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Electromagnetism

Electricity and magnetism are familiar phenomena, but they are not independent. In this module, you’ll discover how a single consistent theory known as electromagnetism unifies electricity and magnetism – one of the most outstanding achievements of classical physics. You’ll learn about Maxwell’s equations and how they describe the fundamental physics of electromagnetism using the mathematical language of vector calculus. Additionally, you’ll study the application of these equations to understand electric and magnetic fields in the world around us, including phenomena such as light. Along the way, you’ll gain an appreciation for the role of symmetry in physics.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

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

Module code

SM381

Credits

Credits

  • 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.
30

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
OU SCQF FHEQ
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module will give you a detailed understanding of the theory of electromagnetism, which is one of the cornerstones of classical physics and an example of a classical field theory. You’ll develop an understanding of a wide range of physical phenomena, from the behaviour of light to the electrical and magnetic properties of materials. In addition, you’ll develop your ability to apply advanced physics concepts and mathematical techniques (such as vector calculus) to describe aspects of the physical world and find quantitative answers to problems.

The module website will guide your learning. The website will explain the tasks you should complete in a particular week, including:

  • studying written material
  • completing self-assessment quizzes
  • watching videos about real-world applications of electromagnetism
  • carrying out online experiments.

The module is accompanied by two books. Each book chapter complements a particular week of study.

Book 1
The first book concentrates on fundamental aspects of the theory of classical electromagnetism. It explains the concepts of electric and magnetic fields and how they are related through Maxwell’s four equations (Gauss’s law, the no Monopole law, the Ampère–Maxwell law and Faraday’s law) and the Lorentz force law. It describes how the properties of electric and magnetic fields follow from the consistent theory formed by these equations and how to use these equations to understand physical situations. This book also contains brief revision material on the relevant mathematical concepts from Mathematical methods, models and modelling (MST210) / Mathematical methods (MST224). You’ll learn how to use these mathematical techniques to describe and explain electromagnetic phenomena.

Book 2
The second book starts by showing how the presence of matter modifies electric and magnetic fields and describes the tools and techniques needed to determine the behaviour of electromagnetic fields in such cases. The middle part of the book concerns electromagnetic energy and currents, particularly alternating current (ac) circuits containing electric and magnetic components. The last part of the book develops the theory of electromagnetic waves (including light) and the electromagnetic spectrum. It explains the propagation of electromagnetic waves in vacuum and their behaviour in matter, including the phenomena of reflection, refraction, dispersion and absorption.

Vocational relevance

This module will develop your problem-solving abilities in physical sciences and improve your mathematical and communication skills. The opportunity to perform a remote experiment and engage in group work is particularly relevant to how scientific investigations are increasingly carried out. These skills are useful in roles requiring a precise and quantitative approach. The learning objectives of Electromagnetism (SM381) are to develop core skills and competencies in problem-solving, communication, collaboration, numeracy and digital literacy. Personal attributes and behaviours developed will include initiative, self-management, resilience and self-confidence.

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.

Assessment

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

Future availability

Electromagnetism (SM381) 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 2029.

Regulations

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)
Examination


Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements for this module.

At The Open University, we believe education should be open to all, so we provide high-quality university education to anyone who wishes to realise their ambitions and fulfil their potential.

Even though there are no entry requirements, you’ll need appropriate knowledge of mathematics and physics obtained through:

  • OU level 1 and 2 study
  • equivalent work at another higher education institution.

Are you ready for SM381?

Preparatory work

We recommend you’ve completed:

The parts relating to partial differentiation, multiple integrals, vector calculus and complex numbers are especially relevant.

Plus:

Register

Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £1818.00

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

Register
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 21/05/2024.

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 have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • access to online experiments
  • assessment details and submission section
  • online tutorial access
  • interactive activities and quizzes for you to check your understanding.

We’ll also provide you with two printed module books with chapters that accompany weeks in the study planner.

You will need

Basic scientific calculator.

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 SM381 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.