I can see an enormous amount of videos on Youtube about helping to learn high-level knowledge that is usually taught at universities. Even though I'm only at the beginning of the time I'm going to take at the university before graduating, I have a desire to teach what I've learnt to others - for free, through the internet.

I believe that knowledge is global and free; however, I think sharing my knowledge wouldn't be fair for my teachers, or any other university teachers and professors.

Is sharing this knowledge fair - or ethical?

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    Depending on the subject matter, you may want to make it clear that what you are presenting is for informational purposes only and that you are not affiliated with an accredited institution.
    – Mr.Mindor
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 17:02
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    Knowledge is free, education is expensive. Where do you think your university teachers and professors got their knowledge? (Hint: very little should have been original to them.) Unless you put some effort into your videos, they will probably be useless to would be learners.
    – emory
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 17:08
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    @emory I don't want to teach professionally. I just want to explain things that seems to be difficult, but not that hard to understand. (for example, the basics of microeconomics, or the explaination of special algorithms like A* or the work of a raycasting engine) Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 17:13
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    A "dumbed-down" Youtube video on A* was what I needed before any of the equations in college on that topic started making sense. I say, go for it.
    – Izkata
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 19:18
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    Also, isn't applying your knowledge in your career the same as "sharing" (bits and pieces of) it, as well as your experience and your time with your employer? In exchange for money, no less. Extending this line of reasoning it would also be unethical to ever switch jobs because you'd apply experience gained from the previous workplace at the new one. I'd say your premise that sharing knowledge is unethical is flawed from the start.
    – millimoose
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 21:40

7 Answers 7


I do not see that sharing your knowledge would in any way be a problem per se. What could become a problem is if you also share copyright-protected materials. It is virtually impossible to list what might or might not be such materials but to take other persons presentations, images, data and then sharing it would be clearly illegal (and unethical) unless they are provided with a "license" stating they are free. If you take the knowledge you gather and then put it together somehow (including making your own presentations on your own material), it should not be such a problem. In any circumstance where you want to use other peoples materials, it is always best to ask for permission. Not only does it save you possible future problems, you may find friends in the process. Watch out for materials published by commercial interests and use open source material (but do give credit to those who made it - attribution is required by licenses like CC-BY-SA and it is also a nice gesture to acknowledge the work and time by the original authors). Much material is given out for public (but not commercial) use.

A final advise, attach an open source license to your materials. I am not fully aware what licenses may apply but am sure many has good suggestions for you (check Academia.sx or ask another question on that).

So to sum up. I think it is a nice idea and perfectly fine, but be aware that you must be 100% sure you do not publish materials so that you break copyrights or abuse licenses (protect the open source practises).

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    Nice answer, but note that properly citing open materials is not only a question of "..a nice gesture for their work and time..", but is a necessary condition of e.g. the ordinary Creative Commons licence (CC-BY). Not giving attribution to the original author will (most of the time) be a copyright violation, even if the material is shared with an open licence. Putting works in the Public domain or using the CC0 licence allow reuse without attribution. Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 14:17
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    Your main recommendations are great, but the summary seems a bit selfish by comparison — the goal of observing these good practice is not only to safeguard yourself, but also (perhaps even more importantly) to be fair to others.
    – PLL
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 15:17
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    @PLL yes, that did not come out right. I made a change. Feel free to edit it if you will. Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 15:50
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    TL;DR: Sharing knowledge - Yes. Sharing material - No, unless licensed.
    – Bobson
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 16:43
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    +1, but in addition to copyright (a legal concern), you should also avoid plagiarism (a moral one). Many materials are not eligible for copyright (because they're very old, or were created by a government employee as part of their job, or whatnot), but it's still wrong to pass them off as though they were your own.
    – ruakh
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 20:31

I believe that knowledge is global and free

That is essentially academia in a nutshell. ;-)

I believe – strongly – that anything that runs counter this freedom also fundamentally runs counter academia, and humanity’s best interest (or, economically, the country’s best interest).

From a more legal perspective, (University) teachers are paid for teaching, not for the knowledge they posses. So you are fine, as long as you don’t disseminate copyrighted material.

This used to be different, when much knowledge was coveted, closely guarded and only handed down from teachers to their apprentices, under an agreement of privacy (see for instance the Hippocratic Oath, which regulates this, among other things).

Nowadays, knowledge cannot generally be privatised. Instead, we have the concepts of copyright and patents, but neither prevents the dissemination of knowledge. Exceptions only exist in certain circumstances, e.g. for a method that is currently being developed, where you may be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement; for classified governmental documents, dissemination of which may make you liable to prosecution, and the publication of know-how that falls under weapons regulations.

