Portia is a 53 year-old lady from The Netherlands. She studied Law and worked for an insurance company before having to put her career on hold for health reasons. Given her situation, Portia turned to MOOCs as a way to develop her knowledge for personal interest. So far, she has completed over 20 MOOCs across several different platforms.
Portia joins our interview series to share her experiences and insights on learning with MOOCs.
Carolyn: Can you tell us a little about your background?
Portia: Before discovering the world of MOOC’s I was already interested in teach-yourself courses. That way I studied Chinese language for some years. I also like travelling, cooking, reading, geocache (outdoor game with gps), crosswords and knitting.
Carolyn: How did you first become acquainted with MOOCs and what attracted you to them?
Portia: My husband told me about it, he watched an item about it at an American talk show (Stephen Colbert). Studying at home, but getting in touch with other students by discussion forums attracted me.
Carolyn: You have completed over 20 MOOCs so far – what fields were they in and which ones stand out for you and why?
Portia: ChinaX: a MOOC in 10 modules, lasting 1 1⁄2 year, about the whole history and culture of China from Shang Dynasty till today. Taught by 2 professors and several guest speakers. Interesting, lively discussion forum (still are friends with some of the other students), and afterwards you know about history, but also a bit about philosophy, Chinese arts, Tang Poetry, etc.
I also liked the MOOC’s about Chinese philosophy a lot and the MOOC’s about (American) poetry.
Both philosophy courses took it to a level where you can practise some of the wisdom today.
Poetry was a subject I was not very familiar with but I discovered that I liked it a lot by doing the MOOC’s. First I just tried it out. Read some beautiful poems, also some awful ones, and great interaction and fun on the discussion forums.
Carolyn: How did your learning experience across the different MOOC platforms compare?
Portia: EdX is technical best advanced. But I can not say that one of the MOOC platforms is better in course contents. With all of the ones I tried out I had some great learning experience.
Carolyn: The majority of people who follow MOOCs fall in the 26-35 age bracket. Did you encounter any particular difficulties being older than the norm?
Portia: Difficulties with digital techniques. Needed to install another browser when a MOOC did not work with for example Internet Explorer. Managed it, but I think for younger people it will be a piece of cake. Furthermore it could be I will remember less than younger people of what I learned. But I took notes, can read everything over.
Carolyn: What advice do you have for someone starting out with MOOCs?
Portia: First try only one out, about a subject you are a bit familiar with and you really like. Read the general instructions in the platforms. Don’t be insulted when you make some statements in a discussion forum and nobody answers. There is too much going on there for every remark getting noticed.
Carolyn: How does your MOOC experience compare with traditional college classes?
Portia: I liked it a lot better, because you don’t have to sit and listen for hours, freedom of choice or place and time, but still the possibility to interact with others. The possibility to re-play video’s of items you struggle with, skip other ones.
Carolyn: Do you plan to continue studying with MOOCs? If so, what courses have you got your eye on?
Portia: Yes! Chinese level 2 (for rehearsing my knowledge of Chinese), Jane Eyre Book club, modern American poetry, and whatever will be interesting to me.
Carolyn: With the rapid development of educational technology, how do you see the future of education?
Portia: More studying at home, using technology. A world wide network of students.
Carolyn: Would you say MOOCs have enhanced your life in any way? If so, how?
Portia: Yes, definitely! With knowledge of facts, appreciation of arts, enhancing my own ways to express myself and be more creative, and making some new friends.
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