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Environment: journeys through a changing world

Our world is changing fast – we are experiencing pressure from climate change, growing demands for finite resources and the extinction of many plants and animals. Environment: journeys through a changing world introduces you to subjects from the natural sciences, social sciences and technology to develop your understanding of environmental issues and concerns. It shows how people are seeking positive solutions to environmental challenges where you live, in the Arctic, Africa, the Amazon and China. You do not need any prior environmental knowledge to study this key introductory OU level 1 module, just an interest in the future of our planet.

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Module code
Study level
1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
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This course was great and so interesting. The module format was straightforward with lots of interesting issues and chapters demonstrating...
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What you will study

Are you interested in global environmental issues; how living and non-living things interact; how humans are changing the planet and are now responding to the difficult challenges this brings? If you are looking for a single module that offers a general introduction to studying the environment, then this is the module for you. It provides the ideal foundation for a range of environment, science, social science and technology modules, diplomas and degrees, or you can study it on its own.

Our interconnected world is changing so fast that people have to work hard to understand and address the environmental issues generated by rapid economic and technological development. Studying this module will enable you to explore how and why different parts of the world are changing and how people, plants and animals are living within their changing environment. The module will show you how people are striving to manage and protect the many features of the world that we all share. It will help you to make sense of some of the stories that you hear and read about in the media, from wildlife extinctions to plans for new, greener cities. By the end of the module you will be more able to follow the debates about environmental issues and play an active part in addressing some of the great environmental challenges of the day.

Studying this module will provide you with the knowledge and skills to help you to become more informed about both the causes and concerns of environmental change. The module will take you to some of the most fascinating but also important parts of the planet in terms of understanding environmental change. 

Block 1 – Setting out from home

Rather like reading a travel guide in preparation for a journey, the first block introduces some of the language and ideas that you need to make sense of environmental change. You start by looking at two crucial global issues – loss of biodiversity and climate change – to get a sense of the influence of people on a dynamic planet. You then assess your own environmental impact in terms of your ‘carbon footprint’ and consider how to reduce it towards a more sustainable level.

Block 2 – Arctic approach

This block explores a place that has long fascinated scientific researchers, artists and adventurers. It is now thought of as a kind of early warning system for global warming and climate change. You will be given a sense of the different ways in which environmental change is investigated, communicated and experienced by the scientists who now work there and the societies who have been living there for centuries.

Block 3 – Nile limits

This takes in a very diverse region of tropical forest, desert, agricultural land and cities, which makes it an illuminating place to explore environmental conflicts and efforts to overcome them by cooperation. Block 3 focuses on two issues: water resources, in particular the multiple uses of and conflicts over the Nile’s water supply; and wildlife conservation, focusing on how to support a population of threatened African mountain gorillas by balancing conservation with local community development.

Block 4 – Life in the Amazon

This block investigates the richest storehouse of the world’s biological diversity. You will develop an understanding of the environmental science of tropical forests by exploring their role in global carbon and water cycles, and also as a genetic storehouse. Block 4 will discuss how your own daily choices as a consumer connect to the fate of what has been called ‘the Earth’s lungs’.

Block 5 – Changing China

The pace of economic and environmental change is perhaps greater in this most populous country than anywhere else on the planet. You will follow the migration of people from countryside to city – the largest migration in human history – and gain insights into the difficult balancing act of growing sufficient food and bringing wealth and new opportunities to people in developing countries, without further damaging the world’s environment.

Block 6 – Cities and sustainability

Cities now hold over half the world’s population and use or control most of the world’s resources. The final destination in your journey is the world’s first truly global city – London. It had to develop systems for supplying water, energy and transport to make a city healthy and workable, and its history may point to lessons for future city living. You will explore ideas and plans for making cities economically, socially and environmentally more sustainable as part of a more general exploration of what it means to be a concerned and responsible global citizen in the twenty-first century.

The module is presented as six block texts, together with supporting material provided by DVD and online via the website. Each block focuses on major environmental concepts illustrated by the places you visit. In addition, study notes throughout the module will help you to improve your study skills and develop your ability to become an independent learner.

Studying this module gives you an opportunity to acquire the necessary skills that can equip you not only to join the global environmental debate but also to study further modules in environment, science, social science and technology.

You will learn

By studying a range of subjects, drawn from the natural sciences, technology and the social sciences, you will become more aware of the contributions each discipline makes to our understanding of environmental issues and concerns.

You will also explore how people from these different fields bring together their various perspectives to help understand the many interactions between the environment, organisations and human cultures and values. This sharing of different approaches can lead to new ways of thinking about environmental problems, balancing alternative interpretations and conflicting interests, and hopefully generating new solutions.

Vocational relevance

At the same time as studying the environment, this module will also develop your reading, writing, analytical and communication skills. It will help you evaluate information and arguments, interpret and use data in a variety of graphical and numerical forms, use computers for information-searching, communication and software applications, and become an independent learner. Such skills and attributes are highly valued by employers because they can be applied to a wide variety of new contexts.

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. If you are new to the OU, you will find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study methods. 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 first six 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.

You must submit your final TMA online through the eTMA system.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015 and February 2016. We expect it to be available twice 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:

7 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you progress to modules at OU level 2. 

Environment: journeys through a changing world is an interdisciplinary introduction to environmental issues and you do not need any prior environmental knowledge to study this module. It offers a great deal of help with study skills, such as taking notes, writing essays and basic scientific and numerical expressions. By the end of the module, you will be expected to be working at the level required of first year undergraduate students. We would like to encourage students from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible to study with us.

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.

30 Jan 2016 Sep 2016 £2700.00

Registration closes 07/01/16 (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 February 2025.

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 02/08/2015.

What's included

Six module books, DVD containing activities and short television sequences, website including activities, resources and optional supplementary website materials.

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. For this module you will also need to install software provided by the OU on a disk or USB stick.

A Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system is suitable for this module. You will be required to install Microsoft Windows specific software.

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 and mathematical, scientific or foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. DAISY audio books of the six module books are also available. 

This module includes use of a website and multimedia web-based activities, most of which should be accessible if you use assistive technology. However, where they may not be fully accessible, additional resources are provided to improve accessibility. Some of these activities may require sighted help for those with visual impairment.

If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in operating a computer or the internet and have any concerns about accessing the types of study materials outlined you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs. An Accessibility Guide for this module will be available from the module website when you begin your studies.

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.