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Introduction to social care

Gain a solid introduction to social care and the role it plays in supporting the independence and wellbeing of those who receive care. Discover the essential skills needed to work in the sector and examine whether a career in social care is right for you. You’ll also understand the importance of informal carers, including their role, the rewards, challenges, and support available to them.

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code



This is a non-credit bearing course.

Study method

Short course cost

Entry requirements

What you will study

Throughout this course, you’ll learn about the nature of care provided to adults and children with differing support needs, including people with physical and learning disabilities, mental health problems, and older people. Practical exercises will help you to apply your new knowledge, and the social learning approach will empower you to further enhance and reflect on your understanding by sharing your thoughts and opinions with co-learners.

Delivered over three easy-to-digest sections, you will cover:

1: What is social care?

  • The purposes of social care and the services provided
  • The underpinning principles of person-centred social care
  • How the specific needs of the diverse range of social care service users are met by social care
  • The diverse range of service providers
  • The current challenges in providing good quality, person-centred care

2: Working in social care

  • What do social care workers do?
  • Who uses social care workers’ services?
  • The essential communication skills for social care workers
  • The practice of person-centred care
  • The principles underpinning safeguarding and professional boundaries
  • Career development opportunities in social care

3: Understanding informal care

  • What informal care is and why do it
  • The essential day-to-day activities supported by informal carers
  • The diversity of the people who take on caring responsibilities and how these responsibilities shape their lives
  • The importance of declaring caring status and why some carers remain ‘hidden’
  • What support is available to informal carers and how is eligibility determined

Please note: the content in this course also features in courses created by The Open University, which are available on FutureLearn.

You will learn

By the end of this course, you’ll have the skills to:

  • identify the guiding practices in professional care and their differences from the activities and experiences of unpaid carers
  • reflect on the experiences of social care from your own and others’ perspectives
  • apply underpinning principles and values used in social care to understand and critique practice situations
  • discuss the relevance of person-centred values to the conduct required of professional care workers
  • describe the context in which social care takes place.

Vocational relevance

Whether you aspire to work in social care or have a personal interest or responsibility for caring for others, this course can help you increase your knowledge, achieve your learning goals and make a difference.

The learning materials have been designed and created by leading academics and practitioners who have delivered world-class learning in this field for more than 30 years. The OU is one of the largest and most innovative learning providers in the health and social care sector, working with employers, including the National Health Service (NHS), social services, and the voluntary sector.

Learner support

There is no tuition on this course and all study is self-directed. Throughout the course, you will have the opportunity to enhance and reflect on your understanding by sharing your thoughts and opinions with co-learners.

Teaching and assessment


This online course is delivered via social learning and includes video, audio and written tutorials. You can learn at your own pace with complete flexibility. Throughout the course, you will be asked to respond to questions, reflect on your experiences and learning, and carry out short exercises to help you develop your understanding.

At the end of each section, you will be asked to answer a set of multiple-choice questions to test your knowledge. You can attempt these as often as you need to. It is important to complete them because they count towards your final score.

To receive a Certificate of Completion, you will need to complete every section and achieve at least 70% in all tests.


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.

Entry requirements

You don’t need any prior knowledge of social care to join this course and the material does not assume you are currently working in a health or social care role. It is ideal for anyone interested in learning about social care with a UK focus.

Whether you’re involved in care work (paid or unpaid), use services yourself, or have a personal interest, this course will help you build knowledge, understanding, and skills, and can also prepare you for further study in this area.

If you'd like to discuss the suitability of the course, please contact us.

Course length

This course will take around 48 hours to complete and you can learn at your own pace. As a guide, if you set aside four hours per week, it would take twelve weeks to complete.

You can begin learning at any time. You will have a minimum of six months and up to 18 months to complete the course, depending on your registration date.


Start End England fee Register
At anytime before registration end date Jan 2025 - see Entry requirements for more detail £180.00

Registration closes 31/07/2024


Ways to pay

Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2024/25 academic year. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules.

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

All learning materials, exercises and activities are delivered entirely online.

Computing requirements

You can learn from your desktop computer or laptop or take your learning with you on a phone or tablet. You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop/laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher. Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all currently supported Android and iOS versions.

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs.