Teaching and writing are two sides of a priceless coin. Writers historically have used the classroom as a place to supplement their income while also maintaining some sort of public-facing career. And with more and more people of all ages and education levels turning toward remote learning, there’s a boom in paid writing opportunities for teachers.
That being said, most content creation opportunities fall within “emerging media” — if you’re only comfortable writing textbooks, this rapidly changing field may seem like it’s left you behind. But with a can-do spirit and a basic understanding of content management systems and programs like Skype, teachers from millennials to boomers can adapt to the “remote learning” reality. In it awaits a career path with infinite branches, exciting potential and richer rewards, as brands are looking to hire freelance writers in education niches.
Here to share more about the field from a firsthand point of view is Kimberly Moran, former teacher and current creative strategist for WeAreTeachers.
Do the people who write remote learning material need to be former teachers, or have teacher credentials? If not, what are the kinds of backgrounds that people can come from and get hired to these gigs?
I don’t think everyone needs to be a teacher in order to do this kind of writing, but they do need to understand how the brain learns and how people approach online learning. It’s very different from a bricks-and-mortar type of school where people can keep you engaged and support you in the moment. In fact, many writers who specialize in certain subjects would be most welcome when it comes to developing curricula. Just being a teacher doesn’t make you an expert in a subject.
What exactly are the different roles in content marketing for the educational niche?
Typically there will be a creative/writer role, a program manager role, and a designer/illustrator role. Each of those roles will need to be good at marketing because some will work with social media, others with developing persuasive emails, and still others will manage how the curriculum is written and presented. Often these types of places run more like a bootstrapped startup, so you may have to take on aspects of the job that aren’t just about writing.
Are there respected universities currently offering degree programs you can complete entirely online?
Actually, the online course as an easy way to get a degree is no longer accurate. Several online places align themselves with universities to offer credited coursework. Many universities [ed note: including Oxford!] offer low-residency degrees that require only one week of on-campus work per semester. This is a great option for people who just can’t up and leave for a degree. I hesitate to offer up online schools that do it well because there are so many out there now. Nearly every college or university has a damn good online aspect.
About these companies that are creating curriculum for K-12 homeschool students… How do they get officially affiliated or recognized by a school district, or a state? How would a writer join up with such a company, creating lessons or exercises or tests?
Accreditation is a process by which private educational institutions or curriculum companies are evaluated against established standards to ensure a high level of educational quality. It is typically accomplished through a peer-review process in which staff from accredited places help to conduct evaluations of either new non-accredited curriculum companies or accredited institutions seeking renewal.
Accreditation is all about transparency. People should be cautious of any language that gives the appearance of accreditation when in fact none exists — phrases such as “licensed,” “registered,” “authorized,” and “approved” may sneakily imply an unearned distinction. Some of the organizations that offer an accreditation process are: National Accreditation Commission and The National Association of Private Schools. Every state is different and has their own rules, but most align with a more common curriculum that’s out there.
Writers can either apply to be a writer at the many curriculum companies or look for their postings online in the same way you’d find another freelance gig. Truthfully though, most homeschool operations run things close to the vest. They tend to be family-owned and operated.
In most marketing/communications/media teams, you have the words person, the visuals person, the UX person, the business brain and the brand manager. What does this look like for an educational content team?
Actually, it’s pretty much the same. Often people reach out to topic education experts when they need them. Otherwise it’s an in-house operation for the creative team.
In your opinion, what’s the most fun type of educational content to create?
I love writing useable content for teachers. So, things that are downloadable and useable in the classroom right now. I’ve written digital books and guides for first grade classrooms, and even escape-room lesson plans for middle school students. I love hearing back from teachers about what they loved and what their students were most engaged by.
Do you think you could write print textbooks easily, with the background that you have, or is it a completely different skill set?
I could most definitely write textbooks easily. When you chunk the work up and take it one column at a time, you can manage so much. I think it’s important for an education writer to be very clear and concise and to know how something will be used in a classroom. It’s even a good idea to volunteer once a week in a classroom so you don’t lose touch with the realities of the education world.
How do people test these online learning tools and new courses? Do you have a team of highly educated beta-testers who go through each new module and tell you what makes sense and what doesn’t work?
Most companies recruit teachers to beta test these tools. They’re looking for glitches and ease of operation over analysis of their content. Content is usually vetted by senior editors.
Is AI a threat to your job?
Not at all. I think it takes a very human touch to understand how brains work and make allowances for different kinds of thinking. Ultimately AI is controlled by humans entering data and directions, which requires an expert who knows what is happening in the classroom and how teachers and adults want to learn and put their learning to good use.
What would you say are the first three steps that people who are attempting to break into the educational niche should take?
Work or volunteer in a classroom with kids or adult learners depending on what you want to write about. Network, network, network. Find people who do what you want to do on LinkedIn or through other contacts and ask them how break in. Start putting together clips and other portfolio items to showcase your previous work and get it on an online portfolio.