Troubleshooting Your Online Education Program: Tips & Tools for Smooth Sailing
Whether you’re a college kid sitting in on Zoom lectures or a student in an online nursing program doing virtual clinicals, it’s no secret that technical problems can be frustrating. Learn what you need to know to ensure your online course runs smoothly and gather the tools and resources you can rely on when they don’t.
With an increasing number of schools transitioning to an online learning model in light of COVID-19, more students than ever are facing the learning curve of going digital. Whether you’re a student taking introductory classes at a community college or a third-year nurse practitioner student trying to get your hands-on experience through a screen, unforeseen issues are bound to arise with our sudden shift to virtual learning. Knowing how to troubleshoot can help keep us from throwing our hands up in frustration.
From little issues with easy fixes to larger ones with more complex remedies, there are tips and tricks for nearly every problem and when there aren’t, there are professionals to lean on. Whether you’re just starting out online or a seasoned e-learner, this guide can help solve everything from lack of sound to connectivity errors during an exam and beyond.
Common Online Learning Tech Issues
Encountering technical issues during online learning is inevitable, but don’t give up at the first sign of trouble. It’s important to recognize that these problems are simply part of the online learning process. Here are some of the basic issues that may be causing problems and what you can do to fix them.
I’m attempting to enter my scheduled virtual clinical rotation, but when I click the enter button, nothing happens.
Make sure your popup blocker is disabled. If it’s already disabled, try turning it off and back on.
The semester just started and I’m trying to access my biology class, but it seems like the interface keeps glitching.
Most learning management system platforms interact best with a specific browser (e.g., Chrome, Firefox, etc.). Find out if you’re using a compatible option.
My Wi-Fi keeps cutting out in the middle of my human anatomy class and I’m missing important parts of live lessons.
Rather than relying on a Wi-Fi connection, get an ethernet cable and plug it directly into your computer. This will allow for a stronger, more robust connection.
The livestream of my virtual healthcare management class keeps stalling.
If you’re streaming, downloading, or using any other tabs on your computer during a live class, shut them all. These activities can eat up bandwidth and slow your connection.
My professor uploaded a mandatory video to my healthcare informatics class, but it just looks like an empty box.
Check your Adobe Flash Player settings and see if you need to download a newer version or change your settings.
The ChemDraw program used in my chemistry class keeps freezing in the middle of my project work.
Ensure you’ve downloaded the latest version and check the compatibility requirements for the software to make sure your computer meets them.
The learning management platform crashes repeatedly each time I use it.
Check to see if you have any third-party extensions installed on your browser (e.g., Grammarly, Adblock, etc.). Try disabling these during class as they could interfere with the platform.
Watching lectures seems impossible because they buffer nonstop. It doesn’t matter whether they are live or recorded.
Test your internet speed to see if it’s running too slow to support videos. Speedtest provides a free option.
I can’t get the learning management system to open properly on my computer.
Most learning management systems require updated operating systems to function properly. Macs usually need to run OS 10.6 or later while Windows need at least Windows 8 or 10.
I tried to give a presentation in my medical imaging class recently, but no one could hear me.
Check the sound settings on your computer to ensure the internal microphone works. If not, you may need to purchase an external microphone to use during presentations.
When to Call for Help
Despite your best efforts, sometimes the problem lies beyond your technical skills. Many colleges anticipate the need for trained and qualified tech staff and provide 24/7 support to students or staff facing issues. Sometimes it may not be a problem on your end and reaching out for help will be the only way to resolve the issue.
Remember that many students face tech problems – especially at the start of school – and know that you will get them sorted over time. Just as you spend time learning about your chosen subject area, virtual education gives you the opportunity to improve your tech skills.
Encountering an issue that has the potential to impact your grade can rachet up your stress from zero to one hundred in no time. Whether you encounter problems related to testing, homework, classwork, or required meetings, here are some things you can do to resolve those issues and get back on track.
Taking an online test, be it scheduled or proctored, is stressful enough without facing technical issues or glitches. The reality is that sometimes computers freeze or the internet goes out at the most inopportune times. You need to have a plan in place if/when this happens.
According to the University of Idaho, no high stakes test should be given online without supervision. This means a proctor should be available to observe you taking the test and see if you start encountering problems. You should make sure you have the phone number of either your professor or proctor so you can let them know immediately if something goes wrong. Another option is to take a photo and/or video with your smartphone, showing what is happening on your side of the screen and demonstrating your inability to move forward with the test until the issue is resolved.
You’ve been working on your nursing theories paper over the last three weeks and finally complete your final edit 15 minutes before the midnight deadline. Everything was ready, but for a reason outside your control, you couldn’t get it to upload on time. Whether your internet connection stopped working or the learning management platform wouldn’t accept the paper, the system now thinks you’re late.
Several issues could be at play here. For starters, make sure the type of file you’re trying to upload meets the platform’s requirements. For instance, it may only accept .doc or .docx files while your paper is saved as a .pages. Similarly, you may be trying to use a browser unsupported by the platform. Try several different ones and see if the problem persists. You should also immediately email the paper to your professor. Even though you weren’t able to send it via the platform, they will at least know it was finished before the deadline.
