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 transnational. 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 children's criminal responsibility, to the role of the media in the family courts and measures to tackle international corruption.


W820 is an optional module in our:


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
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

Through studying this module, you'll develop your knowledge and understanding of a range of legal research methods, including doctrinal, historical, comparative, socio-legal, critical and feminist and transnational. 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 the 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'll 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 online tutorials. 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 phone 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.

Course work includes

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

Future availability

Exploring legal meaning starts once a year – in November. This page describes the module that will start in November 2024. 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 equivalent to a UK honours degree or 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
02 Nov 2024 Apr 2025 £1705.00

Registration closes 10/10/24 (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 2024. 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

Comprehensive guidance and support is available via a module website which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • tutorial access to tutor group forums
  • access to OU library services (including legal databases).

You will also have access to the Master of Laws website.

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.

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.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.

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