You are viewing information for England.  Change country or region.

Exploring legal meaning

This module looks at a range of legal research methods which offer different approaches to, and perspectives on, legal meaning – the place and meaning of law in the modern world. The methods covered are doctrinal, historical, comparative, socio-legal, critical and feminist and trans-national. For each one, a case study is used to enable the strengths and weaknesses of that particular approach or perspective to be evaluated. The examples range from areas such as the debate surrounding criminal responsibility of children, to the role of the media in the family courts and measures to tackle international corruption. 


W820 is a compulsory module in our:

W820 is an optional module in our:

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.


Module code


  • 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.
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 postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

Request your prospectus

Explore our subjects and courses.

Request your copy today

What you will study

Through study on this 30-credit module you will develop your knowledge and understanding of a range of legal research methods including doctrinal, historical, comparative, socio-legal, critical and feminist and trans-national. You will consider the strengths and weaknesses of each legal research method through case studies on issues such as decision-making for adults who lack mental capacity, the historical development of the law on abortion, the debate surrounding criminal responsibility of children, the role of the media in the family courts, the use of reproductive technologies and measures to tackle international corruption.

During your studies you will develop and consolidate a range of important postgraduate legal skills. You will use online sources to identify, access, assess and evaluate relevant information, learn to synthesise and apply legal principles in a logical and competent manner and identify, interpret and understand key legal rules, concepts and principles applicable across a wide range of legal areas. Together these will enable you to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each legal research method explored and develop the depth and richness of thinking and understanding expected of postgraduate students in this area.

The module is delivered and accessed wholly online through a dedicated website. It will be possible to download the study materials and read them offline but many of the activities will require you to work online. You will be required to undertake online research. Access to the OU Library and online legal databases are provided as an integral part of this module. You will also have access to the Master of Laws (LLM) website.

Tuition will be conducted through online forums and via online tutorials. Here students and tutors will contribute to the discussion, debate, exploration and evaluation of relevant legal research methods.

You can take this module on its own or as a module of our Master of Laws qualification.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will have a tutor  who you can contact by email or telephone and through the online forums, who will help you with the study material and mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. 

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details can be found in the facts box above.

You are expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

You must submit the end-of-module assessment (EMA) electronically.

The eTMAs are scheduled at regular intervals. Extensive guidance is given on all assignments submitted. There are three eTMAs ranging from 1500 words to 2500 words and the EMA of 3500 words.

Course work includes

3 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

Exploring legal meaning starts once a year – in November. This page describes the module that will start in November 2021. We expect it to start for the last time in November 2025.


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

    To register for this module you must have an honours degree from a UK university or equivalent. Various higher education and professional qualifications are considered equivalent to an honours degree. If you hold a qualification that you believe is an equivalent level to a UK honours degree or if you lack formal academic qualifications but have relevant work experience, please speak to an adviser.

    The module is taught in English, and your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard for postgraduate study. If English is not your first language, we recommend that you seek assessment under the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Please see their website for details.

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


    Start End England fee Register
    06 Nov 2021 Apr 2022 -

    Registration now closed

    05 Nov 2022 Apr 2023 Not yet available

    Registration closes 13/10/22 (places subject to availability)

    This module is expected to start for the last time in November 2025.

    Future availability

    Exploring legal meaning starts once a year – in November. This page describes the module that will start in November 2021. We expect it to start for the last time in November 2025.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    Ways to pay for this module

    We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

    That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    As well as individual support from a tutor you will have university library access (including access to legal databases), specially written online study materials designed exclusively for this module, audio-visual material and access to a dedicated W820 website. You will also have access to the Master of Laws website.

    Computing requirements

    You'll need a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of 64-bit Windows 10 (note that Windows 7 is no longer supported) or macOS and broadband internet access.

    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

    Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and diagrammatic or foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future. Our Services for disabled students website has the latest information about availability.

    Part of this module is delivered through a website and includes online activities. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in operating a computer or the internet and have any concerns about accessing this type of material you are advised to talk to us about support which can be given to meet your needs.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.