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Geology and sustainability

The sustainability of the relationship between humans and Earth is at the core of this module. Humans depend on planet Earth. It provides everything from a habitable biosphere to the raw materials needed to manufacture goods and produce energy. However, in going about our activities, from daily life to the extraction of mineral resources, humans are placing our planet under severe strain. By studying Earth as a connected system, you’ll examine how potential solutions to sustainability problems in the field of geology may also have negative consequences – navigating this complexity collaboratively with your peers is a central component of the module.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards an 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
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

Each topic is a similar length and addresses your skills balance.

The module comprises five topics:

Earth’s climate system
This topic explores the theory and geological record of climate change. It gives you the tools to understand Earth’s climate regulation over geological timescales. A focus is on the feedback loops that characterise the climate system and the nature of tipping points that can lead to rapid change when critical thresholds are crossed.

This topic explores the world’s oceans, including their physical structure and the geological record of their history and evolution. A focus is on the relationship of the oceans to Earth’s climate and ocean changes that result from human activity. Another focus is appreciating the critical role oceans will play in Earth’s future and the need for humans to adapt to changing conditions.

Hard rock geology and resources
In this topic, you’ll explore the geology underlying the deposition of minerals that are key economic resources. It gives you tools to understand why certain minerals are deposited in particular regions and experience acquiring and analysing data. This topic will also explore the tension between mining practices and the need to minimise the climatic impacts of industrial activity.

Life and time
This topic involves studying how Earth’s ecosystems have evolved and examining how geological time is established. You’ll examine how ancient ecosystems are represented in the fossil record and how life has responded to critical intervals of environmental change in the geological past. You’ll explore the importance of quantifying the rates of processes in the geological past and examine the significance of human impact on the earth system in the context of geological time.

Geographic Information Systems
This topic involves exploring geographic information systems (GIS) and using them to define and examine geological issues. You’ll first learn the basic anatomy and essential functions of GIS. Then, you’ll experience how GIS software works by completing hands-on activities via a web browser – creating maps, adding data and posing geological questions. You’ll also practice your new skills using GIS analysis to solve real-world geological problems.

You will learn

This module focuses on developing personal skills, professional skills and employability skills. In particular, effective communication with various audiences, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. You’ll learn how to apply knowledge and understanding to evaluate and address challenges at the interface of geology and sustainability. You’ll further your skills in finding and utilising different lines of evidence and appreciating the limits of current knowledge. The final assessment develops your planning and collaborative skills in a supportive environment, encouraging your independence.

Vocational relevance

You’ll develop skills directly relevant to employability throughout the module. This module focuses on professional and employability skills to enable you to work more effectively independently and as part of a team. Employment opportunities exist across the public sector (including local authorities and the civil service), private sector (large and small businesses) and voluntary sectors (e.g. charities and non-governmental organisations).

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.
  • Supporting you during collaborative work.

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 module ends with a synthetic assessment over eight weeks that involves developing a possible solution to a problem at the interface of geology and sustainability. This involves planning, structural project development, and collaboration with peers supported by a tutor. The end-of-module assessment gives you an authentic experience of working collaboratively towards a common goal.

Future availability

Geology and sustainability (S319) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.


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:

2 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

However, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of earth sciences. You’d normally prepare by having passed:

You should prepare to develop your independent learning and collaboration skills.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2030.

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.

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 2024. Fees normally increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 28/02/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

In order to qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a personal income of less than £25,000 (or receive qualifying benefits)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above, or completed 30 credits or more of OU study

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.

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 have access to a module website, which includes:

  • course-specific module materials and activities
  • audio and video content
  • assessment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access
  • module discussion area.

Where possible, materials will also be available in Microsoft Word and as PDFs, but some materials and activities will be unsuitable for these formats.

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 Monterey 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 S319 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.