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Frequently asked questions

The Open University is a bit different to other universities, and we know this can sometimes be confusing. On this page, you’ll find answers to some of our most frequently asked questions:

If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Student studying at desk

How OU study works

What are modules, credits and qualifications?

A module is the basic building block of Open University study. Modules usually take 9 months to complete. When you successfully complete a module, you’ll earn credits.

You can study a module on its own, or you can study multiple modules to work toward a nationally recognised qualification such as a certificate, diploma or degree.

For more information about modules, qualifications and credits, see our Planning your studies section.

How are your modules taught?

You’ll be allocated a tutor who will guide you through your studies. Modules are taught through entirely online study, or a combination of online and printed materials. Depending on the module, you may also be able to attend optional face-to-face tutorials. Some tutorials are also delivered online, so you’ll be able to dial in anywhere you can get an internet connection.

Do I get a tutor to help me?

For each module, you’ll be assigned a tutor. They’ll help you with your studies, mark your assignments and give you an extra helping hand when you need it. Most of your contact with them will be through email, phone and the module forums.

How do the online tutorials work?

You’ll connect through your module website. The tutor will present to you and other students in an online tutorial room. If you’ve got a headset with a microphone, you’ll be able to join in the conversation. But, even if you don’t, you can still use the chat box to add your ideas.

Some online tutorials may be recorded, so if you miss one, or you want to go through the information again, they’ll be uploaded after the event is finished. If you want to know if a tutorial was recorded, be sure to ask your tutor.

Will I attend lectures? Is any of it face-to-face?

As we’re a distance learning university, you won’t need to attend traditional lectures. Most of your study will take place through your module website and course materials. Some modules may offer you the opportunity to participate in face-to-face tutorials, while others may offer field trips or require you to attend a residential school. Our module descriptions will tell you more.  

How do I access my course materials?

Your course materials will be unique to the modules you study – these could be purely online, or a balance of online and print materials. Any online materials will be accessible through your module website and, if your module has printed materials, you’ll usually be able to download electronic copies.

If you need your module materials in an accessible or alternative format, be sure to let us know in plenty of time before your module starts. If you want to know more about accessibility at the OU, visit our disability support website.

What is the Virtual Learning Environment?

The Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), or module website, as you’ll hear it called, will be where you find everything you need for your module.

There’s a wealth of information on your module website, but the main things to know about now are:

  • You’ll have a week-by-week study planner that’ll guide your learning throughout the module.
  • There’s an assessment section, showing exactly what you need to do for each assignment and when they’re due.
  • It’s where you’ll book to attend tutorials, join online tutorials and access the contact details for your tutor.
  • You can join all the other students in your module cohort on the module forums to discuss key topics, do any collaborative work, and get a little extra help if you’re stuck.
  • And it’s also where you can find all the online, PDF and accessible formats of your module materials and resources.

Where and when you can study

Are Open University courses available in my country?

While our main campus is in Milton Keynes in the UK, you can study with us anywhere in the world.

Some courses may not be available in your country. These would include, but are not limited to, vocational courses for UK students only (social work and nursing).

Can I study from home?

You can study from home, work, on your commute, or wherever suits you. All you’ll need is an internet-connected computer and some time to concentrate on your studies.

Some of our modules include exams or a residential school, which you’ll need to attend. However, if your circumstances mean you aren’t able to come to these, we may be able to offer you an alternative.

Can I study if I’m travelling abroad?

Yes – as long as you’ve got access to an internet connection. Some modules have residential schools or exams that you’ll need to be present for, but you can do your everyday studies from anywhere in the world.

When can I start my studies?

Once you’ve registered on your qualification, you’ll choose your first module. Your module will most likely start in October, but some do have February and April start dates as well.

Be sure to enrol on your module before the cut-off date to secure your place. If you’re not sure when this is, contact us.

Planning your studies

How are your qualifications structured?

You’ll need to build up a set number of credits to complete your qualification. Here’s how it works:

Each qualification is made up of 1, 2 or 3 stages.

Each stage is made up of 120 credits of modules.

Each module is worth 30 or 60 credits.

