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Environment: journeys through a changing world

Our world is changing fast – we are experiencing pressure from climate change, growing demands for finite resources and the extinction of many plants and animals. Environment: journeys through a changing world introduces you to subjects from the natural sciences, social sciences and technology to develop your understanding of environmental issues and concerns. It shows how people are seeking positive solutions to environmental challenges where you live, in the Arctic, Africa, the Amazon and China. You do not need any prior environmental knowledge to study this key introductory OU level 1 module, just an interest in the future of our planet.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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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
To enable you to make international comparisons, the information provided shows how OU levels correspond to the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ).
1 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

Student Reviews

I thought this was an amazing module, taking you all over the planet from the Arctic, to the Amazon, to...
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'Environment: journeys through a changing world' (U116) is an amazing module. It gave me a really thorough and interesting grounding...
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What you will study

Are you interested in global environmental issues; how living and non-living things interact; how humans are changing the planet and are now responding to the difficult challenges this brings? If you’re looking for a single module that offers a general introduction to studying the environment, then this is the module for you. It provides the ideal foundation for a range of environment, science, social science and technology qualifications or you can study it on its own.

Our interconnected world is changing so fast that people have to work hard to understand and address the environmental issues generated by rapid economic and technological development. Studying this module will enable you to explore how and why different parts of the world are changing; and how people, plants and animals are living within their changing environment. The module will show you how people are striving to manage and protect the many features of the world that we all share. It will help you to make sense of some of the stories that you hear and read about in the media, from wildlife extinctions to plans for new greener cities. By the end of the module, you’ll be more able to follow the debates about environmental issues and play an active part in addressing some of the great environmental challenges of the day.

Studying this module will provide you with the knowledge and skills to help you become more informed about both the causes and concerns of environmental change. It will take you to some of the most fascinating but also important parts of the planet in terms of understanding environmental change.

The module has six blocks – each block focuses on major environmental concepts illustrated by the places you’ll examine.

Block 1: Setting out from Home
This block will be an introduction to the module and to studying. It will start as a personal journey that will equip you with powerful ideas about the place of humanity on a dynamic planet. It will sketch out how we’ve come to understand the most pressing issues of biodiversity loss and climate change. We’ll ask you to carry out your own carbon footprint exercise and consider individual action to reduce your footprint. Using the framework of ‘I/we/they’, we’ll introduce actions at all scales to understand environmental issues and responses – and develop your understanding later in the module.

Block 2: Arctic Approach
This block explores the Arctic – a place that has long fascinated scientific researchers, artists and adventurers. It will help you explore different ways of seeing and knowing about environmental change. We think of the Arctic as a kind of early warning system for global warming and climate change. This block will give you a sense of the different ways in which the scientists who now work there – and the societies who have been living there for centuries – investigate, communicate and experience environmental change.

Block 3: Nile Limits
The Nile river basin is a diverse area of many contrasts. This block explores some of these contrasts and the interdependencies between people and their environment. These can give rise to unintended consequences or conflict, which are also prominent themes. You’ll consider relationships through three important topics. The first focuses on water, including the use of water as a resource. The second focuses on the environmental, social and economic impacts of a fishing industry. The third focuses on wildlife conservation and the mountain gorilla, exploring the tensions between balancing conservation with local community development.

Block 4: Amazon Life
This block uses excerpts from the BBC series I Bought a Rainforest to explore the global and local importance of the Amazon region. You’ll develop an understanding of the Amazon’s ecosystems and the services it provides, including its role as a carbon store and as home to some the world’s richest biological diversity. You’ll also consider some of the complexities inherent in trying to protect the Amazon’s rainforest and the challenges facing its indigenous people.

Block 5: China Rising
The block begins with the geography and political history of China. It brings up to date the economic story of the scale and speed of change in China, including urbanisation, consumption and the rise of the middle class. This block focuses on a few key social and economic issues pertinent to an environmental perspective – particularly in energy and resource use and the transformation of agriculture and diet. You’ll explore environmental degradation and responses to it, including recent shifts towards reducing energy consumption and increasing energy from renewables.

