Pattern and rhythm in course activity deadlines

Concept art of Concept of online schedule planning. Scheduling work for the week

In an ever-evolving and unpredictable world, consistency and predictable patterns are precious sources of some stability in our lives, allowing for a sense of order and reliability when navigating the new or unknown. Likewise, implementing consistent patterns or rhythms in course structure can help students easily navigate and successfully interact with the content of an online course (Schipp 2020). One example of how patterns can be established in a course is in activity deadlines.

Missouri Online Recommends

Missouri Online recommends that an online course include a repeating pattern or rhythm for course activity deadlines, in which deadlines used for similar assignments recur on the same day/time each week (See item #48 in the 5 Pillars Quality Course Review form).

What is a course activity pattern?

A pattern for course activity deadlines should include the following:

  • Consistent day and time - if not for all assignments, at least for different activity types (e.g., all assignments due Sundays 11:59 pm*, or discussion post due every Wednesday 11:59 pm and quiz due every Sunday 11:59 pm).
    • It’s worth noting that Canvas defaults to 11:59 pm when setting up assignment deadlines. Sticking to this default can help allow for further consistency for students and eliminates the possible confusion from a midnight or 12 am/pm deadline.
  • Consistent intervals (spacing out) between deadlines for different activity types (e.g., discussion post due every week, quiz due every two weeks, etc.)

Compare the two examples of course activity schedules below. Note the randomness of the first schedule in contrast with the consistency and pattern established in the second schedule. The second schedule is much easier to follow along and remember.

No rhythm/pattern established in course activity deadlinesConsistent rhythm/pattern established in course activity deadlines
Week 1Discussion post due Thursday 10 pmWeek 1Discussion post due Thursday 11:59 pm
Reply to peer due Saturday 9 amReply to peer due Sunday 11:59 pm
Quiz due Saturday 9 am
Week 2Discussion post due Friday 11:59 pmWeek 2Worksheet due Thursday 11:59 pm
Reply to peer due Saturday 11:59 pmQuiz due Sunday 11:59 pm
Week 3Quiz due = Thursday 10 pmWeek 3Discussion post due Thursday 11:59 pm
Worksheet due Saturday 11:59 pmReply to peer due Sunday 11:59 pm
Week 4Worksheet due Wednesday 10 pmWeek 4Worksheet due Thursday 11:59 pm
Quiz due Friday 9 amQuiz due Sunday 11:59 pm
Reflection essay due Sunday 11:59 pmReflection essay due Monday 11:59 pm

Examples of course calendars With or without course activity patterns established

Why establish a pattern?

Building the course schedule so assignments are due the same day of the week each week provides many possible advantages for students and instructors alike. These include the following:

For students

  • Increased focus on learning: Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines recommend implementing a consistent course design with predictable due dates to help minimize threats and distractions, particularly for neurodivergent students (Booth, et al, 2018), and allow them to better focus on their learning.
  • Enhanced student time management: A structured schedule helps students to plan their time effectively and allocate appropriate time for studying and completing assignments, in turn encouraging them to submit assignments on time (Smith & Zsohar, 2008).
  • Encouragement of regular engagement and progressive learning: Engagement and keeping pace with courses can be a struggle for students, especially students of online courses (Miller & Schmidt, 2020), many of whom are working adults. When there are consistent deadlines throughout a course, this can ensure the course aligns with RSI (Regular and Substantive Interaction) requirements, allowing students to regularly interact with the material, instructor, and classmates, if applicable.Distributing assignments evenly throughout the term of the course can help students incrementally build on their knowledge and gain a more comprehensive understanding of the course content.
  • Improved class dynamics: A predictable pattern of deadlines contributes to a sense of structure within a course, which fosters a positive class dynamic, as students feel more secure and confident in knowing what to expect when navigating the course’s material and requirements with minimal surprises along the way (Schipp 2020).
  • Increased sense of accountability: Clear and consistent deadlines are a key factor in encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning. When deadlines are set in a predictable, easy-to-follow pattern from the beginning, students know what to expect and have fewer excuses to forget about any deadlines, increasing the sense of accountability on their end. (In addition, consider going above and beyond and asking your students at the beginning of the course what days/times they prefer for their due dates! [Locher & Schisler, 2023]).

For instructors

  • Efficient course planning: A consistent pattern of deadlines allows for more structured and simplified course planning on the part of the instructors. This helps them better allocate time and resources throughout the course term, ensuring each topic receives adequate time and attention and assignments have an effective and efficient “instructional lifecycle” (Jansak, 2000) that you are comfortable with.

For both students and instructors

  • Balanced workload distribution: Evenly spaced, scheduled deadlines reduces stress not only for students, but instructors as well, allowing for a more sustainable workload throughout the term rather than a backlog of tasks or assignments to be completed.
  • Effective feedback loop: Timely and effective feedback to students is crucial to a successful learning experience. Consistent deadlines allow instructors to manage their workload and time, as mentioned above, which in turn will allow them to have a consistent established timeline of providing feedback to students in between assignments.


When “learners are informed from the outset that there are specific days of the week and specific times that assignments are due…(the) consistency in date and time (will be) keys to encouraging learners to submit online assignments on time” (Smith & Zsohar, 2008). Establishing a consistent pattern in the course activity schedule will instill a sense of ease and familiarity in students when navigating the course content and activities. This will help both students and instructors have a positive and productive learning/teaching experience and have one less unpredictable thing to worry about in their busy lives.

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Course structure

How you structure your course can help you make decisions about content. This page includes guides to help you think about how you want your course to flow. 

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To ensure students have an engaging learning experience, faculty are encouraged to include a variety of interaction types in their course design. Interaction types include student-to-student, faculty-to-student, and student-to-course content.

Check out the following sprint to learn more about designing an online course with inclusivity in mind.

Created on: March 6, 2024