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    I think there is a place for NDAs in academia.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 16:31
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    @Daniel Oh, true, my answer should mention that. But that isn’t relevant for things you are taught in normal courses. Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 17:00
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    NDAs in academia are what wolves use after they steal an idea, unless they are human, and in which case they will give (a little) credit to their indentured servant.. err, I mean graduate student
    – aug2uag
    Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 20:24
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    Please stop propagating the myth that disseminating classified material is treason. The law is quite clear that this is not the case, including the case law of various people who have been prosecuted for leaking classified materials.
    – jwg
    Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 11:20
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    @jwg I’m not propagating that. I’m merely pointing out what prosecution you may face. I agree with you, but practice shows that disseminating classified information can be incredibly dangerous. I’m changing the wording though. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 12:25

I think I understand the point: you spent $50,000 (or whatever) on college, and you worry that if you teach others for free, you are depriving someone else of income.

Simply put, it doesn't matter. People don't go to college to learn things. They go to college to get a piece of paper that says they learned things so that they can get a job in their chosen career.

Anyone can learn libraries, the Internet, and their own research. When I went to college to get my Computer Science degree, a good 90% of what I was taught was stuff I already knew. So why did I go to college? To get the paper that says I know how to do what I already knew how to do.

Yes, it's true that people actually do learn things in college. However, people pay for college because a degree makes them more employable. That's not something you can deliver through YouTube, and so your free education efforts will not replace the college system and will not put college professors out of work.

  • True, it is a peculiar, happy irony that the two reasons for "college" are not actually in conflict. Of course there's scant obstacle to learn stuff from books-and-internet, but certification (and hoop-jumping) is the "portable/communicable" version of "knowledge". And, on the good days, one does learn something from older, more experienced people, whether or not they're "smarter" or "more talented". Experience can be worth something. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 0:43
  • Good point, Paul. Don't think I'm discounting the value of college, because I'm not. College is essential in today's world, and in technical careers, you basically can't make a living without it.
    – TomXP411
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 0:04

You are paying the university for instruction and access to materials and facilities not available to the general public, not knowledge. As long as you are not violating any confidentiality agreements, copyrights, etc., you are not doing anything wrong from a legal standpoint. From an ethical standpoint, I think you would better support an educational institution's mission to make the world better by sharing your knowledge than by keeping it to yourself.


I'm a university professor who puts lots and lots of time into developing course materials and trying to figure out better ways to explain ideas to my students. Other answers seem to cover the point that you should be careful about redistributing the materials from a course.

I would like to recommend that you contact the professor who taught you the course and tell him/her of your plans. I would be very glad to hear that my course motivated one of my students to want to teach the material to others. In fact, if the student does a very good job, I might want to see about using the videos/explanations/examples in my own course or at least pointing future students towards the videos.


What you have learned in the Academia is your knowledge, and you can do whatever is pleases you.

The material that you had access in the academia is copyright of the producer, except for those that were blessed with some form of copyleft. So, unless you have some authorization, you cannot use it, in some countries. (For example, in some countries you can reproduce part of some material, for learning purposes, given that all credits are given to the proper authors, and so on. Example: reproduce some piece of some article to analyze it and study it with some students).

In some countries it's possible to have a patent on a idea, and so some ideas might be patented, and that patent might or might not be valid in your country.

And, finally, it's possible that you signed some non-disclosure agreement, and then what you learned that's covered by that contract might not be transmissible to someone else.


I disagree with some of the answers, only when asserting that you are primarily paying for instruction and materials. Typically, you are paying for a document that states you understand a specific subject, often with the intent of proving to a future employer that you understand said subject. Your school is responsible for helping you to pass the required exams to demonstrate this understanding, which in part involves access to instructors and materials to help you learn. A school that consistently fails to produce document holding students will not be a strong school for long.

Watching YouTube videos will not give you a document, so while you may have gained the instruction and materials for free, you still lack the main reason people attend higher education -- paperwork. Producing a list of your recently watched videos will also do little to entice future employers.

Unless you're directly releasing information that was obtained as part of a research project through the facility itself or (as stated previously) copyright materials, without permission, it's doubtful you are conflicting with the interests of the school. In fact you may encourage people who get interested in a subject to sign up at your institution, and be good for business. (MIT did quite a bit online for free)

When in doubt, get permission. This IS your future at stake.

Not to discount self learning, you could learn the equivalent of a doctor as far as I'm concerned, if you were driven enough, and bright enough, by simply reading publicly available information. However I won't know if you were driven or bright enough, so I'll stick to people that proved it on an exam -- for now.

  • Of course self-learning not equals to get an actual document that you are professional at something. I don't even attempt to do against it. I just want to share some things I've learnt with a wider audience. Commented Sep 23, 2013 at 20:46
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    It does continue to be striking to me that most people seem not to feel any added value to contact with experts on a subject. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 1:22
  • @paulgarrett Of course people see the value, if they didn't they would get the document WITHOUT paying for an instructor; this would clearly be cheaper, but not near as valuable. Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 2:01
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    No @AnthonyHiscox. The document without the instruction is not generally available for sale. If people saw the value of instruction by experts perhaps they would pay for this on its own without paying more to have the piece of paper?
    – jwg
    Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 11:22
  • @jwg, True, but many exams can be challenged, yet people still rely on expert guidance, and materials. The paperwork might be the end game, but you still have to pass the exams to get there. About your suggestion; how are we to know it's an actual expert that is teaching us? Commented Sep 24, 2013 at 15:51

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