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To EdD or not to EdD: Why is the Doctor of Education programme becoming increasingly popular among educational professionals?

Iona Burnell, Senior Lecturer at University of East London Jodi Roffey-Barentsen, Senior Lecturer/Programme Leader at University of Brighton

The EdD has become increasingly popular as the route to a doctorate for the educational professional. When we embarked on our own EdDs some years ago there were not too many to choose from; now you would find it difficult to locate a university within the UK that doesn’t run the Doctor of Education.

The traditional PhD has been around for a long time and still is the most popular doctoral qualification. However, although the professional doctorate is a relatively new phenomenon, it is fast catching up with its more established PhD cousin. Jane Creaton (cited in Burnell & Roffey-Barentsen, 2020) points out that professional doctorates can be traced back to the 13th century where they originated in subjects such as Doctor of Law and Doctor of Theology (p. 8). Many professional industries now have professional doctorates, such as Doctor of Engineering, Doctor of Social Work, Doctor of Counselling Psychology. These areas are also academic disciplines, meaning they can be studied and assessed at doctoral level (level 8 within the UK qualifications framework). Some industries, such as counselling psychology, value the professional doctorate more highly than the traditional PhD because the programme is underpinned by professional practice and experience within the industry. To enrol onto an EdD programme, students would usually need to have considerable practice/experience from their profession; this experience then underpins their research and its focus. The PhD, on the other hand, does not require this underpinning professional practice or experience from the workplace.

‘To enrol onto an EdD programme, students usually need considerable professional experience, which then underpins their research and its focus. The PhD, on the other hand, does not require this underpinning from the workplace.’

So, what is making the Doctor of Education programme increasingly popular among educational professionals? We both teach and supervise on EdD courses at various universities in England. Some EdDs are delivered online whereas others are delivered face to face on campus. All have supervision at the thesis-writing stage. One of the factors that EdD courses have in common is their interactive nature, particularly where students have the opportunity to meet or interact with each other on the taught modular stage of the course, although, as Goodall et al. (2017) point out, this may become more difficult at the thesis-writing stage as students experience more isolation. However, as this follows the taught modular stage of the course, students are likely to have formed peer groups, allowing them to support each other. A common theme across EdDs is that students enjoy meeting regularly – in person with the courses that are delivered on campus, and online with those delivered remotely. In their cohort group they find that the interaction and regular meetings are inspirational and motivational. During these meetings, students, who are all educational professionals, enjoy stimulating discussions, share their experiences, learn together, and support each other (Lindsay et al., 2018). A further benefit of working with peers who are also professionals is the opportunity to share experiences and resources. Gibson et al. (2017, p. 174) comment on their experiences of working with EdD students and how ‘the group came together due to online forums to support educational leadership, management and development’.

When comparing professional doctorates to the traditional PhD, there may be concerns about parity, quality and standards between the two routes. Creaton, however, points out that for all doctoral-level qualifications in the UK, including professional doctorates and PhDs, all candidates are required to demonstrate original research within their subject, field or profession (cited in Burnell & Roffey-Barentsen, 2020, p. 10), contributing to the field of knowledge.

To summarise, different universities deliver EdDs in a variety of ways and modes. The main difference in structure between a professional doctorate and a PhD is that professional doctorates often have a taught element, which offers opportunities for collaboration, support and networking far beyond the time spent on the course. PhDs, in contrast, are entirely based upon individual research. Therefore, if you are working as a professional in the field of education, and are someone who values interaction, peer support and networking for future opportunities, the EdD is the choice for you.


Burnell, I., & Roffey-Barentsen, J. (2020). Completing your EdD: The essential guide to the Doctor of Education. Emerald Publishing.

Gibson, P., Shanks, R., & Dick, S. (2017). The EdD and one bedtime story more! An exploration of the Third-Space inhabited by mothers working in educational leadership whilst studying for a professional doctorate, Management in Education, 31(4) 172–179.

Goodall, H. J., Huggins, V. A., Webber, L. A., & Wickett, K. L. (2017). From student to graduate: Four learners’ perspectives of the professional doctorate journey, Management in Education, 31(4) 180–186.

Lindsay, H., Kerawalla, L., & Floyd, A. (2018). Supporting researching professionals: EdD students’ perceptions of their development needs, Studies in Higher Education, 43(12) 2321–2335.