OTIUM – An Acronym for Learning

A myriad of variables impact learning which must be an intentional drive to obtain and process information. “The initial activities associated with the dominance of an intentional action tendency would be characterized as the OTIUM [opportunity, time, importance, urgency, means] checks that would either result in the repeated inhibition and immediate decrease of the ongoing action tendency” (Blankenship, 1985, p168). The ability of learners to perceive that opportunity, time, and urgency are present is predicated upon their active-approach to problem solving. An active-approach refers to the behavior of taking the responsibility for the development of solution strategies to one’s own problems (Ponton & Carr, 2000, p276). OTIUM - An Acronym for Learning


Learning new skills is essential to success in any field or endeavor and the opportunity to learn is at the foundation of the process. The opportunity must present itself or be created by the individual. Educators and mentors can help guide others to see the opportunities for learning as illustrated in this conversation between Dr. Louis Agassiz and a boardinghouse worker who was determined she never had an opportunity to learn.

In response to her complaint, he replied: “Do you say, madam, you never had a chance? What do you do?”

“I am single and help my sister run a boardinghouse.”

“What do you do?” he asked.

“I skin potatoes and chop onions.”

He said, “Madam, where do you sit during these interesting but homely duties?”

“On the bottom step of the kitchen stairs.”

“Where do your feet rest?”

“On the glazed brick.”

“What is glazed brick?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

He said, “How long have you been sitting there?”

She said, “Fifteen years.”

“Madam, here is my personal card,” said Dr. Agassiz. “Would you kindly write me a letter concerning the nature of a glazed brick?”

She took him seriously. She went home and explored the dictionary and discovered that a brick was a piece of baked clay. That definition seemed too simple to send to Dr. Agassiz, so after the dishes were washed, she went to the library and in an encyclopedia read that a glazed brick is vitrified kaolin and hydrous aluminum silicate. She didn’t know what that meant, but she was curious and found out. She took the word vitrified and read all she could find about it. Then she visited museums. She moved out of the basement of her life and into a new world on the wings of vitrified. And having started, she took the word hydrous, studied geology, and went back in her studies to the time when God started the world and laid the clay beds. One afternoon she went to a brickyard, where she found the history of more than 120 kinds of bricks and tiles, and why there have to be so many. Then she sat down and wrote thirty-six pages on the subject of glazed brick and tile.

Back came the letter from Dr. Agassiz: “Dear Madam, this is the best article I have ever seen on the subject. If you will kindly change the three words marked with asterisks, I will have it published and pay you for it.

A short time later there came a letter that brought $250, and penciled on the bottom of this letter was this query: “What was under those bricks?” She had learned the value of time and answered with a single word: “Ants.” He wrote back and said, “Tell me about the ants.”

She began to study ants. She found there were between eighteen hundred and twenty-five hundred different kinds. There are ants so tiny you could put three head-to-head on a pin and have standing room left over for other ants; ants an inch long that march in solid armies half a mile wide, driving everything ahead of them; ants that are blind; ants that get wings on the afternoon of the day they die; ants that build anthills so tiny that you can cover one with a lady’s silver thimble; peasant ants that keep cows to milk, and then deliver the fresh milk to the apartment house of the aristocrat ants of the neighborhood.

After wide reading, much microscopic work, and deep study, the spinster sat down and wrote Dr. Agassiz 360 pages on the subject. He published the book and sent her the money, and she went to visit all the lands of her dreams on the proceeds of her work (Hanks, 1971).

As educators, mentors and guides providing a vision of the opportunities for learners may be all an individual may need. The key is to help them to see what is before them and the ways in which they may learn.


It cannot be stated more simply than time is needed to learn. Often, individuals state that they simply don’t have time to learn. Yet, despite the busyness of life, there can always be found a few stolen moments to learn something new provided there is a desire.

Ponder these ideas and questions to see what time may be found to learn something new:

  • Listening to a podcast, book or other audio item while going to work. (This can be done whether you drive, walk, bike or ride to work.)
  • Carry a book with you.
  • Read while waiting to pick up or drop off someone.
  • Ponder and reflect during quiet moments.
  • Do you watch television daily? Give up one program to read during that time.
  • Keep a learning journal.
  • Seek out answers to questions that come to your mind. For instance, have you ever really wondered why the sky is blue?
  • Download an eBook to your smartphone or tablet.
  • Talk to others. While waiting in the doctor’s office or in a line, visit with the person next to you. What do they do for a living and what can you learn from them about it? What about their life experiences which may be different than yours?
  • Turn off technology -especially the cellphone and email.

