Erikson launches new online master’s program with early education-focused concentrations

Incentive scholarships are guaranteed for all full-time and part-time students who enroll for 2018-19

In response to a changing early education field and the needs of young children today, Erikson Institute is launching a new online master’s degree program that offers concentrations in five high-interest areas of education as well as a flexible schedule that meets the needs of professionals balancing work and school.

“We need to invest in young children, and to do so, we also need to invest in the people who teach young children,” says Erikson Professor Samina Hadi-Tabassum, EdD, director of the new Online Master of Science in Early Childhood Education program. “The issues our candidates will focus on in this program don’t just affect people in Chicago and the United States, but also around the world.”

The new program builds on Erikson’s existing online master’s degree program, which launched in 2010. Like its predecessor, the new program is designed for professionals with experience working in the early childhood field and does not lead to teacher licensure. At its core is the hallmark of any Erikson degree: deep knowledge of child development. Students will gain an understanding of how children age 8 and younger grow and learn, and how their families, communities, and schools affect their development and success.

For a limited time, all students who enroll in the online program for the 2018-19 academic year are guaranteed an incentive scholarship, which is being funded through the generosity of a donor. Students accepted on a full-time basis are guaranteed a $15,000 scholarship, while part-time students are guaranteed a $9,000 scholarship.

“We would be one of the first institutions to establish standards in these areas. The coursework for each concentration and the program as a whole is really designed to help educators gain the qualifications they need.”

— Samina Hadi-Tabassum, EdD
Director, Online MS in Early Childhood Education


Choose your own path

Among the new features of the program is the option for students to choose from five areas of concentration, each representing a facet of early education that calls for a professional with specialized knowledge:

  • Early Childhood Bilingual/ESL
  • Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy
  • Early Childhood Language and Literacy
  • Early Childhood STEM
  • Social and Emotional Learning
An innovative way to meet growing needs

“School districts — as well as informal learning environments like libraries and museums — are increasingly creating programs and positions related to these concentration areas,” Dr. Hadi-Tabassum says. “But what sort of expertise is actually behind their initiatives? What makes a person qualified to lead them?

“We would be one of the first institutions to establish standards in these areas. The coursework for each concentration and the program as a whole is really designed to help educators gain the qualifications they need.”

Because the program is geared toward practitioners, the program will emphasize putting theory into action. Instead of completing internships, students will develop “e-portfolios,” which will consist of work that represents their understanding of the course content produced at specific benchmarks in the program.

At the end of the program, rather than take a comprehensive exam, students will complete a “capstone project” demonstrating what they have learned from their coursework as well as integrating their experiences outside of the program. Depending on the concentration, the capstone project could take many forms. In general, it will involve each student working with an organization in his or her home community to identify a need, implementing an initiative to meet that need, and assessing the results. Upon completion of the project, students are expected to have gained new knowledge and understandings about educational practice within their field of study.

Built-in Flexibility

The program also is designed to be responsive to the needs of working professionals. Students can earn their degree in 30 credit hours as opposed to 38 in the current online program, and enroll on a full- or part-time basis. The full-time, 20-month program begins in late-August, while students can begin part time at three points in the year: late-August, early-January, or mid-May.

“It’s a shorter program, but it’s also targeted toward specific needs,” says Professor Luisiana Mélendez, PhD, director of the Early Childhood Bilingual/ESL concentration and a longtime professor of online courses at Erikson. “In that sense, it’s more efficient. It remains a unique program that provides an in-depth understanding of child development, parenting, and learning, and it allows students to apply that knowledge to whatever type of educational setting they work in.”

Virtually Close

As in Erikson’s current online learning environment, students will benefit from close connections with their peers and professors regardless of where they live. Students don’t simply complete coursework in isolation — they are part of a robust network in which they can take part in real-time discussions and access the same learning resources as on-campus students.

“You become part of some incredibly rich conversations,” Dr. Meléndez says. “Even though you and your peers are from different parts of the country and have experiences in different contexts, you start to notice commonalities and give each other feedback based on personal experiences. It’s eye-opening to see how having students from all these different settings prompts so many questions about working with children and families.”

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Early Childhood Bilingual/ESL Concentration

With the new online master’s degree program, Erikson will continue to offer a concentration in bilingual/ESL education, responding to growing language and cultural diversity in classrooms across the country and the need for educators who understand how linguistically diverse children learn.

