltech, all of which failed to meet their own benchmarks. This experience motivated me to create an online course for professional business coaches and for accountants. But rather than aim to set high benchmarks and reach them, I let the student experience be what it was, and I ran with it. The outcome was different than I expected, but it is what it is.

Figuring out how much a college-level educator makes as a starting salary, online or in a classroom, is tricky because the larger the institution, the more relevant the salary data becomes. Online educators may want to begin by doing a global search for institutions, and then it is important to track faculty in a variety of courses, but a graduate-level online educator should not focus on landing the biggest salary. Instead, pay attention to the quality of the experience with metrics like GPA, completion rate, number of courses taken, revenue earned, and growth in membership.

Here are some examples from our 2013 Stanford online course, Business Analytics in the Social Network:

Include your course title and tuition; average by course; Average by class, by department; Average by dollars spent.

Bonus chart: Data from 2008-2016, cost of an online course by single or class; average by school/subject or department.

44% in California and California students; 9% in Stanford

In a tiny increase in students in each area over the past few years, revenue has also increased slowly.

Your story is amazing if you have the right degree (even from a small program). In fact, you may have already been working for another company with a good relationship with Stanford. Online instructors need a partnership with a company like this to generate revenue. Most other schools are either unprofitable or not yet profitable, so all of their time and resources goes into learning from Stanford.

As you increase your access to students, sometimes you might see yourself with a bigger income gap between your paid time as an instructor and what you are worth in the marketplace. This is an advantage that large institutions have over smaller, less diversified ones. While it is helpful to know how to compare between jobs to identify some leverage for negotiations, in this context, the lower-paying education that you do might be worth the cost if it pays off.

You should assess all of the alternatives to Stanford, as well as all other schools in each area. What kind of student base is available? Who are the faculty? How many students graduated? Looking for an attractive career path might be a strong indicator of success, especially as you are more active with other online universities as well as other online instructors. If your career path depends on where you teach, your income might be directly tied to your pay at the institution and the students who have selected the school.

Even if you decide on a hybrid model as a higher-earning institution, these earnings stats will not work for you unless you have set goals that reflect the amount of time you will spend teaching that might result in an appealing “convergence” of income potential. I like to start with my priorities in the section “What do I want to learn and what am I comfortable spending my time on?”

Be wary of compensation based on pre-defined milestones and benchmarks set by a school or institution. Most large institutions are not transparent about how well the student experience affects their salary, even if they disclose the base salary that they’re willing to pay to instructors.

Just because you’re teaching online doesn’t mean you can’t set your own priorities and establish your own path. See the table below for additional details about paying for the expertise and experience you bring to a course.

Your Salary

Need more digital media ideas? Check out Christine Hollen’s memoir Going Off Script: Learning Something Big Without Breaking The Rules (co-authored with Hannah Kasin) at

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