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Adulthood, ageing and the life course

In the twenty-first century many more adults will live for longer than in previous generations. The emergence of an ageing society can be celebrated, but it also poses many challenges. As workers, carers, or as people receiving health or social care support, this module will enable you to explore diverse individual, environmental, policy, and practice perspectives for adults and for adulthood. It will focus on later life, mental health, long-term conditions, learning disability, and drug and alcohol use. The module incorporates a rich blend of multi-media learning resources, including stimulating case material and opportunities for online collaborative learning.

What you will study

There are four blocks of study in this module.

Block 1: Approaches to adulthood and ageing

Starting with an overview of adulthood this block draws upon your views and experiences, to consider the multi-layered theoretical and practical areas of adulthood, ageing, and the life course. The block will engage you in questions such as ‘What does it mean to be an adult?’, ‘How does ‘ageism’ impact on people of all ages?’, and ‘How does quality of life change over the life course?’.

Block 2: The environments of adult support

Block 2 explores the environment in relation to individual, social, and physical factors. For example, environments of the person and their relationships; the significance of housing and physical environments to health and wellbeing; and how communities can be developed to assist and sustain individuals and families. You also examine the impact of living in poverty and deprivation, drawing on a range of perspectives in this respect, and you consider the question of how to manage some of the conflicts and tensions that emerge.

Block 3: The impact of policy on practice

In this block you examine issues, themes, and trends in modern health and social care policy. You consider how, in the rapidly changing context of political, financial, and international events, policies are constructed and implemented, and the nature of your role in this context. You explore how the law fits into wider social policy in providing the framework of rules and requirements that govern practice interventions, and the ways in which governments arrange the funding of services to adults who need support. A key feature of current practice in health and social care is working collaboratively and you will examine the realities of this approach including studying and working collaboratively with students in your tutorial group. Finally in Block 3 you consider some international dimensions of health and social care beyond the UK. 

Block 4: Frameworks and skills for adult support

The module concludes in Block 4 with a focus on frameworks and skills for adult support. Drawing on your experiences in health and social care you identify and evaluate some of the principal skills required to work effectively in a caring and supporting role with adults. These include skills of communication; the processes and skills required for the effective assessment of need; and the nature of promoting health and wellbeing within the context of health and social care. You also consider how a range of skills may be used to support and empower individuals, groups and communities, including the particular context of safeguarding adults where individuals may be vulnerable to exploitation, neglect or to abuse. Finally you explore and evaluate the academic skills involved in conducting and appraising research in the process of supporting adults and in developing resources.

You will learn

Your learning will take place principally through the online learning guide via the website. This is a structured and guided online teaching environment where you engage with academic readings, websites, journal articles, video and audio clips, and a range of other learning elements that constitute the combined teaching materials for the module. The student learning activities in this context encourage you to rehearse and to develop your own lines of enquiry as an OU level 3 student. Alongside this there is online communication with other students studying the module and with your tutor. On a regular basis you can share and discuss your experiences and ideas about the material you are studying.

The video and audio materials are integrated into the online learning guide. These are also supplied to you on separate DVDs for offline use if required. You will receive as part of the set of study materials a module guide and a module reader to stimulate and support your learning.

In this module, you learn how to evaluate and communicate many of the important issues in adult health and social care. You will also develop your facility to appreciate some of the contested areas where there may be significant differences of view about the causes and solutions to problems, or about the allocation of resources. This learning takes place in the context of developing your knowledge and your critical understanding of adulthood and ageing, and of how this enhanced facility can make a significant and positive difference to your role as a carer, a service user, or to your role as a professional. You will be encouraged to reflect upon your own learning and how this may be applied positively in practical ways, exploring, developing, and at times perhaps being encouraged to challenge your own values, assumptions, and beliefs.

The module includes a wealth of material in relation to many of the commonly occurring categorisations and groupings within modern health and social care; such as: older people; mental health and wellbeing; long term conditions across the range of adult ability and disability; drug and alcohol use; and offending behaviour. These groupings, however, are not dealt with in fixed divisions but rather they are drawn upon throughout as illustrative and tangible examples in the process of learning about adulthood and ageing through the life course.

The module also incorporates many of the perspectives and ‘voices’ of people working in practice and of people who as adults are receiving support themselves, or have a role in supporting others. These voices are included as text items, and as video and audio clips, where people comment on particular ideas illustrating issues from their personal or their professional experience. These diverse perspectives bring an immediacy and variety to the study process as you learn to engage with and evaluate directly the opinions and the contexts of a rich variety of adults, their supporters, carers, and professionals. As students, you also join in this collaborative process by learning and sharing with your fellow students studying the module .

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 with the OU. However, you are not required to have studied before in this subject area.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

You will receive guidance of how to get started online in your first module mailing. This will provide you with information on using your computer for OU study and working with the Computing Guide. For example, it explains how to access and use your website and online discussion forums. If you have time before the module starts, you can work through this and explore all the online services available to you.

What's included

You will have access to a website, online forums, and the online library. You will receive information about how to access the website, a printed module guide, DVDs, a published module reader, and a range of online readings. On the website there is a module map which explains how the module content fits together and electronic versions of most of the printed study materials. These electronic versions, which are compatible with screen-reader software, may be useful if you wish to read on a mobile device where you do not have a WiFi connection, or you want to search for specific references and topics.

You will need

You will also need a headset, with a built-in microphone and earphones, to talk to your tutor and other students online during some of the module activities. 

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 to help you with the study material and to assess your on-going progress by marking and commenting on your written work. You may ask your tutor for advice and guidance online or by phone as the module progresses. The contact with your tutor and other students will be through email, online discussion forums, and by telephone. 

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module, displayed 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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying K319 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

Adulthood, ageing and the life course starts once a year in October. This page describes the module starting in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2020.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

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