“Just as in the previous Bilingual/ESL concentration, educators will benefit from learning about how young children develop in communities or families where they have different linguistic and cultural backgrounds,” Dr. Meléndez says. “But the new iteration will also benefit professionals who work in settings outside the classroom.

“The program is geared toward professionals who are already working in early childhood settings — perhaps even with linguistically diverse children — but want to deepen their understanding of child development,” Dr. Meléndez says. “This work is about knowing how children develop but also about how to use that knowledge.”

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Social and Emotional Learning Concentration

Increasingly, educators are coming to understand that students learn best when teachers are able to help them manage their social and emotional needs. For children, these needs can range from day-to-day stresses and frustrations to more severe effects of trauma.

“Early childhood professionals ‘wrote the book’ on the social and emotional needs of children and have typically relied on their good instincts to address them,” says Professor Amanda Moreno, PhD, director of the Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) concentration.

“But times are changing, and professionals are finding a need to address increasingly complex social and emotional issues, including toxic stress, trauma, poverty, and political unrest. Good instincts are no longer enough on their own to meet these needs, and current SEL approaches, such as mindfulness and restorative justice, are proving their worth as supports to creating nurturing learning communities.”

Erikson’s SEL concentration will have an “early childhood lens,” Dr. Moreno says, but it also will prepare professionals to implement school-wide approaches up through eighth grade to support healthy cultural shifts. Moreover, the foundation in child development that the program provides ensures that graduates will have the best available knowledge to back up their advocacy for the equal importance of academic and emotional needs.

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Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy

Being an early childhood leader can mean holding an administrative role in an early learning environment, but it can also mean much more. Early childhood teachers are often expected to be leaders within their classrooms, supervising and mentoring other professionals. And today, directors of community organizations as diverse as libraries and museums seek to meet the needs of young children and their families.

“With this diversity in programs comes the need to not only develop visionary leaders and advocates for young children and families but also need for leaders to have an understanding of child development,” says Elizabeth Tertell, director of the Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy concentration. “The new Early Childhood Leadership and Advocacy concentration supports both current and growing leaders to supervise and advocate with developmentally informed practice at the core.”

The concentration doesn’t just prepare professionals to hold leadership positions — it also prepares them to advocate for the needs of children and families, whether that means advocating for the appropriate program in a school, drafting an effective grant proposal, or petitioning elected officials for policy change.

“The advocacy component is what makes our program unique,” says Sherry Kaufman, an instructor in the program. “This concentration supports those early childhood professionals who desire to lead efforts to bring about policy change that positively impacts services for young children and families in their community and beyond.”

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Early Childhood STEM Concentration

A education in STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — provides children the foundation to live meaningful and productive lives in a rapidly changing world. However, advances in scientific knowledge and technology have meant that norms for what constitutes STEM education have also changed.

With the Early Childhood STEM concentration, Erikson is aiming to be among the first institutions to establish teaching standards around STEM in the early grades.

“We designed this concentration around our understanding that early STEM subjects matter for 3- to 5-year-old children,” says Chip Donohue, PhD, director of Erikson’s Technology in Early Childhood (TEC) Center and dean of distance learning. “Educators who understand how to integrate early childhood education with STEM education are well-positioned to provide young children with high-quality experiences in the STEM disciplines.”

Through the concentration, candidates will explore the idea of helping young children develop this type of interdisciplinary thinking in the context of issues related to development, such as cognition and language use, Donohue says. “The bringing together of these worlds, STEM and development, is truly the most unique aspect of this unique concentration.”

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Early Childhood Language and Literacy Concentration

Strong reading and writing skills form the basis for learning in all subjects and predict school achievement in later years. But the establishment of high-quality, developmentally appropriate language and literacy programs in preschool, kindergarten, and primary grades has not kept pace with the growing evidence that these reading and writing skills are critical.

Through the new Early Childhood Language and Literacy concentration, educators will gain an understanding of what constitutes foundational literacy learning in the early grades. They also will acquire the tools and skills they need to build a supportive environment that carries individual children, as well as the entire classes, toward greater literacy proficiency.

“In many schools, standards for early learning are established by bringing instructional goals and practices from the primary and elementary grades to preschool and kindergarten children in the hopes of achieving literacy outcomes early,” says Professor Gillian McNamee, PhD, director of the concentration. “The result of uninformed, developmentally inappropriate policies and teaching practices for children age 3 to 8 has been to compromise their learning in the present and jeopardize their future in school.”

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