Online Masters in Early Childhood Education Programs

Masters in Early Childhood Education Online programs focus on the educational needs of young children, from birth to age eight. These formative years of a child’s life are key for the development of learning, literacy, reasoning and social skills. Through web-based courses, students could conveniently study early intervention methods for infants, toddlers and young learners. They may learn to create age-appropriate lessons, assess progress, and foster a supportive atmosphere for young discovery. Further topics could help teachers gain insight into issues such as diversity, special needs, and inclusivity.

written by Rana Waxman

Why Earn A Masters in Early Childhood Education Online?

Some Masters in Early Childhood Education Online programs are planned-out to help current teachers add onto their initial license or certificate, as various states require all teachers to earn a masters degree after receiving their teaching certification.i For an at-work educator, finding the time to earn another degree could present a challenge. This is where the features of distance education may be appreciated. Earn a Masters In Early Childhood Education Online

Often, online early childhood education courses and distance learning programs mirror those offered on-campus. In general, as a distance student, you are likely to follow the same curriculum, experience similar lectures, and have the same deadlines for assignments and exams as on-campus students. In most graduate schools, your transcript and diploma could look the same as for a student who graduated through a traditional, on-campus ECE masters program. However, online students have the advantage of taking courses in the comfort of their home.

Flexibility and Fieldwork

Online courses often follow a standard university timetable, though students attend in a virtual classroom, accessible from anywhere there is internet. Designed to appeal to a wide range of scheduling needs, students generally have easy access to instructors, coursework and learning material via a computer platform. And, when it comes to a field experience, online students might be able to complete their requirements locally, with minimal disruption to their busy lives.

While students should verify any licensure requirements in their home state, the computer spares you from the commute to campus and could make programs based in many locations a feasible option.

Types of Masters in Early Childhood Education Online Programs

Those who want to earn their early childhood education masters degree online could face a choice between three main forms.

  1. Online Master of Education (MEd) in Early Childhood Education
  2. Online Master of Science (MS) in Early Childhood Education
  3. Online Master of Arts (MA) in Early Childhood Education

While there could be some overlap in course content, each one may have distinct goals and areas of emphasis. You should carefully read through program descriptions and speak with an advisor at the schools on your list. Degrees often vary widely by institution and by state, so please verify that any program aligns with your professional goals before you enroll.

MEd vs MA vs MS in Early Childhood Education Degrees

Broadly, an online Master of Education in ECE program could provide the chance to expand career options both inside and outside the classroom. This degree often focuses on practical, field-based experience that could help students develop a grasp of and critically evaluate early education practices. It could also teach strategies that could be immediately applied to your classroom. Coursework often deals with the theory, research, history and psychology behind learning, both generally and within the early childhood years.

An online Master of Arts or Master of Science (M.A. or M.S.) program usually offers core courses both in early education and in a content area (i.e., history, English, social studies or mathematics). The curriculum generally revolves around early childhood as the focus of the degree, and could discuss key theories of learning. Coursework might include curriculum development and theory, tests and measurements, and educational research in a specific content area. These programs also typically require research and a thesis. They are often useful for both licensed and non-licensed educators.

Requirements for Masters in Early Childhood Education

Because there are various types of Masters in Early Childhood Education online programs, you might expect some differences in terms of degree requirements and program lengths. For instance, students might need to complete between 30 and 46 course credits. How these credits are allotted varies. Because of this, you should compare things such as core courses, concentration courses, research, thesis, exams and supervised teaching requirements.

The time it takes to complete these requirements could range from 2 years (full-time) to 4 years (part-time). You should, however, refer to individual programs for more information.

Admission Requirements

Admission to an online Masters in Early Childhood Education (ECE) program presumes students have earned at least a bachelors degree from an accredited institution. Some programs do stipulate that students need a Bachelors in Early Childhood Education or Child Development, but others do not. Similarly, students may need initial teacher licensure and experience for certain programs, while others could suit career changers who need an initial credential.

Applicants may also need to submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, a personal statement and GRE scores. Because of the variety of programs, you should refer to each school to see what material you need to apply. Also, state regulations vary, so you might want to contact your regional board of education if licensure is your goal. Many states, in fact, do require students to pass a background check before they are licensed to teach.


Childcare Directors set educational standards and goals and help establish policies, procedures, and programs to carry them out.ii

Online Master of Education in Early Childhood Education Programs

Typically, an online Master of Education degree is a practitioner degree. Students usually pursue their MEd with an area of emphasis (like ECE) and focus on how to apply advanced practical knowledge to their field. Sometimes, the MEd is a requirement for entry-year teachers who seek their license. Or, it may be a requirement for those who wish to pursue leadership positions such as curriculum specialists, principals or superintendents. i

In an online Master of Education with a focus in Early Childhood Education program students could develop the knowledge, skills and qualities potentially required to teach young children. Candidates might explore current trends and research in the field. They may also learn to craft effective curriculum, and/or develop skills in advocacy for young children.

In some schools, applicants need a valid elementary education or early childhood teaching certificate. Those who hold an elementary education certification who seek early childhood certification may need to take extra courses and complete field experience. Since universities and colleges do not themselves issue these licenses, it falls on the student to review certification requirements in their state.

