5 Best Grad Schools with Online Doctorate in Adult Education/Learning

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Updated: March 14, 2024, Reading time: 12 minutes

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Adult students/non-traditional students require a different level of teaching methods and pedagogies than children do. A doctorate in adult education/learning can be an excellent choice if you’ve considered pursuing a doctorate in education and enjoy dealing with adults.

Earning a doctorate will lead to various job opportunities, most involving research.


Doctorates in adult learning/adult education programs are the highest degree levels one in adult education can pursue. Students in online doctoral programs are trained to become competitive adult educators through a strong academic emphasis on the research and practical application of concepts and methods linked to adult education and learning.

The target audience for these programs is anyone thinking about working in adult education, instructional design, training, and development, or a similar sector.

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To ensure that students receive nothing less than a high-quality education and training, the adult education programs listed possess the following attributes:

Please visit our Methodology to see the details of our ranking process.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

5 Best Online Doctoral Programs in Adult Education/Learning

University of Arkansas

University of Arkansas - Online

Doctor of Education – Adult and Lifelong Learning

The University of Arkansas helps professionals prepare for teaching adult learners through its online Doctor of Education in Adult and Lifelong Learning program.

This online EdD degree offers a curriculum that strongly emphasizes the practical application of theory and research, with a special focus on adult education leadership and policy. Online students must visit the campus for six face-to-face sessions per year.

UofA’s Doctor of Adult Education program is a 96-hour degree that can be completed in 2.5 years. The course material covers adult learning theories, program planning and evaluation, instructional design, leadership in adult education, and policy analysis.

Students enrolled in the program progress through two cohorts: The Adult Education Leadership Cohort and The Community College Leadership Cohort. Students with 39 hours of master’s degree coursework will be enrolled in the former cohort, while those with fewer master’s degree credits will be enrolled in the latter.

Ball State University

Ball State University

Doctor of Education in Adult and Community Education

The Doctor of Education in Adult and Community Education at Ball State University requires students to complete 91 credit hours. This doctorate in adult education online is best for professionals seeking advanced knowledge and skills for leadership roles in adult education, community development, and related fields.

The credit hours combine core, research, specialization, elective, and dissertation courses. The program is known for several things, but primarily for providing professors with excellent research experience and working as practitioners. Students will receive plenty of opportunities for professional development through research and project collaboration, conferences, and academic publishing opportunities.

Ball State’s online doctorate in adult education/learning is dedicated to individualized learning. As a result, the program has competitive admissions.

Kansas State University

Kansas State University - Online

Doctor of Adult Learning and Leadership

The Adult Learning and Leadership Doctorate at Kansas State University is delivered in a hybrid format, giving students the flexibility and hands-on learning approach they need. Students will meet on-campus to complete two courses in addition to 8 to 14 weeks of online courses. Students can choose between earning a PhD or EdD.

Several specialties are available in the curriculum, allowing students to concentrate their studies on particular interests. Topics like community education and development, leadership in higher education, instructional design, and technology are examples of specializations.

In addition to having the opportunity to customize their courses, students can also participate in assistantships and other professional opportunities to gain teaching experience and hone their leadership abilities.

The doctorate places a strong emphasis on involvement and professional growth.

Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University

Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with Adult Learning Emphasis – Qualitative

Grand Canyon University’s Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning degree allows students to concentrate their doctoral studies on Adult Learning with a qualitative research focus. The program offers a unique curriculum for those who want to teach and lead collegiate and adult learners. Due to the program’s qualitative nature, students can do original research.

This online adult education program covers topics such as theories and models of common learning and adult learning, concepts in adult learning and its ties to worldview, and effective collaborative techniques.

Students will take courses in educational leadership and research design throughout the program, present and defend their dissertation research during two residencies, and work with a dissertation committee to build and finish their scholarly dissertation.

Applicants must possess a master’s degree or higher from an approved institution. Also, it may be advantageous for prospective candidates to have some experience in teaching or academic administration.

As the curriculum emphasizes qualitative research approaches and analysis of learning and adult learning theories, excellent research and analytical abilities are crucial.

Walden University

Walden University

Doctor of Education – Higher Education & Adult Learning

While Walden University’s EdD in Higher Education and Adult Learning is a non-licensure doctorate, it still promotes a curriculum that equips students to design, develop, and lead adult learning programs. The curriculum places a strong emphasis on networking possibilities and career advancement.

Students can customize their degrees by choosing 30 credit courses from 13 specializations. Some specializations students can choose from include Community College Leadership, Early Childhood Education, Educational Technology, Higher Education Leadership and Management, and Special Education.

It also offers a “P–20 Education (Self-Designed)” specialization, which allows students to have maximum flexibility to design an EdD program focusing on P–20 education that most closely matches their personal and professional goals.

When improving their career chances in higher education and adult learning, students can access resources, including career services, professional development courses, and networking events.

Type of Doctorate Degrees in Adult Education

adult education

EdD in Adult Education or Adult Learning & Leadership

An EdD in Adult Education or Adult Learning & Leadership’s primary objective is to prepare participants for leadership positions in adult education environments, such as colleges and universities, community colleges, workforce development organizations, or corporate training divisions.

EdD in Higher & Adult Education

The curriculum of an EdD in Higher & Adult Education aims to prepare students for leadership positions in education, particularly in higher education institutions and adult education settings.

This program integrates coursework, research, and real-world experiences to give graduates the knowledge and abilities to take advantage of the possibilities and difficulties in adult and higher education environments.

