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The single most important tip for online learners – Know your deadlines.

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deadlineOnline learners hear me clearly—not having a handle on your course schedule and due dates is certain death in online learning. Your instructors will hold you to them, so you need to know them.

I just finished grading a set of assignments, and one student lost 30 points simply because she missed deadlines. That’s all. The work itself was pretty solid. But because she failed to meet two different deadlines, her grade suffered immensely. It was honestly painful for me to apply the deductions, but I had to. For several reasons that I’ll explain in a moment.

Now, before I get the reaction that I’m too much a stickler (I had something else written here first), let me provide some context.

Students know due dates way in advance. I provide my students with the entire term’s schedule on the first day of classes, and it’s rare that I make adjustments. That means, students know from day one when all of their tasks and assignments are due.

It’s always the same days. I also limit due days to just two days a week. Students only submit assignments on either Thursdays or Sundays, so when those days come around, that should be a trigger to check the schedule. And, every week there is something due.

They receive lots of reminders. I send out weekly emails to my students that list their tasks for the week and the dates they’re due. This term, I’ve actually sent out additional emails in case I’m not seeing the kind of activity I should the day before a deadline.

I give extensions. There were two parts to this particular assignment (an online presentation). The first was submitting their own presentation. The second was submitting a peer review the following week. Every student has the option to use a one-time extension on an assignment, as long as they let me know in advance they’ll be using it and indicate that in the submission. On the second half, I sent out a reminder to complete the peer review and gave an extra day to complete it.

All of this is to say, I don’t expect students to maintain their schedules without any prompting. I’ve been around the block a few times. My face-to-face students get prompted every time we meet, so I guide my online students through deadlines in the same way.

But, that doesn’t mean I’ll put everything on hold for them. The course will go on, so as an online learner, you must be committed to managing your calendar and keeping up with the due dates.

So, why not just cut her some slack and give her the points whenever she completes it? Because as her teacher, I’m preparing her for professional employment—in whatever form that looks like—so it’s my responsibility to make sure I teach students that deadlines exist for a reason and here are a few…

Deadlines create a fair playing field. It’s not fair of me to hold others to deadlines, those who do manage to work their required tasks into their already busy lives and complete them on time, but then allow others to complete work when it’s convenient or when they remember.

At some point you will come across an inflexible deadline. It might even be that you’re required clock in at 8:00 am. Not 8:03. Not 8:07. 8:00. I’ve worked for those places. If you clock in three minutes late, you’re sitting down with a supervisor having an awkward conversation. And if it happens a few times, you’re not clocking in there at all anymore. Grant writers know all too well that deadlines are brutal. We can all tell you stories of deadlines for applications passing without any wiggle room. I’ve even been standing at a desk signing off on a submission at the 11:59 minute and seen someone else walk in behind me only to be turned away because the clock ticked over to 12:01. The deadline-driven world is a harsh one. You have to start preparing sometime.

I schedule my time like everyone else. I work full time in addition to teaching which means my time is scheduled into blocks. Each week and day I know how much time I need to complete a set of grading, or writing, or editing. So, I set aside that time to complete that task. When your piece comes in after that block of time is gone, I now have to adjust all of my other blocks to work in that missing piece. The bottom line, you’re inconveniencing me and every other person involved in every other task that I need to complete when I need that extra time to devote to your tardiness.

Okay, so I think I’ve made the point. Online students, you need to manage your time and know your deadlines. So, how do you do it? Here are just a few tips and tools:

  1. Check your email…at least every other day if not every day. Every online instructor will communicate with you via email (whether school or personal). You have to be committed to checking that every day.
  2. Don’t just print the calendar. Online courses are living ecologies. As a student, you are part of a system of people, activities, tools, all working inter-dependently together. That means you cannot be a passive participant, print the calendar on the first day, and walk away, only checking in to submit your work. You’re a member of a community that needs your contributions, as well, to continue working toward that end goal of completing the course. You need to actively engage and contribute—on time.
  3. Get your calendar organized. Here are a few free tools to help you:
    1. Google Calendar
    2. Zoho Calendar
    3. Coolendar

Try one until you find one that works.

Online learning is not for the lazy. It’s not for the “I-just-want-an-easy-A” student. And, it’s not for the “I-just-keep-forgetting-to-log-in” learner. Online coursework is for the deadline-driven, self-motivated, stay-on-top-of-it student. Please don’t lose points just because you didn’t log in, check your calendar, or stay organized. Your success depends on you doing all those things—and I want you to succeed.



  1. Autumn says:

    I started reading your blog when you mentioned it in one of your classes, and I find something interesting or inspiring in every post!

    I admire your ability to balance a full teaching schedule with your work outside of the classroom, and would be interested in hearing about how you manage it all. I find hearing about others’ productivity systems fascinating, and feel that yours would be extremely helpful. If you’re ever searching for something to post, I’d love for you to share!

    • Autumn, thanks for reading. I hope all has been going well since your graduation! I’d be happy to share my personal ways of keeping it all straight. Grad school, work, teaching, family, it all pulls at you all the time. Some days you juggle it all better than others! But, sure, I’ll post on that. Thanks for the idea!

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