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When I did my PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postgraduate_Certificate_in_Education) I learnt about ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs’ (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs), whereby there is a ‘pyramid’ that defines the elements in life that help support the needs above them. One of the needs at the top is ‘Self-actualisation’, which I understand to be a need state that is best for learning and indeed being productive. In this post I’ll discuss my thoughts on this.


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What is ‘Downtime’?

This is the time we spend having fun / relaxing or doing something we don’t really have to think hard about. It could be challenging though, which is a sort of contradiction, but then we’re motivated by the thought that we ‘want to’ rather than ‘have to’ do the task. Its what you do to relax and get away from the stresses in life.

For me, ‘Downtime’ is volunteering, cycling, walking, computer games, photography and filming railway transport.

Software Development

When developing and maintaining software I can make mistakes. These ‘bugs’ tend to arise when I’m tired, stressed, under pressure or distracted. I sometimes recognise this and do something about it, it could be that I’ve been working on a problem for a while and getting nowhere, so I’ll pause, take a break, play a game, sleep or do another more trivial task before coming back to the problem. Often a solution will occur to me the next day during my morning routine, and I’ll think ‘why did I not think of that before?’. Its because I’m attending to my needs that support my ability to perform to the best of my ability. My brain can devote effort to the problem, rather than the nagging thoughts of the other supporting needs in my life being unfulfilled.

I’m not great at developing to a close deadline, it invokes stress and pressure, that leads to mistakes and ultimately the software not actually working and therefore the problem not solved. Thus I tend to want to get a job done as soon as I can with lots of time left over to solve any unexpected problems and have breathing space for downtime away from the task for the very reasons I’ve stated.


Learning is just like work, but more so, it takes more effort (or at least it does to me) as you seem to be rewiring your mind to understand the new concepts being communicated. Therefore other distractions and stresses in life can have a detrimental effect on your ability to learn. I’ve found that I just don’t remember as much as I do at other times.

I’ve been meaning to learn ‘Hugo’ (gohugo.io) for a while after finding out about it because of MDL-61460 (tracker.moodle.org/browse/MDL-61460) as I think it will be a good tool to create a static website and replace my WordPress one. But I’ve been busy and the stress of the whole pandemic has meant that I’ve put it off and at times when I’ve tried, I have not been able to concentrate and assimilate the new concepts of the ‘Go’ language (golang.org) that Hugo uses. I know I need to find the time and clear a space in my life to make this happen because I want it to happen. That I also need to be less stressed and ‘ready to learn’.

There is a whole area about ‘Gamification’ in Education (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gamification) whereby learning is made more enjoyable. When I was teaching I often thought of or aspired to be an ‘Edutainer’. But does it fulfil the other needs at the same time? Or rather it just helps with making learning more enjoyable when our other more basic needs are satisfied?


Therefore in order to learn and be effective professionals in our work and attain ‘Self-actualisation’ we need our basic needs satisfied to some or a greater extent. Sometimes this is not always possible or indeed have all of them completely fulfilled but it seems to me that the less we have of a need further down the pyramid, then the further away we are from being effective, productive and reaching our full potential.

There is also scope for enabling others to attain their potential by facilitating such elements as flexible holidays for employees, reasonable hours of work, having a relaxed learning environment with a suitable pace of learning and breaks. Essentially all of the things you as an individual can do and are empowered to control.


I consider that we still need our basic supporting needs and ‘downtime’ fulfilled in order to perform well both at learning and work.

What do you think? Please let me know in the comments.

Gareth Barnard
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Gareth Barnard

Gareth is a developer of numerous Moodle Themes including Essential (the most popular Moodle Theme ever), Foundation, and other plugins such as course formats, including Collapsed Topics.

One thought on “Downtime

  • Oh gosh this takes me back – to the days of my own Cert Ed (Post 16).
    So much of that learning theory and research is a solid foundation 🙂
    It often makes me laugh reading people write about online learning, and technology, when they clearly have no grounding in basic teaching and learning – it is so easy to see the missing perspectives.


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