The world is moving faster than ever, and with it, occupational therapy lecturers are finding more and more ways to connect with their students.

The most popular online discussion thread for occupational therapists #OTalk invites occupational therapists to join in and debate certain topics every Tuesday, opening up conversations between professionals from different areas who would maybe otherwise never be in communication.

This opening of the digital floor to thousands of users at a time offers as many advantages as it does pitfalls though, and in education, traditionalists sometimes argue against the use of online learning and remain strong supporters of classroom based, face-to-face discussions and teaching.

With much to be said about both styles, we take a look at and weigh up some benefits and disadvantages of online discussion forums as a learning tool.

By employing an online discussion thread, quieter and more timid students may feel more confident in contributing to debate and putting their thoughts and opinions forward. By allowing a student to compose and write their thoughts down coherently and have time to think about how they would like to word it, it may encourage them to contribute more as they are not worrying about nerves or not being a confident speaker. Also, they do not have to contend with louder classmates who maybe are prone to speaking over them, which could lead to a loss of confidence and a downturn in learning. On the flipside though, it may not improve their confidence and communication levels in person, which is a key component of a good occupational therapist. Furthermore, those with poor written skills may struggle to add to discussion.

Often, you may find students have the same question or different understandings of something. With one person asking in an open forum, time and confusion can be saved as a lecturer can post one answer to ensure clarity that will reach everyone instantly.

However, while the lecturer may then open this to conversation and discussion, some students may too quickly agree with others and not provide their own response or thoughts.

While it encourages peer-reviewing and learning, it also promotes greater scope for ‘anytime learning’. Lecturers and students will not need to be in the same room anymore and it provides an ideal alternative if circumstances such as weather or illness means that a face-to-face lecture cannot take place. However, it does require a great deal of lecturer supervision and constant checking to ensure everyone is participating and moreover can prevent the growth of a relationship between lecturer and student.

So, it seems a blend of modern and traditional learning methods is likely to be the best way to ensure productive and proactive learning is achieved. While occupational therapy has always moved with the times, the essential skill of communication and personable qualities required from an occupational therapist cannot be learned from a touch screen.