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Earth science

This wide-ranging on-screen module introduces a scientific study of the Earth across the spectrum of scale, from shifting continents to the microscopic, and time from the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth to geological processes that happen in a flash. Your studies will include fossil life, erupting volcanoes, mountain building, and the record of Earth’s changing surface environments. The teaching materials will develop your practical skills using geological maps, microscopes, and many types of field data, alongside developing your general science and study skills. You’ll also learn fieldwork skills via virtual field trips or the optional four-day residential field school (for which there is additional cost).

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

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Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

Student Reviews

A very interesting course with a HUGE amount of reading, I am pleased I took it because the tutor was...
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S209 is an online module and this was its first presentation. The materials are excellent but the pace I found...
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What you will study

The module will give you fundamental knowledge about how the Earth works, and demonstrate the extent to which Earth science is a part of everyday life.

The online material in this module is particularly exciting and innovative as you use a virtual microscope and a digital kit (containing minerals, rocks and fossils) for interactive practical activities. It also teaches map work and field skills using a number of virtual field trips and integral 3D software. Following an introduction to the module the topics covered include: minerals, rocks - the basics, constructing geological histories from maps and landforms, fossils, sedimentary processes, sedimentary environments and their geological record, the solid Earth, volcanoes and magmas, recrystallizing the Earth, deforming the Earth, Cyprus case studies, and current issues in Earth science.

This module teaches field skills using home-based, online activities, available to all students, including virtual field trips, case studies and the chance to carry out a local, field-based or literature-based investigation.

Alternatively it offers an optional field school based at Blencathra Field Centre in Cumbria and which is run by the Field Studies Council. The four-day programme includes both outdoor exercises and follow-up laboratory work.  This field school carries additional charges even if you are eligible for financial support or funding your study with a Tuition Fee Loan.  You should therefore bear this in mind when considering the field school alternative.

You will learn

This module offers an exceptionally wide range of skills, many of which are transferable to other areas, as well as those you will need to progress to other modules in Earth, environmental and natural sciences. It will also enable you to be much better informed about, and enhance your understanding of, the physical world around you.

Vocational relevance

This module should be of particular interest to those employed, or seeking employment, in environmental agencies, the minerals industry and heritage organisations, as well as the educational sector. The module will also develop your problem-solving abilities, observational, practical and information literacy skills in a wide range of contexts (including fieldwork and report-writing), and the use of computers for learning, analysing data and communication. All these skills are likely to be useful in the work environment, particularly for jobs requiring a precise and quantitative approach.

Professional recognition

If you are currently registered for an honours degree in Earth Science related subjects you may be entitled to apply for Candidate Fellowship of the Geological Society of London.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be allocated a tutor who will help you with your general progress, and who you can ask for academic advice and guidance. In addition, you will receive support from other tutors and students in online forums on the module website.

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; however, it is currently under review, so they could change.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system.

Residential school

You’ll have the option to participate in a residential field school – run by the Field Studies Council on behalf of The Open University. This four-day programme includes both outdoor exercises and follow-up laboratory work. For those unable to attend, there are home-based, online activities.

S209 Geology is held in April at Blencathra Field Centre in Cumbria.

The additional cost for students starting in October 2017 is £350 – a £150 deposit when you book and £200 a few weeks before the field school. Booking will commence shortly before the module starts and will be accepted on a 'first-come-first-served' basis – further details will be given on the module website when it opens. You’ll also be responsible for the cost of travel to the venues.

Future availability

Earth science (S209) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.


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

    Course work includes:

    6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    No residential school

    Course satisfaction survey

    See the satisfaction survey results for this course.

    Entry requirements

    You need to have a good knowledge of science and basic maths – check you’re ready, with our self-assessed quiz.

    You’d normally be prepared by completing OU level 1 study as part of one of our science qualifications. For this module we recommend that you’ve passed Science: concepts and practice (S112), or its predecessor S104, as they give a broad foundation in the relevant science, maths and IT skills. Questions in Science (S111) and Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) are also appropriate if you're confident in your maths skills. If you’re unsure about your maths skills, Maths for science (S151) will prepare you with the maths knowledge you need to study S209. If it's been a while since you studied an OU level 1 science module, we recommend you buy The Sciences Good Study Guide by A. Northedge et al. (2003, The Open University).

    If you’re not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.

    Preparatory work

    Visit your local library for suggestions of good introductory texts on geology and earth science.

    If you’ve studied S104, re-familiarise yourself with the geological principles and terminology in the earth science parts (Books 2 and 6).


    Start End Fee
    - - -

    No current presentation - see Future availability

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.

    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 your module has started.

    Residential schools

    This module includes one or more optional residential schools. For each residential school you choose to attend, you must pay an additional charge to cover costs such as tuition, accommodation and meals (see the module details for more information). You’ll also have to pay for your own travel to and from the venues.

    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.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

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

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. 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 module 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 module.  

    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 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 2019. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 15/11/2018.

    What's included

    Study materials, including activities and assessment, will be delivered online only.

    You will need

    You will need to draw diagrams, or to annotate by hand, diagrams that you download, and then use either a scanner or a digital camera to produce files of these diagrams to include in your assessment.

    A printer is desirable, as is a headset with microphone or computer with built-in speakers and microphone.

    You will also need to purchase two geological maps (costing about £15 in total) using a special order form on the module website.

    If you take part in a local field tutorial, field-based investigation  or the optional 4-day residential school, you will require a hard hat (costing about £5).

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S209 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Disability support website.