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Making sense of strategy

The fascinating world of strategy – from its origins and development as a subject to the controversies that dominate contemporary strategic debate – is introduced in this module. It’s relevant to anyone interested in how organisations and individuals make sense of the world and strive for success. You’ll develop skills in clear thinking, independent enquiry and collaborative working as you analyse and apply the ideas and approaches that have done most to influence how strategy is conceived and carried out in today’s organisations, whether commercial or not-for-profit, locally, nationally and internationally. You’ll take part in an online collaboration with other students for three weeks during February.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module code
Study level
3 10 6
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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What you will study

Strategy is the way in which organisations and individuals orient themselves towards what they see as success in their various fields of endeavour. Traditionally this has been taken to involve formal sequences of analysis, planning and choice, and implementation of coordinated activities in pursuit of deliberate goals. Other schools of thought have argued that the wide gap between intention and achievement means that the study of strategy should focus on how winning strategies actually emerge almost in spite of such processes. As the world grows more complex from rapid change in technology, lifestyles, markets and politics, it becomes increasingly difficult for strategists to interpret and exploit opportunities for long-term advantage with any certainty. Strategy is thus a dynamic and controversial field, but an understanding of it, and the ability to critically apply strategic thinking, is more important than ever in the twenty-first century work environment.

You will learn

Critical thinking skills: the module encourages you to adopt a critical perspective from the outset – not only supporting your detailed familiarisation with a range of theories and models, but also requiring you to take account of the circumstances and contexts in which these theories and models have been developed and applied. This is by no means a negative exercise; instead, the thorough grounding that the module offers will equip you with the skills to evaluate and select from a diverse body of knowledge guided by its appropriateness to the situation in question. This is a very important benefit from the point of view of how the module will enhance your employability. The challenges of contemporary management in whatever field necessitate precisely this kind of critically informed decision-making, rather than a sole reliance on established modes of thought.

Professional and key skills: In common with the other modules in the Business Studies programme, the module uses The Open University’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) with a particular focus on facilitating collaborative learning. Employers consistently give high priority to the skill of team-working when asked what they look for in graduates, and the module aims to give you ample opportunity to develop and demonstrate this vital professional accomplishment both face-to-face and online. Some assignments (TMAs) include important elements that require you to work with one or more colleagues, culminating in an extended group project in the second half of the module where you will carry out joint analysis of a major case study. This mode of study has the additional benefit of helping to address the potential isolation of being a distance learner, and allows you to learn with and from like-minded students supported by an expert tutor. The assignments will develop and demonstrate your skills in analysis, problem-solving, decision-making and information literacy.

Knowledge and Understanding of Strategy: There are six blocks in the module:

Block 1: Introducing strategy starts by examining some common definitions of strategy and teasing out their assumptions and implications. After an overview of the module content, you will be introduced to the fundamental skill of critical thinking and invited to see strategy as a social process that includes you both as learner and practitioner.

Block 2: Analysing your environment examines the ways in which organisations make sense of their external and internal environments, and discusses the strengths and limitations of each technique. Stakeholder management will also feature, leading to a consideration of the wider context (ethical, political and international) in which strategy takes place. 

Block 3: Strategic choices continues our critical examination of models and concepts espoused by strategists working broadly within the economic rational tradition. We explain the thinking behind common strategic moves, and relate the ways in which organisations make sense of their environments to how they select strategy to further their competitive and corporate aims.

Block 4: Collaborative analysis will extend your own analytical and decision-making skills, as you work with other students online on a case-based task. The block is activity-based and develops a combination of skills that are highly relevant to employability – team-working, information literacy and problem-solving. It presents an opportunity to relate theory to practice in a way that will increase your grasp of the debates around strategy and develop your confidence to engage in them. In addition, material developed in Block 4 contributes towards your mark for TMA 04. 

Block 5: Strategy implementation seeks to demystify what in many respects is the least well-understood aspect of strategy – putting plans into practice. It examines major influences on implementation such as culture and leadership. This block will also take account of an important focus of contemporary research, ‘strategy as practice’ – the close analysis of what strategists do –  in order to examine precisely how strategy ‘happens’ in organisations.

Block 6: Where next for strategy? – as a dynamic field, strategy needs to address the challenges of an increasingly unpredictable world. This final block looks at some of the directions in which contemporary strategic thinking is moving, including complexity theory, which seeks to understand how organisations can co-evolve harmoniously and successfully with their continually changing environments.

Vocational relevance

The focus throughout the module on developing skills (cognitive, practical and professional) closely reflects the Quality Assurance Agency’s benchmark statement expectations for business studies and clearly expresses the module’s intention to enhance the employability of its students. Although it has a significant theoretical component, the module’s emphasis on practical application of strategic models also supports employability across a range of sectors.

Outside the UK

This module is relevant to business students in both a UK and a non-UK context.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material. They will mark and comment on your written work, and you can ask them for advice and guidance. We may also be able to offer group tutorials or day schools that you are encouraged, but not obliged, to attend. Where your tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

There is also an assessed online collaborative activity - centred on a major case study.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available once a year.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is an OU level 3 module. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from studies at OU levels 1 and 2. They are intended only for students who have recent experience of higher education in a related subject, preferably at the OU.

The module is aimed at those who want a general overview of how modern organisations approach and carry out strategy. 

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
03 Oct 2015 Jun 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 10/09/15 (places subject to availability)


You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after you register.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time that is convenient to you.

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2016. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

This information was provided on 29/07/2015.

What's included

Module books, study guide, other printed materials, website with audio resources.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as the study materials and activities are accessible via a web browser. Any other computer-based activities you will need to carry out, such as word processing, using spreadsheets, taking part in online forums, and submitting files to the university for assessment, are specified in the module materials. If any additional software is needed for these tasks it will either be provided or is freely available.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

A netbook, tablet, smartphone or Linux computer that supports one of the browsers listed below may be suitable. The screen size should be at least 1024 (H) x 768 (W) pixels. If you intend to use one of these devices please ensure you have access to a suitable desktop or laptop computer in case you are unable to carry out all the module activities on your mobile device.

We recommend a minimum 1 Mbps internet connection and any of the following browsers:

  • Internet Explorer 9 and above
  • Apple Safari 7 and above
  • Google Chrome 31 and above
  • Mozilla Firefox 31 and above.

Note: using the latest version for your browser will maximise security when accessing the internet. Using company or library computers may prevent you accessing some internet materials or installing additional software.

See our Skills for OU study website for further information about computing skills for study and educational deals for buying Microsoft Office software.

If you have a disability

Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader. Musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. 

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.