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Making sense of strategy

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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.

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.

Entry requirements

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.

What's included

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

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. 

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying B301 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Making sense of strategy starts once a year – October 2018 is the last time we expect it to start.

Course work includes:

6 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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