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Understanding children's development and learning

This module is for people working with children and young people and looks at children's development and learning in cultural, educational and social contexts. It explains how theoretical and methodological frameworks contribute to understanding developmental change and how psychological research can inform educational and clinical practice. You will learn about how children actively contribute and shape their own development through meaningful interaction with others and how the study of atypical development and individual difference contributes to theory and practice. You will also carry out a small-scale, observational study and will design an extended research proposal relevant to your own professional interests.


ED841 is an optional module in our:

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change.

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content.  To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

This module is designed for teachers and others interested in psychological accounts of children’s development and learning, and those who work with children and young people in a professional capacity. It invites you to engage with contemporary accounts and theories of children’s development and to consider how these are relevant to educational practice. The module addresses the following questions:

  • What significant processes occur in infancy for development and learning?
  • In what way is play with other children important during the early years?
  • What are the important changes in children’s thinking and problem solving as they get older?
  • Why is collaborative learning important for children’s development?
  • How do cognitive theories of development help us to understand children’s learning difficulties?
  • What can current theories about children’s learning and development contribute to the development of new teaching and learning methods in schools?
  • Are new digital technologies changing the ways children think and learn?

This module is for those are interested in finding out how developmental psychologists and educational researchers attempt to answer these questions. It will appeal to parents, teachers and professionals wanting to find out about what psychological research can tell us about children’s development and learning. It will also be of interest to people who want to deepen their understanding of children’s learning difficulties, and those interested in the impact of new computer and web-based technologies on education. You will be able to choose to study the module materials that interest you the most, whilst also meeting the assessment requirements.

ED841 will help you understand the main theoretical accounts, and research findings that attempt to explain children’s social, cognitive and emotional development from early infancy through the school years. The module also invites you to consider key debates about the applications of research on children’s development, and to consider how these inform decisions about educational and social practices that shape children’s experiences at home and at school.

  • You will consider how babies and young children actively shape their own experiences through meaningful interaction with other people in family and preschool environments.
  • You will consider how different cultural practices relating to parenting and children’s socialisation challenge traditional theories of child development.
  • You will learn about children’s thinking and about how this changes and develops.
  • You will study the observational research methods psychologists use to study children’s development and learning and apply your understanding to design and carry out your own small-scale study that will investigate learning processes.
  • You will learn how psychological accounts of developmental disorders of language and learning inform our understanding of children and young people who do not follow typical developmental pathways.
  • You will learn how these accounts inform the design of educational interventions to help children with reading and language difficulties.
  • You will critically evaluate the impact of research-based, educational interventions on learning and teaching in schools.
  • You will consider how rapidly changing cultural and technological contexts influence children’s lives at home, at school and in the wider community (including virtual communities that children and young people create).
  • You will draw on your understanding of educational research design and methods to develop an extended research proposal relevant to your own interests or professional context. The proposed research will be focused on evaluating the outcomes of an educational intervention. It will be a proposal for either an action research project or take the form of a pre-test post-test study.

Comparing and contrasting children’s developmental pathways in different cultural, social and pedagogic contexts will help enable you to evaluate current practice and any proposed changes to practice in childcare and education related to children’s care and development from an informed and critical perspective.

In addition to a comprehensive Study Guide, the study materials include a DVD and DVD-ROM. The DVD contains interviews with acknowledged experts in the fields of psychology and education as well as with teachers and educational psychologists. It also provides examples of classroom practice and clinical assessments used with children with learning difficulties. The DVD-ROM contains advice on observational research methods, together with a guided set of video-based observation activities to help you develop your skills and understanding in this area. You will carry out literature reviews and will be required to download and read original research articles and reports from the Open Library online databases, ejournal and ebook collections.

The continuous assessment component of the module involves three essay-type assignments. In addition, you will carry out and write up an observation-based small-scale investigation of teaching and learning processes. You can carry out this study with learners of any age, including adults, and you can locate it in either an informal context (e.g. home, playgroup or after-school club), or a formal educational context such as a preschool, school, college or adult learning centre. You will use what you learn from this small-scale investigation to help you to develop a project proposal (the end-of-module assessment (EMA)).

For the EMA, you will carry out a literature review and develop a research proposal that outlines and discusses how you would design an intervention study to evaluate changes to educational or clinical practice. Here, you will demonstrate your understanding of educational research design and research methods and how they can be applied to evaluate an intervention in a real life setting. Your research proposal can focus on an aspect of teaching and learning related to your own interests or, if you work in an educational context, to an aspect of your professional practice.

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. 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 ED841. 

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


The assessment details 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.

Your end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted electronically.

Course work includes

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in October 2015. We expect it to be available for the last time in October 2016.


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.

Entry requirements

This module can only be studied as part of a qualification (see below for the relevant qualifications).

You must hold a bachelors degree from a UK university or other recognised degree-awarding body, or a qualification at equivalent level.

You are expected to have some experience in education or an allied field, but you need not be a practising teacher. You do not need access to an educational institution, but you will need child or adult participants for the small-scale study. We have designed the module to be accessible to all students working at masters level. Knowledge of psychology is not essential, though if you have already taken child development courses that will clearly be an asset. An understanding of research design and the research methods used in education and/or psychology will be an advantage.

The module is taught in English, and your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study, as you will need to read and understand original journal articles written in English. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you seek assessment under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see their website for details.

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

Preparatory work

If you have never studied a course in child development, we suggest you read either

H. R. Schaffer (2003) Introducing Child Psychology, Wiley Blackwell


P. K. Smith, H. Cowie, M. Blades (2003) Understanding Children’s Development, 4th edn, Wiley Blackwell


M. Harris (2008) Exploring Developmental Psychology: Understanding Theory and Methods, Sage Publications

If you have studied a course in child development or developmental psychology as an undergraduate you could read one of the following:

P. Hobson (2002) The Cradle of Thought: Exploring the Origins of Thinking, Pan Books


B. Rogoff (2003) The Cultural Nature of Human Development, Oxford University Press


Start End England fee Register
10 Oct 2015 Oct 2016 £1416.00

Registration closes 17/09/15 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2016.

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.

Ways to pay

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options. To find out more see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

Study Guide, DVD, CD-ROM, supplementary materials (presented online), one bought in book (Children's Minds by Margaret Donaldson), an online Reader containing a range of journal articles and book chapters, online forums and a dedicated website.

You will need

A CD and DVD player.

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.

We recommend either of the following:

  • Windows desktop or laptop computer running Windows 7 or later operating system
  • Macintosh desktop or laptop computer running OS X 10.7 or later operating system.

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.

Materials to buy

Set books

  • Snowling, M.J. & Hulme, C. Developmental Disorders of Language Learning and Cognition Wiley-Blackwell £31.99 - ISBN 9780631206125
  • Garton, A.F. Exploring Cognitive Development: The Child as Problem Solver Wiley-Blackwell £29.99 - ISBN 9780631234586

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. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

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.