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Relational database systems

This module has been designed for anyone who uses or administers database systems – information systems managers, analysts, designers, programmers and IT practitioners who need skills in state-of-the-art relational database technology. You will explore database technology, its principles, benefits, techniques and practical applications. You’ll also learn how relational concepts are used in database systems, and how to use the language SQL. The module includes a copy of MySQL for the practical work using SQL. You may, however, also study the module using IBM DB2, Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, or Sybase SQL Anywhere but you will need to supply the software yourself.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in November 2014.

What you will study

Many people now use databases as part of their everyday work, for example for recording data about business transactions, or for retrieving data to help in management decisions. Databases can range in size from those small enough to be stored on your PC to those that require the largest computers. With various kinds of facilities giving easy access to databases, there are increasing dangers that these facilities are misused by recording or retrieving incorrect data. The only way to avoid the danger is to have a proper understanding of the principles of how databases are designed, built and used. By studying this module you will be able to gain that understanding, based on the theory and practice of widely used relational database systems.

In a readable and non-mathematical way, the module enables you to discover what is important about the theory for the practical business of using relational technology. You will learn what is involved in developing and using relational databases with today’s relational products, how to use the SQL language to create and manipulate databases, and what to expect from software suppliers in the future.

The general aim of the module is to acquaint you with database technology. The ideas are introduced in a realistic setting, and worked examples and exercises enable you to put the skills you acquire into practice.

Four main subject areas are covered:

Information systems In this section you will learn about the aims and objectives of database technology, relating it to general models of database management systems and to the software development life cycle. The principles and concepts are illustrated by a simple application system that exploits relational technology. By the end of this section, you will be able to read and interpret entity–attribute–relationship conceptual data models.

Relational theory explains the components of the relational data model. You will learn to design a simple relational database from a given conceptual data model, and put the ideas into practice by using specially developed software that allows you to use relational algebra to answer simple queries against relational databases.

Using SQL SQL is an industry-standard language that is supported by almost every relational database management system on the market. This section explains how to use SQL to retrieve data from a relational database, create, modify, and remove base tables, create, modify and remove views, and update a relational database. You learn this by using the SQL database management system and the sample databases supplied as part of the module.

In Development of database systems you will learn about alternative approaches and appropriate techniques for developing and using databases. At the end of the module you will carry out a practical database development activity.


There are no entry requirements, but we do assume that you have already studied to HNC/HND level or have equivalent experience from your employment, and that you are familiar with the use of computers, particularly the construction of programs, and the use of files and operating systems. If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

You do need to have a reasonable standard of spoken and written English to study successfully with us. Poor language skills will make study more difficult, and it will take longer. The normal requirements for English language skills are explained on our website.

If you have any doubts about whether your level of English is good enough for you to study this module you may find it helpful to look at our Skills for OU Study site.

Discount for Open University Graduates

If you are a graduate of The Open University (holding either an undergraduate or masters degree), you are eligible for a discount of £100 towards the cost of this module. You can claim this discount when you register, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service


M876 is an optional module in our:

This module can also count towards C02, C69, D69, E10, E19, F05, F26, F37 and F43, which are no longer available to new students.

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 our Student Registration & Enquiry Service before registering.


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.

If you have a disability

Some work with diagrams is necessary.

You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer.

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.

Study materials

What's included

Module books, CD-ROM, website, optional online forums.

You will need

Access to the internet is essential, since some study materials are available only on the M876 website. You also need to use the internet to submit your assignments to your tutor. It will also enable you to take place in optional online forums and to use the website.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this module as it includes online activities, which you can access using a web browser.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer since 2008 you should have no problems completing the online activities.
  • If you’ve got a netbook, tablet or other mobile device check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you use an Apple Mac you will need OS X 10.7 or later.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information (including details of the support we provide).

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor who will be responsible for monitoring your progress on the module, marking and commenting on your written work and whom you can contact for advice and guidance. There is usually a lively student online forum. Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service 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.

Future availability

The details given here are for the module that starts in November 2014 when it will be available for the last time.

How to register

We regret that we are currently unable to accept registrations for this course. Where the course is to be presented again in the future, relevant registration information will be displayed on this page as soon as it becomes available.

Distance learning

The Open University is the world's leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you're at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you'll be supported throughout your studies - your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information about distance learning at the OU read Study explained.

Course facts
About this course:
Course code M876
Credits 15
OU Level Postgraduate
SCQF level 11
FHEQ level 7
Course work includes:
3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
No residential school

Student Reviews

“This course is a detailed and comprehensive introduction to databases. However, a serious word of caution for anyone who has...”
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“M876 is an introductory course on relational database technology based on the now discontinued undergraduate database course M358. As of...”
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“Though the course is badly in need of a re-write around some newer course software what it does do is...”
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“As of November 2008, an updated M876 is supplied with new software for the practical work, MySQL. Students may, however,...”
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