Pause for a moment and make a list of ways in which learning can be incorporated into an individual’s life despite time constraints.


Learning is essential to the human race. Not only does it aid the community and world as a whole but it builds confidence, increases self-esteem, keeps the mind and intellect sharp, increased financial means, personal development and growth, as well as happiness. Researchers list many additional benefits to learning daily including the growth, changes and sustaining the health of the human brain (Masson, 2014).

These benefits drive the investigation and research on further information for educators but have little to no consequence if individuals have no desire and drive to learn. Importance to learn lies within the individual. Each person must first experience the unconditional pique of interest and develop an importance in a topic of choice.

The day you stop learning is the day you stop living…



Urgency is simply prioritizing learning over other activities. How many times has it been said that there simply isn’t time for learning? There is time. It is a matter of what to do with that time.

My daughter provided a wonderful example of this the other day. Visiting my home with her husband, she sat our farmhouse table with her laptop open, attempting to study child psychology as homework for a college course. The assignment was tedious despite her interest in psychology. Soon, she closed the window for the assigned work and investigated a tangent. She was enthralled with her new discoveries and without thought she shared what she had just read.

What was her urgency? Although the school work was important and she had time to do it, it wasn’t as urgent to her as discovering the answer to her question. She needed an answer immediately. As time went on and the due date for the original work loomed closer, the urgency changed. Those tangent questions plaguing her mind were set aside. The homework had a greater urgency than anything else.


In 2001, 99% of school districts had internet access (National Center for Education Statistics, 2001). Despite this growing availability within schools and classrooms, much of the population in the United States continues to live without access within the confines of their homes. One school district in California, the Coachella Valley Unified School District, implemented a unique solution to this dilemma.

“School buses used to serve one purpose: getting students to and from school. But driven by a mandate to provide Internet connectivity to all students, some creative districts have deployed mobile wireless technology to transform their buses into moving Wi-Fi zones, stationary hotspots or both.

“Among the students at Coachella Valley Unified School District (CA), 24/7 Web access is not a given. According to Superintendent Darryl Adams, “Only about 60 percent of the student population has Internet access at home.” To solve the problem, he put his own spin on the concept of mobile learning. “They’re putting Wi-Fi in cars now,” he said, “so I thought, ‘Why not put it on a school bus?’

“CVUSD rolled out its Wi-Fi-enabled school bus initiative in October, using three buses to provide Wi-Fi to students on their way back and forth to school (and for field trips and sporting events). The buses are also “parked” overnight in neighborhoods where Internet access is not otherwise available. Adams said that trailer parks and tribal reservations were among the district’s first choices as locations to provide Wi-Fi via its buses (McCrea, 2015).

Bringing Wi-Fi into the homes magnifies an additional asset for educational success, the family unit. Supporting and building family ties can be a beneficial component to academic success. The support of the parent and family unit is the most important method to improve education and schools. The results of strong family ties include higher grades, increased test scores, greater school attendance, higher graduation rates, increased motivation, lower suspension rates and disciplinary issues, decreased us of drugs and alcohol, fewer instances of violent behavior at school and increased self-esteem (Michigan Department of Education, 2004).


Blankenship, V. (1985). “The dynamics of intention.” In Frese, M. and Sabini, J. (Eds.) Goal- Directed Behavior: The Concept of Action in Psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp. 161-170.

Hanks, M. (1971). Good Teachers Matter. Ensign, July 1971.

Masson, S. (2014). The Brain, Learning, and Teaching. Education Canada, 2014.

McCrea, B. (2015). WiFi on Wheels Puts Two Districts on the Fast Track to 24/7 Access. Retrieved from: https://thejournal.com/articles/2015/04/30/wifi-on-wheels.aspx

Michigan Department of Education. (2004). Parent Engagement Information and Tools. Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/Parent_Involvement_Part_1_12-16-04_111426_7.pdf.


National Center for Education Statistics, 2001 Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2001, Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2002/internet/3.asp

Ponton, M. & Carr, P. (2000). UNDERSTANDING AND PROMOTING AUTONOMY IN SELF-DIRECTED LEARNING, Current Resaerch in Social Psychology, Vol 5, issue 19 September 2000

By Tracy Atkinson

Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners. She has published several titles, including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8 and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson

Tracy Harrington-Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the mid-west with her husband. She loved storytelling and sharing her stories with her children. As they grew, she started writing her stories down for them. She is a teacher, having taught from elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education, masters in higher education and continued on to a PhD in curriculum design. Her husband, Kerry and Tracy breed miniature dachshunds and love to spend time with their growing family. She has published several books including Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Rachel's 8 and Securing Your Tent.

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