On Tuesday, your dental assisting class has a mandatory virtual meeting to demonstrate how to take x-rays of wisdom teeth. It’s been on your calendar for a week and you dutifully sign in at the stated time, only the program won’t let you enter the meeting. Regardless of whether your information wasn’t properly added into the list of attendees or the learning management system glitched, you’re now missing the meeting.
Issues with joining a meeting could be related to permissions on the privacy settings, old technology requiring an update, or several other factors. As with other issues discussed in this section, the most important thing you can do is communicate when things aren’t working properly. Immediately get in touch with your instructor or fellow classmates and let them know what’s happening. Ask if they can record the meeting so you can listen later and try to get back on track as soon as possible.
Your instructor uploaded a reading packet as part of your homework assignment for a medical imaging class, but when you go to download it, nothing happens. You can see the file, but it doesn’t seem clickable or able to be processed on the learning management system, making it impossible for you to get started on the assignment.
While it’s possible that your instructor improperly uploaded the reading packet, more than likely there is an issue either with your accessibility or the learning management system itself. It could be that permission settings don’t allow you to access the document or you have a pop-up blocker causing issues with downloading it. You can try reaching out to another student who has already successfully downloaded it, or you can contact your instructor and ask them to send it via email.
Your microbiology class meets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 11:00 a.m. You can get into the class, but the platform kicks you out repeatedly while attending. This both interrupts the class and makes you miss important parts of the lecture and/or class discussion.
Troubleshooting by Program
Aside from the general tech issues discussed throughout this guide, you might come across a few issues specific to individual learning management systems. Whether you use Blackboard, Canvas, or one of the other popular platforms, you can find answers to common problems below.
“Session Already Running” Error
Fix: Clear your internet browsing history and cache. Your computer may think multiple sessions are running due to frequently visiting the website.
Trouble downloading and uploading files
Fix: Make sure you’re running the latest version of Java. If not, some of the learning management platform’s functions may glitch or stop running properly.
Problems participating in discussion posts/forums
Fix: In many cases, discussion posts pop up in new windows. If your pop-up blocker is turned on, this may cause issues seeing existing posts and creating new ones.
Missing deadlines or other issues around late assignments
Fix: Make sure you set your Canvas account to the same time zone as your school, especially if it’s in a different zone than you. If you’re in CST but the school is in EST, your assignments will perennially be late unless you reset the clock.
Unauthorized error messages
Fix: While you may be able to see a document or assignment posted, you cannot download it. This is often due to improper publishing by the instructor. Email them and ask them to republish it.
No email notifications
Fix: If you use two email addresses (say your school one and a personal one), you must add both to Canvas in order to receive notifications. If you reply to notifications from students or instructors, they may not receive these unless your email address is on file.
Canvas provides a Troubleshooting guide for answers to more questions about this learning management system.
Problems attaching documents or assignments
Fix: If using Google Classroom on your smartphone or tablet device, always make sure you’ve downloaded the latest version of the app. This can solve issues with uploading assignments and many others.
Trouble signing in
Fix: Because Google Classroom is attached to your Gmail, make sure you’re using your school email rather than your personal one when you sign-in. You likely don’t have permissions on your personal email, which will cause issues logging in.
The “Turn In” button isn’t working
Fix: Copy and paste your assignment into a new blank document, remove your old version, and save the new one. Create a new attachment and try again.
Fix: If the platform detects a lack of activity for a certain amount of time, it may disconnect you – even in the middle of a quiz or exam. Fixes include connecting your computer to an ethernet cable or pressing the “Save without submitting” button regularly.
The platform runs slowly at inopportune times
Fix: While Moodle was created to run optimally on all the mainstream web browsers available, some days it gets along better with one than the other. If you’re using Firefox and having issues, try switching over to Chrome or Internet Explorer to see if the problem persists.
The upload box is missing
Fix: This typically happens with the assignment is closed, not yet open, or you already submitted something earlier. Check your course schedule for submission dates and reach out to your instructor if necessary.
Fix: Try opening the platform on a separate computer or internet browser. If it still doesn’t work, try a different Wi-Fi network.
“Private Access Only” error message
Fix: When trying to open a course or discussion group, you may encounter this message. If/when it happens, security settings need to be changed by your instructor. Contact them and ask for the privacy settings to include your user profile.
My test or quiz expired
Fix: Schoology sets limits on how long a test or quiz can remain open, after which it will expire. If the test lasts longer than the set limit, ask your instructor to increase the timeframe and allow you to resume the quiz.
Shannon Lee has been a freelance writer, editor, and novelist for over 25 years. Her work has appeared on Fox Business, Forbes, MSN, Bob Vila, Modernize, Nashville Scene, MoneyGeek, MVP Parent, and many other outlets; her writing on home improvement led to an editorial position with The Spruce in 2021. She's written extensively on higher education, relationships, and the intersection of technology, health, and medicine. When she's not freelancing, Shannon also writes fiction novels.
Timon Kaple, Ph.D., is a full-time writer and researcher. His work focuses on sociolinguistics, small-group folklore, the anthropology of sound, higher education, and student support services. He has experience as an ethnographer and enjoys conducting fieldwork and archival research.