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Global challenges: social science in action

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This module investigates some of the major challenges facing the world today. Packed with engaging teaching material, thought-provoking interactive tasks and engrossing examples, it explores how social science helps us understand and respond to the climate crisis, the legacies of colonialism and enslavement, and the challenges posed by digital technology. Whether you take it as your first or second module, it is designed with you in mind. You'll have lots of support and be introduced to or have a chance to recap basic study skills.

What you will study

We live in turbulent times. Amongst the many challenges we face, the climate crisis, digital technology and the legacies of colonialism and enslavement are raising far-reaching questions about how we live. Some of those questions are about everyday things, for example, is digital technology good or for bad; are our lives environmentally sustainable? Others are much bigger, for instance, how have inequalities between the Global North and Global South come about, and are they just and fair? Social science has vital contributions to make to all of those debates. In this module, you'll explore how social science helps us understand these challenges and, just as importantly, how we can use social scientific knowledge to bring about change.

The module is divided into three blocks:

Block 1 introduces the global challenges the module addresses: the climate crisis, digital technology and the legacies of colonialism and enslavement. It begins with a two-week case study focusing on the smartphone and goes on to study each of the global challenges in turn. You'll investigate what social scientific knowledge is and how it helps make sense of the challenges, as well as being introduced to the three big themes that run through the module: the local and global; inequality and social justice; and knowledge and power.

Block 2 takes a closer look at the challenges. To do so, you'll be channelled into one of three 'strands' or disciplinary clusters covering: geography; politics, philosophy and economics; or religious studies, sociology and general social science. You'll be directed to the strand relevant to the qualification you're studying. You can choose a strand if you're studying this module independently or as part of an Open qualification.

Block 3 changes gear. Over ten weeks, you'll consider how social change occurs and assess how social science contributes to it. You'll also learn some of the practical skills involved in being an effective change-maker, equipping you to go out and make a difference in your locality, workplace and the wider world.

Throughout the module, you'll be introduced to a wide range of social scientific ideas and thinkers. The social scientists you'll study come from around the world and include experts in development studies, economics, geography, philosophy, political science, religious studies and sociology. You will also be introduced to activists, practitioners and policy makers who are responding to global challenges – everyone from India’s clean air campaigners, Warrior Moms to Sander, a Hong Kong dissident and pro-democracy activist.

Finally, you'll think about how global challenges are debated. Which voices dominate the conversation, and who is left out? Why might we need new faces around the table? And when is social science part of the problem rather than the solution?

You will learn

By studying this module you'll learn about some of the major global challenges facing the world and how social science helps us make sense of and respond to those challenges.

You will also gain confidence and skills in:

  • studying and accessing information from a range of sources
  • constructing arguments
  • evaluating evidence
  • reading data tables
  • managing your time
  • communicating effectively
  • working with others
  • learning from feedback
  • reflecting on your own learning.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this module. This is an OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning to help you progress to OU level 2 study. 

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

What's included

You'll be provided with three textbooks and have access to a module website which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module-specific teaching content 
  • audio and video material
  • interactive activities
  • assignment information and assessment guide
  • online tutorials
  • access to the Open University Library.

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.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying D113 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Global challenges: social science in action starts twice a year – in February and October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024 and February 2025. We expect it to start for the last time in February 2035.

Course work includes:

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