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Death, dying and bereavement

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What shapes understandings of death and dying, and how does this affect the experiences of dying people, bereaved people, those who work with them, and their carers? In this module you will explore the social context of death and dying, considering the impact on end-of-life care and bereavement support. You’ll engage with real life examples which will enable you to think critically about how practice in this area can be improved. This module is relevant to those working with dying people and their families, or anyone who wants to find out more about death, dying and bereavement from an academic study point-of-view.

What you will study

Designed for anyone who has an interest in death, dying and bereavement, this module explores how understandings about death and dying are shaped by time, place and culture, and it will introduce you to approaches and perspectives from across the world. The module focuses on the academic study of death, dying and bereavement. Some learners find the reflective elements helpful in the context of bereavement, however, the course is not designed to therapeutically support people through their own grief.

The learning materials will encourage you to consider how different social approaches to death, dying and grief impact on the way that end-of-life care and bereavement support are provided. You'll be introduced to cutting-edge research and seminal works in this field and have opportunities to engage with powerful real-life case studies. The module addresses important contemporary concerns, while also enabling you to think critically about ethical dilemmas and complex questions of diversity, difference and (in)equality in the provision of end-of-life care.

The module is designed around three key blocks of study, each comprising five learning guides:

Block 1: In the first block, you'll be introduced to the social context of death and dying, exploring what shapes our attitudes towards death and how individual and societal views about death impact upon end-of-life care. You will consider key concepts in the field such as ‘a good death’ while thinking about the role that science and medicine has played in contemporary practices around death and dying.

Block 2: You will look in more detail at the policy context for end-of-life care, and consider how this translates in day-to-day practice. You'll explore how difficult ethical decisions about people’s treatment and support are made, while engaging with hotly debated topics such as Assisted Dying. You will also learn about the importance of communication in end-of-life care, and consider how practice in this field can be improved.

Block 3: In the final block, you'll consider individual experiences of grief, as well as social and cultural responses towards those who are bereaved. The learning guides will enable you to explore and challenge traditional theories of grief and their applicability to contemporary experiences of grief and bereavement. You will also consider how individuals choose to remember those who have died through memorialisation rituals and practices.

Throughout this module you will work with a rich array of audio and visual materials designed to get you thinking and to build your understanding and skills. You will be encouraged and supported to bring together core themes and ideas in a way that is relevant to you and your specific interests. You will be taught quickly and simply how to use ICT to access, analyse and communicate current issues, as well as going online to communicate with other students.

The module will also support you to develop your personal reflection skills - something we believe is vital for anyone working or studying in this field. You will be introduced to models of reflective thinking to support your learning journey on the module, and you will be encouraged to keep a note of your reflections in a personalised study diary.

You will learn

Through studying the module you will not only learn about key concepts in the field of death, dying and bereavement, but you will also develop important academic, employability and reflective skills that will be transferable beyond the module. This module also presents a range of material that will be highly relevant and applicable to different practice settings.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have the study skills required for both higher education and distance learning, obtained either through OU level 1 study or from equivalent study elsewhere.

If you are studying for a Health and Social Care qualification, our OU level 1 module Introducing health and social care (K102) is ideal preparation. However, you don’t need any prior knowledge as the study material for this module is designed to be accessible if you are new to this subject.

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

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course specific study material
  • audio and video content about death, dying and bereavement, drawing on lived experiences of grief and loss.
  • assessment details
  • access to online tutorials and study forums
  • access to teaching and library resources

There are additional resources available on the module website designed to support your online learning. You will also be guided to find and research for relevant resources using the OU 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

You'll have a tutor who will help you with the study material and provide you with some one-to-one support, for example via telephone or an internet based communication system. Your tutor will also mark and comment on your written work, and you can ask them for advice and guidance. Part of your tuition is delivered online through online tutor group activities, so you will have access to your tutor through email and online discussion forums.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying K220 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

Death, dying and bereavement (K220) 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 2028.

Course work includes:

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