Career Theory and Procedures: An Online Teaching Approach

By Zachary Pietrantoni & Joseph A. Campbell

Recently, many traditional counselor education programs have explored and integrated online learning in their training programs. Teaching an online course can be a daunting and overwhelming task for newcomers. In the summer of 2014, two doctoral students designed and implemented an intensive four-week graduate level career-counseling course. This article provides a brief discussion of instructional and technical issues, an outline of the learning weeks, and strategies and recommendations to cultivate an active learning community and online teaching.

Preparing to teach an online course, we wanted it engaging and self-sustaining with meaningful and ongoing discussions. Reflecting on our performance, we were successful in some areas and not as successful in others. Our reflection and feedback suggests success at helping students engage in discussion questions. It was important to us to be equally engaged in the material as the students and by engaging in the discussions, we were able to help guide students in their reflections. On the other hand, we could have used video and audio more effectively. Video or audio-recorded lectures to go along with chapter readings and Power Point slides would have helped clarify main points and reduced the time spent addressing topics in discussions.

We intended to integrate personal reflection, peer feedback, theoretical conceptualization, and multicultural considerations into the online format in a way that would be both practical and meaningful to the students. We used Sharf’s (2014) Applying career development theory to counseling text and Desire2Learn (D2L) was the online learning platform.

Learning Weeks

Each week students read chapters from the Sharf (2014) text, engaged in discussions, and completed assignments that would combine reflection, application, feedback, theory, and multiculturalism. Learning weeks began Mondays at 12:00 A.M. and ended the following Sundays at 11:59 P.M. We decided to end the learning week at 11:59 P.M. instead of 12:00 AM because we felt an arbitrary time would keep students mindful of their submission deadlines.


Each learning week, except week four, students engaged in two discussion questions and replied to two peers per discussion engaging in six total discussions. In a four-week course, we had to make discussions engaging and meaningful. One way was for students to engage in personal reflection. We wanted students to consider their career development as a way to increase empathy for future clients. Peer replies were ways for students to give each other feedback about their thoughts and reactions on course materials. Our discussion topics were as follows:

  • Personal career development journey, conceptualized from a Trait and Factor theory;

  • multicultural implications of Trait and Factor theories;

  • personal career transitions;

  • multicultural considerations of career life span development and special forces theories (e.g., Constructivist, Narrative, Social Learning, etc.);

  • developing a career-counseling group in their future area of work;

  • personal integration of at least two career theories and use with multicultural populations.


Discussion questions allowed students to engage in the reading and get feedback from peers before completing a written assignment that would integrate personal reflection, theory, and application. Discussions were supplements to the course assignments. Additionally, students completed two short quizzes and two exams. Our assignments were as follows:

  • Students completed The Keirsey Temperament Sorter (www.keirsey.com) and discussed how they would interpret results as if they were the results of a client.

  • Students chose one career theory and wrote a summary paper of its multicultural considerations.

  • Students completed a career case study consisting of interviews, case conceptualization, and counseling recommendations for an adult at least 35 years old and older.

Strategies and Recommendations

After the class, we began to evaluate our performance as online instructors. Reflecting on ourselves, the course, and teaching online, we would like to offer suggestion for future improvements:

  • Build an easy user interface. After the course, we realized we could link elements of the course together. For example, D2L offers an option to link all assignments, discussions, quizzes, and learning tasks to the content section (i.e., home screen). By linking everything to one folder, students can easily navigate materials, which might reduce confusion and stress for the student. Easy access for students helps organize materials for instructors, which reduces time in grading and engaging students.

  • Offer students an opportunity for face-to-face interactions. One of the things we did not do was video or audio lectures, conferences, or interactions. Offering some video or audio time could increase a sense of connection to the course materials, content, instructors, and peers. Video or audio recording requires time commitment and technological preparedness; however, time spent preparing such materials could help students in thoughtfulness and reflectivity.

  • Set the tone and expectations for the course in the first week. We spent a lot of time online responding to discussions, asking deep elaborative questions, and being open and honest with students. After the first week, students started to take the lead and become active in discussions and interactions. In an effort to make discussion topic engagement continuous and holding students accountable, we established due dates and times for discussion posts.. For example, on each discussion we indicated our expectations, “When posting or responding to discussion threads make sure to cite the text when discussing concepts. Posts or responses that do not follow the guidelines are subject to reduction of points.”

  • When co-teaching, especially an online course, communication is imperative. Co-teaching online might not be common practice outside of counselor education; we recommend those who do co-teach to regularly communicate via email and set aside a few hours to discuss, evaluate, and plan for the upcoming week. We discussed items for announcements, technical bugs and issues, some grading, and smoothing the transition to the following week.


Starting Point for Future Educators

Preparing and teaching an online course can be overwhelming and requires considerable thought and preparation. Moreover, teaching career theory online presents its own set of unique concerns and challenges; however, with preparation and support, such concerns and challenges can be mitigated. We hope that through sharing our journey of creating and implementing a career theory course online that it will serve as a starting point for reflection and considerations for future educators.



Keirsey, D. W. (1996). The Keirsey temperament sorter (KTS-II). Retrieved from http://www.keirsey.com/sorter/register.aspx

Sharf, R. S. (2014). Applying career development theory to counseling (6th ed.). Belmont, CA:




Zachary PietrantoniZachary Pietrantoni, MA is a former school counselor. He is currently a third year doctoral student in counselor education at Southern Illinois University. (zpiet@siu.edu)





Joseph CampbellJoseph A. Campbell, MA is a former addictions counselor and mental health counselor. He is currently a Visiting Lecturer of counselor education at Indiana University South Bend and a doctoral candidate in counselor education at Southern Illinois University. (jcampbel@siu.edu)


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1 Comment

Jim Peacock   on Wednesday 09/03/2014 at 01:23 PM

I applaude your work on this. Teaching online is quite different but certainly has its place for lots of people. I have 4 & 5 week long online seminars on 3 career theories and have set them up very similar to yours.

The key is to have engaging discussions. Over 4 or 5 weeks people really get to know each other and can take discussions to a fairly deep level in this format...especially those introverts out there!

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