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Understanding criminology

This module introduces you to the many ways criminologists seek to explain crime, victims of crime and the role of criminal justice. Through the use of engaging topics, each study week begins with examples of crimes or criminal justice problems that you may recognise from the news, other media outlets and popular culture. It will gently introduce you to different criminological concepts and theories and you'll actively engage and explore these through the use of virtual learning environment activities and written assessment. You'll become equipped with the skills needed to understand theories and concepts about crime, and will advance your understanding of everyday social issues that may influence crime and victims of crime.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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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

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
2 8 5

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

The module is organised around three strands: causes of crime, responses to crime, and thinking beyond crime and criminal justice. You'll be introduced to questions such as:

  • What is crime? What defines 'crime' and why are some harmful behaviours labelled 'crimes' while others are not?
  • Who is a victim? What is criminal justice?
  • Why do certain behaviours come to be defined as ‘criminal’?
  • What are the limitations of criminology for explaining things that are unjust or harmful, and what other ways are there of thinking about crime, criminal justice and the things that cause us harm?

Block 1 gives you a brief overview of how these questions shape criminology. Through films about sex workers and self-inflicted deaths in prison, you'll begin to explore what different responses to these questions reveal about relationships between individuals and society, and power and inequality. You'll be introduced to the ways in which criminologists use theories and concepts alongside observations to build an understanding of the issues that interest them.

Block 2 begins by exploring different understandings of the causes of crime and some of the criminal justice responses that come from them. You'll be introduced to biological, psychological and sociological explanations of crime causation and explore the main ways in which different criminal justice policies are understood to address the problem of crime. 

Block 3 starts with the question why are some harmful actions and behaviours considered to be criminal, while others are not. You'll look at who defines crime, how such definitions are enforced and how some, but not all, lawbreakers come to be labelled as "criminals". You'll consider the role of the victim in criminal justice systems and explore the key issues surrounding their inclusion and exclusion. You'll also learn about aspects of criminal justice such as community justice and policing, and ask questions about how effectively criminal justice policies achieve their stated goals.

Block 4 considers the limitations of criminology and criminal justice for thinking about other harmful actions that fall outside the gaze of crime policy and practice. You'll be introduced to the concepts of 'invisible crimes' and ‘invisible victims', and explore the idea of that the physical harm and injury caused by some social structures, institutions and social and economic policies can be understood as a form of violence. The module concludes by examining the implications of a social harm perspective for policy and practice, and inviting you to reflect on your own theoretical positions.

This module will build on the knowledge and skills you have gained at OU level 1 study and will further develop your skills of critical analysis, argumentation, academic writing and reflection on your learning.

It reflects The Open University’s commitment to developing modules that span and integrate a range of learning outcomes across the areas of knowledge and understanding, cognitive (analytical) skills, key skills of communication and information literacy and lifelong learning, and practical and professional skills. The development of these skills is embedded within every stage of the module and you will be supported in progressively developing these.

Vocational relevance

This module is relevant to a wide range of jobs in the public, voluntary, community and commercial sectors. The areas and themes the module looks at are directly relevant to a variety of jobs in public administration, social welfare services, criminal justice services, community support services amongst others. The analytical and key skills you will develop are relevant to any job context. Amongst the ‘transferable’ skills you will develop are: the ability to identify, gather, analyse and assess evidence; present reasoned and coherent arguments; write clearly in a range of styles such as essays for an academic audience and analyses of complex issues for a non-academic audience; group work; apply learning to non-module provided examples and situations; and plan and reflect on your own work and learning.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be assigned a tutor who will give you advice and guidance throughout the module. They will help you with the study materials, as well as mark and comment on your written assignments. Your tutor will also support you with the activities and collaborative work.

We aim to provide online tutorials. Recordings of these will typically be made available. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

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


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Understanding criminology starts once a year. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027. 


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have a good knowledge of the subject area, obtained either through OU level 1 study or by doing equivalent study at another university. Our key introductory OU level 1 module Introducing the social sciences (DD102) gives an excellent grounding for this module.

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

Preparatory work

There is no requirement for you to undertake any specific preparatory work prior to starting this module. However, you could read Criminology by Tim Newburn, which sets out the different ways of understanding crime, victims of crime and criminal justice or watch the films Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore (2002) which explores the causes of a high school massacre and gun violence and Monster by Patty Jenkins (2003) which tells the story of a woman who was executed in Florida, in 2002, for killing six men.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2029.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 29/05/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You’ll also be provided with two module textbooks and a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assignment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DD212 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.