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Human biology: a body in balance

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This module explores human biology, focusing on the science underpinning the structure and function of organ systems. It introduces knowledge of anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, epidemiology, histology, pathology, and science-related mathematics. Throughout the module, you’ll study interactions between the individual and the environment, plus the mechanisms that maintain internal conditions. You’ll also examine how internal and external factors affect the body’s optimal functioning, resulting in disease. In addition to acquiring scientific knowledge, you’ll develop scientific skills, including communication, data interpretation and handling, plus practical and investigative skills.

What you will study

SK190 bridges introductory OU level 1 modules and higher-level study. It develops the core subject knowledge and study skills needed for higher education and distance learning within scientific and related disciplines.

The module comprises ten topics:

Topic 1
This topic introduces the building blocks of the human body, exploring the molecular level up to the organ systems. You’ll learn the importance of homeostasis (balance) in physiological processes and participate in collaborative activities that begin developing your communication and investigative skills.

Topic 2
You’ll learn basic genetics and cell biology by looking at diseases caused by gene mutations and how the environment can affect them, human development and diversity. Additionally, you’ll develop data-handling skills and basic numeracy by investigating eye colour distribution.

Topic 3
This topic introduces the structure and function of the nervous system, including the different regions and functions of the brain. You’ll explore how the nervous system controls movement via the musculoskeletal system and how human senses relay information about the internal and external environment to the brain.

Topic 4
This topic explores the role of hormones. You’ll learn about the hormonal control of sleep, growth, metabolism and digestion, and health consequences when hormonal balance is lost. You’ll also develop a greater understanding of scientific communication using graphs throughout this topic.

Topic 5
This topic covers digestion, nutrition and some of the basic biochemistry underpinning energy production in the body. You’ll also learn about recent scientific advances in the role of the gut microbiome and the gut-brain axis in health and disease. This topic also starts to develop your presentation skills.

Topic 6
This topic develops your understanding of microbiology as you learn about the major pathogens and how two immune system branches fight infection. You’ll also explore how knowledge of the immune system and previous vaccine design led to the rapid development of the COVID-19 vaccines. This topic also further develops your numeracy and communication skills.

Topic 7
You’ll learn about the anatomical structure and physiological function of cardiac and respiratory systems and how these two organ systems work in harmony. This topic also includes a live labcast, where you’ll help design an experiment in real time.

Topic 8
As you learn about the kidney and its role in regulating several important physiological processes, you’ll further develop your understanding of cell biology and biochemistry. You’ll learn about kidney diseases and the widespread impact throughout the body if the kidneys function sub-optimally.

Topic 9
You’ll study the structure and function of female and male reproductive systems. You’ll learn about hormonal control of the reproductive systems at different life stages, including during ageing, such as perimenopause. In addition, you’ll learn about changes that occur during pregnancy and the post-natal period. You’ll also briefly examine how contraceptives can prevent pregnancy, the principal causes of infertility, and fertility-enhancing techniques.

Topic 10
Finally, in Topic 10, you’ll explore the causes and consequences of acute and chronic stress. You’ll then consider the impact of acute and chronic stress on all of the body systems studied across the previous topics.

Entry requirements

There are no formal entry requirements to study this module.

However, we recommend you have some prior biology knowledge.

Are you ready for SK190?

What's included

You’ll have access to a module website, which includes: the study materials, study guide, activities, assignments, forums, online tutorial rooms and other resources. It contains many multimedia materials, including audio tracks, videos and animations, as well as interactive activities, all of which help aid your understanding and consolidate your learning. The module also uses augmented reality and interactive 3D digital tools to help you visualise cells, the brain and the heart.

You’ll use an Interactive Human Body tool to enhance your understanding and learning throughout each topic.

You’ll also receive a printed workbook that will become your study companion. It contains instructions for some assessed activities and provides a valuable tool to support your study and revision. At the start of the module, you’ll also receive a poster and augmented reality postcards introducing some body systems.

Where possible, the materials are also available in other formats – which may include PDF, EPUB, interactive ebook (EPUB3), Kindle ebook and Microsoft Word – to enable you to study on the move.

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 SK190 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

Human biology: a body in balance (SK190) 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.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
3 Interactive computer-marked assignments (iCMAs)
End-of-module assessment