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Relational databases: theory and practice

This advanced computing module offers perspectives on relational databases. It introduces database management systems and the facilities required to store and access large collections of data in a shared user environment. This is followed by a theory of relations, underpinning topics such as data modelling and database architecture; the database language SQL; and the development of a practical database system. Also considered are issues surrounding the on-going development and application of relational database technologies, including the role of JAVA and XML. You should already be familiar with program construction and using files and operating systems, as taught in our Level 2 computing modules.

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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
See Am I ready?

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What you will study

This module is about designing, building and using databases: collections of data that may be essential to the operation of large organisations, or just may be of interest to an individual. The module looks in detail at relational databases, which store data as tables and are widely used on all computer systems.

The module will benefit you if you are involved with (or interested in) the planning, design, operation and use of a database. It offers various points of view, from the broader scope of information systems, the mathematical underpinnings of relational theory and the technology of databases that use the general-purpose software known as database management systems. By the end of the module, you’ll understand the concepts underlying all relational databases, and have practical experience of applying the concepts in different situations. Knowledge of SQL is one of the most sought-after skills by employers in the IT sector.

There are lots of examples and activities, and software is provided on a CD-ROM.

As you study the module, you will be using email and online discussion forums for communication with the University, your tutor and other students. You may also have the opportunity of attending face-to-face tutorials with your tutor and other students in your tutor group.

You will learn

The main body of the module focuses on the development of a database to meet specified requirements. This development will assume requirements analysis has taken place and that a requirements document is available. The development model will make use of conceptual data modelling, relational algebra and SQL for the expression of design and implementation artefacts.

The module is organised in five blocks.

Block 1 introduces the context of databases as part of an information system, which may be used by many people for different purposes and with different requirements. You will then examine the types of software that are necessary for accessing a database, and how each database has to be specially designed to satisfy the requirements of its users.

Block 2 introduces the mathematical theory underpinning relational technologies and shows ways that the theory is used in the database environment.

Block 3 is concerned with relational database management systems, and, in particular, the use of the database language SQL, the recognised standard for defining and accessing a relational database.

Block 4 is a detailed analysis of the steps involved in developing and implementing a database system. It examines, in depth, the tasks and techniques appropriate for each step in the development process and makes detailed comparisons between implementation alternatives and data representations.

Block 5 focuses on the on-going development and application of relational database technologies in the context of JAVA and XML.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask 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 our Student Registration & Enquiry Service 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.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in February 2014 when it will be available for the last time.


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:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school


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

You must be familiar with the use of computers – particularly the construction of programs – using files, and operating systems. You could get the necessary knowledge from a Level 2 computing module. We would recommend prior completion of Object-oriented Java programming (M250) or other recent experience of higher education in a related subject. This module is not suitable if you are unfamiliar with study at the OU.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in February 2014.

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 annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. 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 10 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.  

For more information about employer sponsorship speak to an adviser or request a call back.

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. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

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

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

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 based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 23/07/2014.

What's included

Module books, CD-ROM.

If you have a disability

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Descriptions will be available for the diagrams that are used throughout the text. The books are available in a comb-bound format.  Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

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.