Online MEd – ECE Curriculum

Because early childhood education is a concentration in a Master of Education online program, students might expect to take a series of core courses in education, ECE courses, and research courses. Core courses provide candidates with the opportunity to build classroom and professional skills. Most MEd programs explore topics to help students learn to assess educational potential and create lesson plans and learning activities – not to mention, manage a classroom full of young and curious learners. Some examples of core MEd online course topics might include the ones below.

  • Educational Policies
  • Contemporary Issues in Education
  • School Community Relations
  • Administration and Organization of Pre-Schools

ECE-specific classes could explore play, emergent literacy, early childhood development and child psychology. Students in some programs might also study how to teach specific subjects (Math, Science) to diverse groups. Other ECE courses may discuss administrative issues as they pertain to the implementation of ECE programs for various ages. This could include topics such as budgets, personnel, pedagogy and state regulations.

Throughout their program, students might explore educational research and learn how to conduct independent inquiry. Because the MEd is a practitioner-focused degree, research is often conducted with an eye to application. Students could therefore culminate their degree with a thesis or action research project. Here, a student investigates, in depth, a topic in the field of education or reflects on teaching practices to generate improvements based on classroom observation.

Online Master of Science in Early Childhood Education Programs

An online Master of Science in Early Childhood Education program is often planned-out for certified teachers or non-certified professionals who want to build skills to work with or take care of young children. Consequently, the focus of an MS program in Early Childhood Education program is typically on the advanced preparation of teachers and leaders specifically in the field of Early Childhood Education. Applicants could need an undergraduate degree (e.g. Bachelor of Science) in early childhood education, child development, elementary education, or a related field.

In some schools, online Master of Science in Early Childhood Education programs are not be designed for licensure or endorsements. Therefore it’s important to follow up with schools and state boards if this is important to you.

Online MS – ECE Curriculum

An online MS in Early Childhood Education program typically requires students to take a series of required courses, classes in research methods and electives. Unlike the MEd, core courses are largely devoted to the early childhood major. In these, students could learn instructional methods that highlight young children in the context of their family, gender, culture and community. Other courses could cover early intervention methods for children with special needs, and various child development courses, some examples of which follow.

  • Language Development & Cognition
  • Foundations of Reading Instruction
  • Play Theory
  • Curricular Foundations

MS students might also take courses to help them develop their ability to conduct educational and action research. Like MEd students, those in an MS program could be required to complete a thesis. This is because the MS degree is also a practitioner focused professional degree. They might also have to complete a for-credit practicum in a nearby school or home. This practicum might entail a specified number of hours in an early childhood setting. This might be completed at the candidate’s work, if it meets required accreditation standards and university approval.

Online Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education

An online Master of Arts in Early Childhood Education, in contrast to the MS and MEd, is typically a research degree. It could be planned-out for students who want to conduct educational research or for those who want to prepare to pursue a PhD in Education degree later. Online MA students might build knowledge, learn evidence-based strategies and skills to effectively instruct young kids. In addition, to earn a Master of Arts degree, students often must complete a thesis. The masters thesis project is generally viewed as a prerequisite for doctoral-level study.

Within a MA program, there could be various options and areas of emphasis. One of these options could be intended for those who are already certified teachers. The second option might target those who simply have relevant preschool teaching experience. A third option could be aimed at certified teachers or non-certified professionals who are interested in early childhood leadership and administration. Applicants who seek an early childhood endorsement might therefore need an initial teaching license.

Online MA –ECE Curriculum

The coursework for an online MA in Early Childhood Education could vary depending on the goals of the learner and the area of emphasis chosen. For instance, students who seek an endorsement take a series of core courses in advanced childhood development and assessment, in addition to research in education. Other professional studies courses could target issues such as leadership, advocacy and administration. Students could further explore family-school-community collaboration, as well as intervention methods for EC special education students. This type of program usually requires an internship or practical experience.

Administration and Leadership: By comparison, students who pursue an online MA in Early Childhood Education Administration and Leadership could take the same core courses. However, their professional studies courses are likely to delve into topics such as budgeting and school finance. They might also explore the application of technology and take classes in policy and special education legislation. For their practicum, students might take part in an administrative – as opposed to instructional – internship.

Special Education Inclusion: Those who focus their MA on special education inclusion might also take child development courses. However, their professional courses could specifically relate to special needs children or child maltreatment and trauma. These topics could include legislation, intervention strategies and classes in cognition and memory. Furthermore, students are likely to take part in an internship experience in a special needs setting.

Accredited Online Masters in Early Childhood Education Programs

If accreditation is on your mind, many regionally and nationally accredited schools offer Masters in Early Childhood Education programs. At some of these schools, individual programs may also be accredited by professional agencies. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) works with the Council for Educator Preparation (CAEP) to review some graduate programs. Institutional accreditation speaks to the entire school and whether it meets set standards such as financial stability and student services. Program accreditation speaks to curriculum and standards for professional practice. Both levels of approval are voluntary and need to be renewed by the school at intervals.

Take the Next Step Towards Your Online ECE Degree

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[i] | [ii]

  • Northcentral University

  • Grand Canyon University

  • Campbellsville University

  • Liberty University Online

  • Champlain College

  • Erikson Institute

  • University of Nebraska - Lincoln

  • Fordham University

  • Pacific Oaks College

  • Arizona State University

  • Northern Arizona University

  • Missouri State University