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Understanding criminology

This module introduces you to the many ways criminologists seek to explain crime, victims of crime and the role of criminal justice. Through the use of engaging topics, each study week begins with examples of crimes or criminal justice problems that you may recognise from the news, other media outlets and popular culture. It will gently introduce you to different criminological concepts and theories and you'll actively engage and explore these through the use of virtual learning environment activities and written assessment. You'll become equipped with the skills needed to understand theories and concepts about crime, and will advance your understanding of everyday social issues that may influence crime and victims of crime.

Modules count towards OU qualifications

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).
2 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Entry requirements

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What you will study

The module is organised around three strands: ‘causes of crime’, ‘responses to crime’, and ‘thinking beyond crime and criminal justice’. You'll be introduced to questions such as ‘What is crime? Who is a victim? What is criminal justice? Who defines crime? Why do certain behaviours come to be defined as ‘criminal’? What are the limitations of criminology for explaining things that are unjust or harmful? What other ways are there of thinking about crime and criminal justice?

Block 1 gives you a brief overview of these questions in criminology and you'll begin to think about some of these at a very basic level through a film about sex workers and a film about imprisonment.  

Block 2 begins with some examples of the causes of crime and criminal justice responses. You'll be introduced to the main theories and concepts surrounding the causes of crime and explore the primary role of criminal justice.

Block 3 starts with the primary question why are some actions and behaviours considered to be criminal, when other harmful actions are not deemed to be criminal. You'll look at who defines crime and how is it enforced. In this block you'll also consider the role of the victim in criminal justice systems and explore the key issues surrounding their inclusion and exclusion. Other aspects of criminal justice such as ‘community justice’ and ‘policing’ are also explored.

Block 4 considers the limitations of criminology for thinking about other harmful actions that fall outside the gaze of crime policy and practice. Here you'll explore physical harm and injury caused by ‘structural violence’ and you'll also be introduced to the notion of ‘invisible crimes’ and ‘invisible victims of crime’.

This module will build on the knowledge and skills you have gained at OU level 1 study and will further develop your skills.

It reflects The Open University’s commitment to developing modules that span and integrate a range of learning outcomes across the areas of knowledge and understanding, cognitive (analytical) skills, key skills of communication and information literacy and lifelong learning, and practical and professional skills. The development of these skills is embedded within every stage of the module and you will be supported in progressively developing these.

Vocational relevance

This module is relevant to a wide range of jobs in the public, voluntary, community and commercial sectors. The areas and themes the module looks at are directly relevant to a variety of jobs in public administration, social welfare services, criminal justice services, community support services amongst others. The analytical and key skills you will develop are relevant to any job context. Amongst the ‘transferable’ skills you will develop are: the ability to identify, gather, analyse and assess evidence; present reasoned and coherent arguments; write clearly in a range of styles such as essays for an academic audience and briefing paper for a non-academic audience; group work; apply learning to non-module provided examples and situations; and plan and reflect on your own work and learning.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be assigned a tutor who will give you advice and guidance throughout the module. They will help you with the study materials, as well as mark and comment on your written assignments. . Your tutor will also support you with the activities and collaborative work.

We aim to provide online tutorials. Recordings of these will typically be made available. While you’re not obliged to attend any of these 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.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

Future availability

Understanding criminology starts once a year. This page describes the module that will start in October 2021. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2027. 


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:

    5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
    1 Interactive computer-marked assignment (iCMA)
    No residential school

    Entry requirements

    This is an OU level 2 module and you need to have a good knowledge of the subject area, obtained either through OU level 1 study or by doing equivalent study at another university. Our key introductory OU level 1 module Introducing the social sciences (DD102) gives an excellent grounding for this module.

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

    Preparatory work

    There is no requirement for you to undertake any specific preparatory work prior to starting this module. However, you could read Criminology by Tim Newburn, which sets out the different ways of understanding crime, victims of crime and criminal justice or watch the films Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore (2002) which explores the causes of a high school massacre and gun violence and Monster by Patty Jenkins (2003) which tells the story of a woman who was executed in Florida, in 2002, for killing six men.


    Start End England fee Register
    02 Oct 2021 Jun 2022 -

    Registration now closed

    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2027.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer 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 2022. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 28/09/2021.

    What's included

    You’ll also be provided with two module text books and a module website which includes:

    • a week-by-week study planner
    • module materials
    • audio and video content
    • assignment details and submission section
    • online tutorial access.

    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

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DD212 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.