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Cell biology

Cell biology explores the fascinating and diverse world of cells, from single-celled micro-organisms to the specialised cells that form complex tissues in plants and animals. It develops the key aspects of cell and molecular biology introduced in Questions in Science (S111), Science: concepts and practice (S112) and Science and health: an evidence-based approach (SDK100). It explores the origins of cells and the generation of cell diversity, as well as the common features of cellular structure and function – how they obtain energy, synthesise new molecules, communicate, proliferate and survive. There is an emphasis on the fundamental importance of cell biology in modern science, particularly in relation to cell technologies and health.

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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.
2 9 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

Student Reviews

Before beginning this module, take note that is it incredibly detailed and it's not at all like OU level modules....
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I really enjoyed this module, the tutor support was brilliant, it was brilliant having books - so much easier! The...
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What you will study

The module is structured as three blocks, each comprising a printed book and supporting multimedia, including video, animations and interactive activities, all delivered via a website.

The first block, Generating Diversity, begins with a discussion of current theories about the origins and evolution of cells, and an exploration of the diversity seen among modern day cells. You will then look in detail at the subcellular structures where essential cell processes take place. You’ll also be introduced to genetics; how characteristics are inherited, and how the information in a cell’s genome directs and controls the synthesis of thousands of different proteins, the versatile molecules that form much of the cell’s structure and perform many of its functions.

In the second block, Working Cells, you will consider in more detail the molecular and structural basis for many of the biochemical activities that are common to all cells: the structure and function of proteins; the role of cell membranes; transport of substances into and out of cells and between different parts of the cell; how cells capture and use energy; and how cells transmit, receive and respond to signals from their environment.

The final block, Challenging Cells starts by exploring the life and death of cells with reference to disease and other abnormal processes – how cells proliferate, age and die, and the mechanisms that allow cells in a complex organism to diversify into different specialised forms. Through a series of brief case studies you will look at the application of cell and molecular biology to health science and biotechnology. These include topics related to gene technology, stem cell technology, novel antimicrobial agents and microbial fuel cells.

By the end of the module you will be able to:

  • demonstrate a broad understanding of fundamental concepts, principles and theories relating to cell biology, genetics and microbiology
  • appreciate that our knowledge of complex cellular functions is based on observation and experiment
  • appreciate the importance of cell biology in modern technologies and medicine.

The module also develops key skills including data interpretation, collaborative working and accessing and reading articles on cell biology.

Vocational relevance

This module provides the basic grounding in cell biology appropriate for further training in careers related to biological and biomedical research, biomedical support and laboratory services and health promotion.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

Throughout your module studies, you’ll get help and support from your assigned module tutor. They’ll help you by:

  • Marking your assignments (TMAs) and providing detailed feedback for you to improve.
  • Guiding you to additional learning resources.
  • Providing individual guidance, whether that’s for general study skills or specific module content.
  • Facilitating online discussions between your fellow students, in the dedicated module and tutor group forums.

Module tutors also run online tutorials throughout the module. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students. While these tutorials won’t be compulsory for you to complete the module, you’re strongly encouraged to take part.


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

The first three TMAs will focus strongly on learning through practice and the feedback you receive on your answers will help you to improve your knowledge and understanding of the study material and to develop important skills associated with the module, as well as prepare you for the written examination. The final TMA and the examination will contribute to your overall score for the module and assess key skills developed in the module as well as knowledge and understanding of the core topics.

Residential school

We usually offer an optional 4-day laboratory school in Milton Keynes - Laboratory skills in biology and health (SS022).

The optional laboratory school would come at an additional cost. However, we’re not yet able to confirm if this face-to-face event will be offered to students starting in October 2022. The most recent additional cost was £235.

We will update this page as soon as we have more information.

Future availability

Cell biology (S294) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2022.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2023.


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)
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

    However, this is an OU Level 2 module, so you’ll need study skills appropriate for this level of science study, obtained either by OU Level 1 study or by equivalent study with another higher education institution. You’re likely to find parts of this module difficult if you have no knowledge of biology.

    We recommend you’ve studied one of our key introductory OU Level 1 modules:

    • Questions in science (S111)
    • Science: concepts and practice (S112)
    • Science and health (SDK100)
    • or the discontinued modules S104 or SDK125

    Our booklet Are you ready for S294? will help you find out whether or not you’re ready to study this module.

    If you’re still not sure you’re ready, talk to an adviser.


    Start End England fee Register
    01 Oct 2022 Jun 2023 £1614.00

    Registration closes 08/09/22 (places subject to availability)

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2023.

    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 are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Field school/laboratory school

    This module has an optional field school/laboratory school. You must pay an additional charge for tuition, accommodation and meals (see module details for further information). You must also pay for your travel to and from the venue.

    Due to the ongoing pandemic, we may replace face-to-face events with online alternatives.

    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 fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2023. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 06/07/2022.

    What's included

    Three printed books. Study guide, activities, glossary, assignments, forums and other resources all provided via a dedicated website.

    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). Any macOS is unsuitable with this module.

    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 S294 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 website.