Here we come to the second topic of ONL with a very interesting topic: Sharing and Openness. The topic falls well within Open Learning and we discusses a lot on what we can share (and what are we allowed to share) and how can we promote openness. And how can we all benefit by sharing material and being open.

Universities are traditionally providing education to students at classrooms in the campus. It becomes apparent that this system can pose some restrictions to certain individuals to receive education as they might not have the means to attend an education in university campus. This problem gave birth to the idea of massive open online courses (MOOC) as a mean to ‘further democratize education on based of quality and cost’ (1). Nowadays there several platforms that offer online courses that can be stretched from few lessons on a narrow topic to even up to micromasters and Masters degree. Often these course are free to follow, however there is a fee if someone wants to receive a certificate or a tutor to assist during the process.

So, the questions is: Do such initiatives benefit the society? The short answer is yes. Access to information and knowledge is very important for the development of individuals and in the long run for the improving our lives and our society. As Aaron Swartz once stated “Information is power. But like all power, there are those who want to keep it for themselves”. Sharing (of information or knowledge) is essential when we refer to ‘open’ societies and by sharing, we promote understanding. However, as with everything else, sharing of information needs to be properly done.

Sharing of knowledge and course material has many other practical benefits. For example, for us teachers, sharing of materials help us save significant amount of time, as we do not need every time to ‘re-invent the wheel’ as we can use a lecture that is already prepared. But this arises the questions, what are we allowed to share? and how do we give appropriate credit to the creator? The second question is relative straight-forward to reply. One has to cite the source of the material used to give the appropriate credit. Concerning the question on what we are allowed to share, we should make sure who holds the copyrights of, for example, a lecture as this varies between universities. If a teacher holds the copyrights, then things are simplified, but it’s advisable for someone to check. Sharing and open publishing of educational material is a key point that enable open learning, as it allows other individuals to re-use material, distribute it or simple use it to create something new (2). Creative commons (3) offers an important tool that facilitates open sharing of material and could offer a tool for teachers as well.

Teachers and researchers are getting more and more accustomed with open sharing of materials, however there are significant differences in how willing are they to share and this is very often affected by cultural differences. Often teachers are still hesitant to share material and changing attitude against sharing requires time. Often teachers also lack the technical abilities and the support to do so, and in that case universities could assist by offering support in technical terms and training.

Despite the many benefits of open sharing, there are also some pitfalls. The most important is that ‘too much information can result to misinformation’. That being said, by openly sharing material that is not properly checked, there is a high risk of spreading wrong or even misleading information. Checking all the material published openly, would be very hard and time-consuming, so the responsibility lies on the person using these material to cross-check that the information are accurate and correct. Another pitfall that we often tend to forget when it comes to open online learning is that we take for granted that students will always have the necessary technical requirements (i.e. computer and reliable high-speed internet) and the literacies to the knowledge to use such tools, which might again result to excluding the less privileged students from education (4,5). Taking into account the above, there is a risk to again exclude part of the population from education.  

Overall, sharing teaching and research material is very important to promote openness, assist us as teachers and researchers to do a better job and also help the society to progress. However, sharing should be done in a careful and responsible way to avoid spreading incorrect and not accurate information.


  1. Moe R: The brief & expansive history (and future) of the MOOC: Why two divergent models share the same name. Current issues in emerging learning 2015, 2(1):2.
  2. Hilton J, Wiley D, Stein J, Johnson A: The four ‘R’s of openness and ALMS analysis: frameworks for open educational resources. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning 2010, 25:37-44.
  3. Peter S, Farrell L: From learning in coffee houses to learning with open educational resources. E–Learning and Digital Media 2013, 10(2):174-189.
  4. Weller M: The battle for open – how openness won and why it does not feel like a victory. London: Ubicuity Press 2014.
Topic 2: Sharing and openness