Open access to online materials for all: Utopian dream or unstoppable force?


Digitization and technological progress have conquered the revolutionization and democratisation of everything from shopping to betting etc. With regards to education several resources were needed that until the past decade were yet to emerge; mobile devices, global internet and cheap information costs for creation and distribution. Though, alongside the revolution was a seismic shift in social norms that advocates the use and power of online learning.

Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University said We have a one-size-fits-all, one-speed-fits-all, one-path-fits-all model…And that is the result of one simple assumption that we are questioning. The assumption is that education takes place from teacher to student by spoken word–by synchronous, not recorded, spoken word. That means that all the students have to be at the same place at the same time. If everyone really learned at the same speed on the same path then you could fill a stadium and still have useful learning. But you can’t’ (Noer, 2012).

Alternative publishing model

Open-access journals are scholarly journals that are available online to the reader without financial, legal, or technical barriers other than those inseparable from gaining access to the internet itself. Some are subsidized and are financed by an academic institutionlearned society or a government information centre and some require payment on behalf of the author. There are several major directories of open-access journals, most notably Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ).

The advantages of Open Access (OA)

  • Free access to scientific papers despite affiliation with a subscribing library
  • Lower costs for research in academia and industry
  • Improved access for the general public
  • Enhanced and accelerated research cycle
  • Higher citation rates for the author

The disadvantages of Open Access (OA)

  • Risk of damage to the Peer review system, which may diminish the overall quality of scientific journal publishing.
  • Risk of the distribution of hoax papers
  • The complexities of intellectual property rights and copyright issues
  • A widespread reluctance to cancel print until electronic archiving arrangements are secure.
  • Several newer open-access journals also lack the reputation of their subscription counterparts, which have been in business for decades, though this effect  has reduced since 2001, upon the emergence of high quality professional open-access publishers such as Public Library of Science and BioMedCentral.

A poll conducted by How To Publish In Journals (below) found 62% of the respondents would submit their articles to OA journals, 35% would send it, but after good analysis of the OA journal: indexation, impact factor and fees to authors, which make sense anyway and 23% of professors wouldn’t, which is a pretty high percentage of them (Barros, 2013).


Yet, it’s not only academics who benefit from the lack of open access, a study conducted by global pricing consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners found that 90% of online content would likely be held behind a paywall in the coming years (Lepitak, 2013). Some have described 2014 as the ‘Year of the Paywall’. The New York Times, for one, started charging online viewers of its content in March 2011 and now makes more money from readers than advertisers. It gets 53¢ from readers for every 47¢ it gets from marketers. That ratio used to be closer to 80-20 in favor of advertising.. (Lee, 2013).

I personally advocate the use of online learning, growing up I spent the majority of my time online finding and utilising resources to aid with my education. I believe valuable lessons can be learnt from the success of The Khan Academy, which features 3,400 short instructional videos along with interactive quizzes and tools for teachers to chart student progress. It is a nonprofit, boasting a mission of ‘a free world-class education for anyone anywhere’. There is no employee equity; there will be no IPO; funding comes from philanthropists, not venture capitalists. ‘I could have started a for-profit, venture-backed business that has a good spirit, and I think there are many of them–Google for instance’ says Khan. ‘Maybe I could reach a billion people. That is high impact, but what happens in 50 years?’ (Noer, 2012).

Over the past two years Khan Academy videos have been viewed more than 200 million times. The site is used by 45 million unique students a year, who have collectively solved more than 750 million problems (about 2 million a day), and the material, which is provided at no cost, is (formally or informally) part of the curriculum in 20,000 classrooms around the world. Volunteers have translated Khan’s videos into 24 different languages, including Urdu, Swahili and Chinese.

‘Sal is the world’s first superstar teacher’, says Yuri Milner, the Russian physicist turned venture capitalist who was an early investor in Facebook, Twitter and Groupon. He was dubbed by Forbes alongside other prominent teachers as Classroom revolutionaries, and I believe collectively they are implementing virtuous resources and resolutions for the access and distribution of content.


Barros, R. (2013). Open Access Journals: The model that would be king. Poll results. How To Publish In Journals. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 May. 2014].

Lee, E. (2013). The Year of the Paywall. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 May. 2014].

Lepitak, S. (2013). 90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggests. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 May. 2014].

Noer, S. (2012). One Man, One Computer, 10 Million Students: How Khan Academy Is Reinventing Education. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 May. 2014].

Open Society Foundations, (2014). What is open access. [image] Available at: [Accessed 4 May. 2014].




Economics and Finance student. University of Southampton. Autodidact. INTJ. Psychiatry devotee. To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me - Isaac Newton. Any Questions? Email:

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Posted in Topic 5

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