Economics in practice
This is an introduction to the way that the theories and tools of economics are used in the workplace and everyday life. Using interviews with working economists and real-world examples, such as tackling flood risk, planning for climate change and using sugar taxes to improve public health, it'll demonstrates how economics is used and embedded in the lives that we lead. Moreover, it'll give you a taste of what it might be like to work in one of the many careers where aspects of economics would be utilised on a daily basis.
What you will study
This is a highly practical applied economics module that gives you hands-on insights into using the theories, tools and techniques of economics in three prominent areas: weighing up and comparing potential business or policy options; understanding and using economic forecasts and projections; and doing evaluations of projects and programs already undertaken. There is a strong focus on employability: interviews with employers feature throughout the study materials to give the real-world perspective on the topics covered; and the module is designed to build and develop robust skills in areas that employers value, including communication via different media to different audiences and use of spreadsheet software (Excel).
The module is divided into four blocks:
Block 1 – Data provides an introduction to data: what it is, where to find it, some ways to generate it and how it is used, as well as the opportunities and challenges being raised by ‘Big Data’. You'll be using many different types of data in Blocks 2 to 4, and the aim in this block is to develop a critical awareness that data does not necessarily depict the world as it is or tell the whole story, and so needs to be appraised and questioned before use, which raises issues of power and how it is used to shape the narratives we tell and believe. You'll also be introduced to using a spreadsheet to process and present data, and you’ll start to develop your skills at communicating your findings, particularly around presenting data in effective and engaging ways.
Block 2 – Options looks at how the tools of economics are used to weigh up competing choices, projects and policies in different sectors of the economy (households, business, financial investment and government) in order to select a preferred course of action. A diversity of examples and case studies are used. In particular, you'll study how the UK government decided on policies to address flood risk and, in the investment sector, the rising importance of economic, social and governance (ESG) issues – both areas that are becoming increasingly prominent because of climate change. You'll be introduced to the basics of cost-benefit analysis and similar techniques as a way to appraise and compare options. You’ll continue to develop your spreadsheet and communication skills, focusing this time on creating a brief report.
Block 3 – Projections focuses in particular on how economic forecasts are used by business and government to inform their decision-making. You’ll gain insights into different ways that large macroeconomic models are constructed and the implications that has for how they can be interpreted and used. Alongside traditional forecasting methods, coverage includes ecological models that treat the economy as part of the larger ecosystem, gauging human impacts on the global environment and the possible effectiveness of changing policy or technology. The block also looks at microeconomic projection in the area of tax-and-benefit modelling, a basic tool in the analysis of poverty, inequality and policies such as universal basic income. You'll consolidate and extend your work with spreadsheets and collaborate on a small project with fellow students. Communication in this block focuses on the skill of creating presentations.
Block 4 – Evaluation looks at how to assess whether a project, policy or program has worked as anticipated. The block covers impact, process and economic evaluation, introducing you to widely used frameworks such as ‘theory of change’. Again, you'll be working with a wide range of real-world case studies, including an in-depth look at the use of sugar taxes to improve public health. The case studies will help you to gain understanding of some key evaluation techniques, such as randomised controlled trials. Using the spreadsheet software, you'll get hands-on experience of working with some aspects of evaluation. You'll also develop the skill of creating effective social media communications.
There are no pre-requisites for studying this module. However, since this is a OU level 2 module, you are strongly advised to have completed your OU level 1 studies first. You will find it helpful to have previously studied some basic mathematics and an optional self-test will help you check that you are ready for this aspect of the module.
If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.
Most weeks you will study a set of online learning materials and activities, but in some weeks your study will mainly comprise a chapter or a reading in the module textbook.
The textbook is a single volume with three parts. The first contains chapters introducing you to some key approaches to economics that you will support your online studies. The second part contains readings that will extend your experience of different approaches to economic theory. The third part is a ‘toolkit’ of the main economic techniques introduced in your online studies, which you can use as a quick reference when preparing assignments and later on if you go on to use the tools of economics at work or other areas of your life.
You’ll also have access to a module website, which includes:
- a week-by-week study planner
- course-specific module materials
- audio and video content
- interactive online activities
- assignment details and resources
- online tutorial access.
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 an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.
The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.
To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).
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.