EdD in Educational Leadership: Adult Education

Educational Leadership: Adult Education doctorate integrates the study of educational leadership and administration with a concentration on adult education. This program is made to educate students for leadership positions in academic settings, particularly adult education institutions, programs, and organizations.

PhD vs EdD in Adult Education

adult learning

PhD and EdD degrees in Adult Education are both terminal degrees. But they still have their differences. The focus, goal, and professional objectives of an EdD and a PhD in Adult Education differ significantly.

While an EdD stresses the application of research to actual educational contexts and is practice-oriented from a professional standpoint, a PhD focuses more on a scholarly investigation. An EdD is designed for those who want to position themselves on educating people for leadership positions in adult education practice, like managing programs, creating lessons, or creating policies.

On the other hand, a Ph.D. is designed for people who want to further theory development and academic scholarship by conducting original research in the field.

Doctorate in Adult Education/Learning Common Courses

adults in college

The curriculum will vary depending on your chosen specialization and the program’s focus. However, all EdDs in Adult Education/Learning have the same goal: To help students study a wide range of issues relating to adult education philosophy, practice, research, and leadership. 

The most common courses one may encounter when pursuing an online doctorate in adult education/learning include:

Adult Learning Theory

This course covers the theory of adult learning and andragogy, as well as transformative, experiential, self-directed, and sociocultural perspectives on adult learning, which are some of the theories and models. These theories serve as a basis for comprehending how people learn and how instructional strategies can be modified to meet their needs.

Critical Issues in Adult Education

Students examine important topics and trends like social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. Exploring how social, cultural, economic, and political issues affect educational practices, guidelines, and accessibility is part of this.

Instructional Strategies and Assessment

Adult literacy education, remote learning, workplace training, and interactive and participatory methods are just a few teaching and facilitation techniques students learn in this course. Students will also gain knowledge of assessment techniques and approaches for gauging program success and adult learning outcomes.

Leadership and Administration

Leadership and management in adult education settings are frequently covered in a doctoral program in adult education. Adult education students will study organizational management, strategic planning, policy formulation, and advocacy.

These abilities are helpful for people who want to hold leadership positions in organizations or adult education institutes.

Program Development and Design

Students will gain knowledge of program planning, instructional design, and curriculum creation specifically for adult learners. Understanding needs assessment, learner-centered strategies, and the use of technology in adult education are part of this.

Moreover, students will investigate methods for creating educational courses and programs that work well for adult learners in various settings.

Research Methods in Adult Education

Adult education/learning doctoral programs place a strong emphasis on research abilities. Research design, data gathering and analysis, and qualitative and quantitative research methods will all be covered.

Most programs require students to undertake original research using this course’s information, evaluate educational initiatives, and add to the body of scholarly study on adult education.

Adult Education/Learning Professional Organizations and Resources

adult learning resources

Adult Education Research Conference (AERC)

AERC is an annual conference that brings together academics, practitioners, and researchers in adult education. It offers a stage to present and debate recent findings in the area.

American Association for Adult & Continuing Education (AAACE)

AAACE is designed for educators, researchers, and industry professionals. It offers resources, conferences, publications, and networking opportunities. Journals, webinars, and resources for professional development are accessible on their website.

American Council on Education (ACE)

Adult learners and professionals in adult education can access resources and activities through the higher education association ACE. They offer advice on credit for prior learning, workforce development, and alternative educational routes.

Commission of Professors of Adult Education (CPAE)

CPAE is a group that brings together professors and experts in adult education. It encourages academic inquiry, research, and the dissemination of knowledge. CPAE publishes the Adult Education Quarterly publication and holds an annual conference.

International Council for Adult Education (ICAE)

A global organization called ICAE promotes lifelong learning and adult education. They encourage collaboration, study, and the creation of relevant policies. Publications, webinars, and international conferences are accessible on their website.

National Association of State Directors of Adult Education or NASDAE

NASDAE represents state directors of adult education in the United States. It emphasizes policy lobbying, professional growth, and assisting with the state-level delivery of adult education programs.


ProLiteracy is committed to improving adult literacy programs worldwide by giving organizations and literacy educators access to resources, training, and assistance. 

World Education

World Education is dedicated to advancing adult learners’ access to high-quality education worldwide. They work on several projects, such as adult literacy, workforce development, and immigrant and refugee education. Resources, research, and programmatic details are available on their website.

Online Doctorate in Adult Education Learning - fact

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with an online Doctorate in Adult Education?

Virtually any career in adult education, including those outside of academia and teaching, is open to those with a doctorate in adult education earned online.  

What are the necessary admissions requirements for online Doctorates in Adult Education/Learning?

While some grad schools for adult education/learning accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree, most programs only entertain those with a master’s degree. All academic transcripts from their undergraduate and graduate studies, as well as proof of a 3.0 GPA or higher, must be submitted by applicants.

Additional admissions requirements include letters of intent, recommendation letters, and GRE test results. 

How long does it take to complete coursework in an online Doctorate in Adult Education/Learning?

The institution and curriculum will determine the length of a doctor’s degree program. Students should, however, anticipate that a doctorate will take at least 2.5 years to complete. 

What’s the best continuing education for doctorate holders?

The best opportunities for doctoral holders in adult education to further their education depend significantly on their interests, professional objectives, and area(s) of concentration.

However, it’s primarily suggested that doctorate holders attend conferences and workshops specializing in adult education and related fields. 

Key Takeaways

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