  • A Certificate of Higher Education is one stage (120 credits)
  • A Diploma of Higher Education/Foundation Degree is two stages (240 credits)
  • An Honours Degree is three stages (360 credits)

You’ll study your qualification on a module-by-module basis, so you sign up for only what you’re going to study that year. If you have other commitments (such as work, family, etc.) we recommend you sign up for 30 or 60 credits. The maximum credits you can study in one year is 120, which is equivalent to full-time study at a campus-based university.

Qualifications have compulsory or optional modules, or a mix of the two. You can see the modules you’ll study by looking at your qualification description.

Can I change how many modules I study each year?

Yes – you can vary the number of modules you study each year, but we recommend that you study no more than two modules at the same time. Just make sure, if you want to study more than one module, you register on all of them before the cut-off date.

When do I find out about key dates and module timelines?

About two weeks before your module is due to start, you’ll have access to your module website. On there, you’ll have a week-by-week study plan and assignment deadlines, so you can start to plan your studies. If your module includes a residential school or exam, you may have to wait a little longer to find out these dates. But, don’t worry, we’ll let you know in plenty of time.

Can I take study breaks?

Yes – whether you need some time out due to work, family commitments, ill health, or anything else that’s going on in your life – you can request a Study Break. You’ll still be an OU student, and you’ll get communication from us that’ll be relevant to your studies.

Exams, assessment and placements

How will I be assessed? Will I have to sit exams?

Depending on your module, you’ll either have an exam, or an end-of-module assessment you can complete at home.

If you do have to sit an exam, you’ll attend one of our network of exam centres throughout the UK.

If you’re not able to travel to an exam centre as a result of your personal circumstances, we may be able to arrange for you to sit a home examination instead. There are strict criteria for approving these.

Are exam dates/times flexible? Or are they fixed?

Your exam date and time will be fixed, but we’ll let you know the details about 12 weeks in advance to give you time to prepare.

If you’re unable to attend your exam due to circumstances beyond your control, you may be able to sit it at the next available opportunity. There are strict criteria for approving this.

Can I retake assessments?

If you’re not successful in passing your module, you won’t be able to re-submit your assignments, but you may be offered the opportunity to resit your exam or submit another end-of-module assessment.

Do I need to be in work or employed in a specific area?

Most of our courses don’t require work placements, or for you to be employed in a specific role. There are some exceptions for qualifications in vocational subjects such as nursing and social work, and you’ll have to arrange these yourself. For more information, check out the description for the specific qualification and modules you’re interested in.

As an Open University student, you’ll have access to a team of experienced careers consultants and an online portal where you can connect with employers offering internships and work experience.

Resources and support available

What additional resources will I have access to?

As an OU student, you’ll also have access to StudentHome, where you can:

  • find a list of all the qualifications and modules you’ve studied or are studying
  • access your module website
  • submit and collect your assignments
  • choose and enrol on your next module
  • get access to our online Help Centre, a fantastic resource which offers general study advice and information about OU study.

You’ll also get access to our online library, where you’ll find a massive range of ebooks, ejournals and databases, which you can use to assist you in your studies.  

What support can I get if I have additional needs?

We’re committed to making study accessible to all, whether you have a disability, health condition, mental health difficulty, or a specific learning difficulty (such as dyslexia). When you sign up for a qualification or module, we’ll ask you to let us know about any additional circumstances that may impact on your studies. The support we can offer you will depend on the modules you choose to take, but our services include:

  • Accessible study materials
  • Specialist equipment
  • Tailored assessment
  • Residential schools support
  • Additional support accessing tutorials and day schools
  • Financial help

You can find more information about our services on our disability support website.

Who can I speak to for advice about how to manage my studies?

Your tutor will be the first person to contact if you’re worried about keeping up with your studies. They’ll give advice and additional support for general study skills and time management. If you need to talk through your study options, you can get in touch with your Student Support Team who’ll be on hand to offer you expert subject-specific advice.

Where can I talk to other students?

You’ll be able to talk to other students through dedicated module forums, or through any number of unofficial Facebook groups set up by students. If you’re looking to attend events and socialise, as an OU student you’ll automatically be a part of the Open University Students Association (OUSA). Through OUSA, you can attend or create local meet-ups, join a club or society, or get extra help and support from your fellow students.

Will I get a student ID card?

You won’t get an ID card from us, but, as a student of the OU, you can buy a TOTUM student discount card from the National Union of Students.

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