Thank you to today’s author, Van Davis, who shares key findings from a new collaborative report from OLC, WCET, and Every Learner Everywhere about understanding the important role that adjunct instructors play in online education. The blog also shares six recommendations for serving online adjuncts.

Understanding the role that adjunct instructors play in online teaching and learning is critical as the amount of online education continues to rise. According to the U.S. Department of Education, distance education enrollment in fall 2018 reached approximately 6.9 million students, roughly 35 percent of the 19.6 million students enrolled that term (NCES, 2021).

Despite the sizeable number of adjunct instructors, there were almost 44,000 fewer adjuncts in 2019-20 compared to the 2012-13 academic year. It is also worth noting that the growth rate of adjuncts between 2012-13 and 2019-20 declined by almost six percent while the growth rate of full-time faculty rose by just over five percent. With adjuncts being such a significant population of instructors, it is imperative for institutions to understand the practices surrounding the use of online adjunct faculty.

List with text:  Recommendations for better serving online adjunct faculty:  1.	Create sustained, structured connections. 2.	Offer training beyond business hours. 3.	Incentivize professional development. 4.	Tailor training to meet their challenges. 5.	Recognize exemplary adjunct faculty.

In 2015, The Learning House (now part of Wiley University Services) and the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET) conducted a survey of 202 deans, directors, and provosts familiar with the online practices at their respective two- and four-year higher education institutions. The resulting report, Recruiting, Orienting, and Supporting Online Adjunct Faculty: A Survey of Practices, examined online adjunct hiring practices, expectations, policies, and support.

With the monumental shift from face-to-face to remote education brought about by the COVID 19 pandemic in spring 2020 and the renewed attention on student access and equity, it seemed time for an updated analysis of the state of online adjunct faculty. WCET and the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), with support from Every Learner Everywhere, conducted a new survey of 119 administrators in the summer of 2021 to better understand the practices that affect online adjunct faculty, equity, access, and quality.[1] Following the survey, in-depth follow-up interviews were conducted with 12 institutions including six institutions that did not originally participate in the study and six survey participants. Where possible, we sought to identify successful practices that can be applied across a variety of institutions.

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The 2022 report, Online Adjunct Faculty: A Survey of Institutional Policies and Practices, explores the policies and procedures that institutions use to support online adjunct faculty. We believe that this data and the resulting recommendations should inform and guide institutions in developing promising practices in orienting, supporting, and evaluating online adjunct faculty. It is worth noting that, although the data is representative of the responding institutions, it may not be representative of all of higher education.

Key findings

Our key findings include:

  1. Common policies are still lacking. In comparison to 2015, more institutions are developing email response and time to grade policies, however, large numbers of schools still lack these policies. This also holds true for written policies on online office hours.
  2. Mandatory training and instructional design support is decreasing. In a number of cases, institutions require less mandatory training prior to teaching online than in 2015. This is especially the case for online orientation to student services and online technologies as well as training on effective teaching methods.
  3. Culturally relevant pedagogical training may not be required but is still prevalent. While not quite 17 percent of respondents indicated that training on digital learning, diversity, equity, and inclusion was required of online adjunct faculty prior to teaching, over a third of respondents indicated that all of their online adjunct faculty had access to training on culturally relevant pedagogical practices.
  4. The pandemic did not significantly change professional development requirements for faculty. Over 54 percent of respondents indicated that the pandemic has not changed the amount of professional development that is required of online adjunct faculty.
  5. The most effective online pedagogical practices are often those that were identified as the most challenging to implement. Some of the same practices associated with the most effective online adjunct faculty are also identified as some of the most challenging practices to implement. Many of these practices also correspond with evidence-based teaching practices that are known to be particularly beneficial to students.


Based on the findings of the survey and information gathered from interviews with over a dozen higher education administrators and leaders, we have developed several recommendations of good practices for the engagement and support of online adjunct faculty. We understand that each institution has its own unique situations and, therefore, these recommendations may not be applicable for all institutions. Nevertheless, we hope these recommendations will help institutions better support and utilize online adjunct faculty.

Our recommendations include:

Create sustained, structured connections with online adjunct faculty. Create one-on-one or small group mentoring programs to provide continuous support to online adjunct faculty. A program that offers a combination of regularly-scheduled meetings, as-needed interactions, and feedback from experienced faculty provides robust opportunities for connection and development for online adjunct faculty.
Offer training options that extend beyond traditional business hours. Offer training options that fit with adjunct faculty schedules. Offering asynchronous faculty training options and synchronous or on-campus training on evenings and weekends can make it more likely that adjuncts will be available to attend.
Incentivize professional development options for online adjunct faculty. Compensate adjunct faculty for their time and incentivize attendance by offering compensation for professional development offerings.
⦁ Tailor training content to meet top online adjunct faculty challenges. Gather data to understand top faculty challenges at your institution and tailor training content to meet their needs. According to this study, top challenges and topics for training include:

– Collaborative learning,
– Creating connections between students,
– Facilitating group discussion,
– Active learning strategies,
– Creating an inclusive classroom, and
– Culturally-relevant teaching.

Provide recognition for exemplary online adjunct faculty who use effective practices. Acknowledge the successes of online adjunct faculty who are using effective practices to connect with students. Formal means of recognition can include awards or the opportunity to be featured on the program’s website. Informal means of recognition might include a personal thank you email, message, or phone call.
Create well-designed policies that guide instructors in determining when and how to respond to students. Despite evidence that students benefit from timely and consistent communication and feedback from their instructors, many institutions still lack policies regarding timely interactions with students. Such policies can help ensure that faculty are creating supportive and meaningful learning environments for all students.

In Conclusion

Although the use of online adjunct faculty appears to be decreasing at many institutions, they remain a critical component of the faculty population. For the most part, institutions provide online adjunct faculty with many of the same professional development opportunities that they provide their full-time faculty. However, in many cases, institutions lack clearly articulated written policies on critical areas such as holding office hours, providing online discussion prompts, responding to student discussion posts, promptly responding to student emails, and providing timely feedback and grades for assignments. It is unclear if face-to-face and full-time faculty also lack such written guidelines or if the guidelines are only lacking for online adjunct faculty.

Online education plays an increasingly critical role in the academic life of many institutions, perhaps even more now than prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. As institutions strive to provide students with a variety of high-quality educational experiences, they should carefully consider their relationship with online adjunct faculty, paying particular attention to the ways in which they can support this critical faculty population.

[1] 42.68% of respondents came from two-year public institutions that primarily offer associate degrees, 26.51% from four-year public institutions that primarily offer baccalaureate and/or graduate degrees, 28.05% from private, nonprofits, and 1.22% from private, for-profits. The largest number of institutions, 26.51%, came from mid-sized institutions with 1,001 to 3,000 FTE enrollments.

Van Davis

Chief Strategy Officer, WCET

LinkedIn Profile


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