Q&A: Why Are There Deadlines in Online Classes?

Q: I chose online classes because they said I could go to school "anywhere, any time" -- but I just lost 30 percent off my first essay because of when I turned it. What's up with that?

A: Great question!

There are two things going on here. First, there's possible ambiguity over what the term "anywhere, any time" means in regards to web-based studies. Lots of students have thought this meant that they could do the work any time they wanted -- that there were no deadlines. That is almost never the case. What that phrase means is that you have access to the coursework any time of the day or night, referring to the fact that most online classes are asynchronous: They don't happen in real time.

And second, there's often genuine confusion about why you might even have deadlines in online classes, since people are logging on at different times of day and night. There are several reasons why schools use schedules. Some of them are organizational, or even -- let's be honest -- bureaucratic. There's a date when teachers must know how many students are in their classes, for payment purposes. There's another date by which the schools should know how you are doing, for financial aid accounting, or to get you help if you need it.

Learning also requires structure. Your instructors need to receive your papers by a certain time so they can return the work to you and you can learn from their feedback. Teachers want to know if the class has understood a key concept or not. You need time for certain concepts to sink in. And a schedule for assignments is useful. It helps to teach you how to pace your assignments, and gives you many opportunities to manage your work to different deadlines. In classes with no deadlines at all, some students may never do the work, and others wait until the last minute and try to cram everything in. There's are unique benefits students can enjoy when taking online classes, but they may not be the right fit for everyone. It's always best to research the details of how online schools work before you make a final decision about the best choice for your education.

Greg Beatty

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.