Block 6: Cities and Towns
The majority of the world’s population is now urban, with most people living and working in cities and towns. This block will help you to make sense of urban areas, and understand the importance of cities and towns in responding to climate change (and other changes). Urban areas rely on the movement of natural resources, people and goods. They are epicentres of resource use and producers of waste and pollutants. They need effective water, energy and transport systems to be healthy and workable. You’ll explore ideas and actions that different levels of society can take – revisiting the framework of ‘I/we/they’ – to help make cities and towns more resilient, liveable and sustainable.

You will learn

By studying a range of subjects, drawn from the natural sciences, technology and the social sciences, you’ll become more aware of the contributions each discipline makes to our understanding of environmental issues and concerns. You’ll also explore how people from these different fields bring together their various perspectives to help understand the many interactions between the environment, organisations, and human cultures and values. This sharing of different approaches can lead to new ways of thinking about environmental problems, balancing alternative interpretations and conflicting interests, and generating new solutions.

Vocational relevance

At the same time as studying the environment, you’ll also develop your reading, writing, numeracy, analytical and communication skills. It will help you evaluate information and arguments; interpret and use data in a variety of graphical and numerical forms; use computers for information-searching, communication and software applications; and become an independent learner. Such skills and attributes are highly valued by employers because you can apply them to a wide variety of new contexts.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll have a tutor who'll help you with the study material; mark and comment on your written work; and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. If you're new to the OU, you'll find that your tutor is particularly concerned to help you with your study methods.

We aim to provide group face-to-face tutorials in a range of locations, though we cannot guarantee availability close to where you live. Tutorials are optional but students are encouraged to travel to them. Online alternatives may also be provided, and a recording will typically be made available to students.

Student numbers on the module, and where tutors are based, will affect the locations of where tutorials are held, and what online alternatives are provided. We cannot guarantee that face-to-face tutorials will be hosted in specific locations, or locations that have been used previously. While you're not obliged to attend any tutorial events, you are strongly encouraged to take part.

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


You can find the assessment details for this module in the facts box.

We’ll expect you to submit your Tutor-Marked Assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system.

Future availability

Environment: journeys through a changing world (U116) starts twice a year – in February and October.

This page describes the module that will start in February 2021.

We expect it to start for the last time in February 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.

    Course work includes:

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

    Entry requirements

    This is a key introductory OU level 1 module. OU level 1 modules provide core subject knowledge and study skills needed for both higher education and distance learning, to help you progress to modules at OU level 2. 

    Environment: journeys through a changing world is an interdisciplinary introduction to environmental issues and you do not need any prior environmental knowledge to study this module. It offers a great deal of help with study skills, such as taking notes, writing essays and basic scientific and numerical expressions. By the end of the module, you will be expected to be working at the level required of first year undergraduate students. We would like to encourage students from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible to study with us.

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


    Start End England fee Register
    03 Oct 2020 Jun 2021 £3096.00

    New to OU? Registration closed. Already an OU Student? If you can pay in full by card you can register here until 02/10/20

    06 Feb 2021 Sep 2021 £3096.00

    Registration closes 14/01/21 (places subject to availability)

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

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

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

    If your income is not more than £25,000 or you are in receipt of a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    Ways to pay for this module

    Open University Student Budget Account

    The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

    You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

    • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
    • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

    Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

    Employer sponsorship

    Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

    • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
    • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

    Credit/debit card

    You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

    We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

    Mixed payments

    We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

    Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2021. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 25/09/2020.

    What's included

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

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • course-specific module materials
    • audio and video content
    • learning activities
    • assessment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access
    • access to student and tutor group forums.

    You'll also be provided with a printed essential guide and six printed module books, each covering one block of study.

    Computing requirements

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either an up-to-date version of Windows or macOS.

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying U116 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

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