Out of Order, Out of Reach: Navigating Assignment Sequences for STEM Success


Cuccolo, K. & DeBruler, K. (2024). Out of Order, Out of Reach: Navigating Assignment Sequences for STEM Success. Michigan Virtual. https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/out-of-order-out-of-reach-navigating-assignment-sequences-for-stem-success/ 


Research shows that pacing has an important relationship with online course performance; however, most work has focused on the timing—not the order—of students’ assignment submissions. The current study examined the relationship between the order of students’ assignments and their final course grades in online STEM classes. Using course pacing guides as a benchmark, students’ assignment submissions were categorized as either “in sequence” or “out of sequence.” Then, students were categorized as either moving through their courses “in sequence” or “out of sequence.” Most students were categorized as moving “out of sequence” (~93%) and submitted around 38% of their assignments out of order. As such, going out of sequence was common among students, but done somewhat sparingly within the courses themselves. While this “out of sequence” behavior was common, it was not necessarily advantageous for students’ final grades. On average, students who completely adhered to the pacing guide had final grades 9.5 points higher than students who deviated from the pacing guide at least once. A small but statistically significant negative correlation was observed between the proportion of assignments submitted out of order, the extent to which a student submitted an assignment out of order, and final grades. In other words, as students become increasingly out of order, final grades decrease. Taken together, pacing continues to represent a student behavior that may have important implications for course performance. Instructors and mentors should continue to monitor student pacing, and communication about course progression is encouraged. Future work should focus on examining student submission patterns from multiple perspectives to better understand their relationship to achievement. 


  • Cuccolo, Kelly
  • DeBruler, Kristen

Reference Type



  • K-12 online learning
  • STEM