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Educational aims

The learning outcomes are described in four areas. Within these areas we emphasise achievable outcomes for students from diverse backgrounds, who have chosen a broad-based Diploma of Higher Education in Combined Social Sciences and who are learning at a distance.

Learning outcomes

The qualification provides opportunities for you to develop and demonstrate knowledge and understanding, qualities, skills, and other attributes in the following areas:

Knowledge and understanding

When you have completed this diploma, you will have knowledge and understanding of:

  • key concepts, theories and debates distinctive to one or more academic disciplines within social science and related subjects
  • the contested and/or social nature of knowledge and a critical stance towards taken-for-granted understandings of the social world
  • the significance of different value positions in conflicting arguments
  • how the tools and knowledge of social science and related subjects can contribute to an understanding of issues of ethical, social, political and public concern.

Cognitive skills

When you have completed this diploma, you will be able to:

  • identify and review different finds of evidence across a broad range of disciplines or subjects, and cohesively integrate them
  • demonstrate awareness of contrasting/conflicting approaches and explanations
  • understand a range of frameworks and methods used in social science and related subjects
  • present arguments, evidence and conclusions in a way that is suitable to one or more disciplines within social science or related subjects
  • work with conceptual frameworks and be able to critically discuss and engage with arguments at a theoretical level.

Practical and/or professional skills

When you have completed this diploma, you will be able to:

  • identify and reflect upon the value of skills that are highly transferable to broader contexts such as the workplace: the selection and evaluation of suitable evidence from sources materials; critical analysis; working collaboratively; and writing concisely to address a question or a problem.

Key skills

When you have completed this diploma, you will be able to:

  • search for, select and interpret material from a range of sources within a defined context, including original/primary material some of which is found independently
  • select and use information and knowledge presented in visual/statistical/numerical data (e.g. Maps, images, graphs, diagrams, charts, tables) within the context of a defined problem
  • produce written work that coherently integrates a range of materials and concepts in order to create a logical and substantiated argument
  • competently retrieve and prepare information using ICT, including searching and evaluating online sources, electronic databases and interactive electronic communication.

Teaching, learning and assessment methods

Knowledge and understanding are acquired in a number of ways. Across its range of modules, the study materials may be in a variety of media, such as published distance learning materials, including specially written study materials, study guides and module companions, assignment and assignment guides. Learning is also organised through a range of multimedia material and through feedback on assignments.

The study materials incorporate questions to encourage you to interact with the topics under discussion, practise argument and establish your understanding and ability to evaluate and apply information, theories and opportunities for discussion (face to face, online or via telephone) with your tutor and fellow-students, to help you to test out approaches to the various kinds of subject matter.

There is an opportunity for specialising in a particular area of academic knowledge within this diploma, allowing a depth of study and knowledge to be developed – depending on which modules are chosen you could specialise in a particular subject such as geography, sociology, economics, social policy/criminology, economics and psychological studies and politics.

Assessment is via tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) and an end-of-module assessment (EMAs) or examination, as well as interactive virtual learning environment (VLE) assessment tools.

Basic quantitative and qualitative ways of finding and using information and knowledge are recognised (in study materials, VLE-based exercises and assignments) as integral to the construction of sound academic arguments. Assessment criteria for assignments emphasises these as skills of providing supporting facts for arguments as well as contestable forms of knowledge in their own right, framed by theoretical perspectives that may not always be explicit.

A wide range of multimedia formats and VLE tools are used that incorporate the range of cognitive skills being developed and taught.

Cognitive skills progress from critical understanding at Level 1 through an ability to compare, contrast, and synthesise across a range of theoretical perspectives at Level 2. Level 2 taught and assessed skills include the evaluation of research methods in relation to social sciences argumentation and in relation to a particular social problem.

Key skills are developed and demonstrated at the different levels of the qualification.

At Level 1 there is considerable emphasis on reading, writing and note-taking skills and this is reflected in the study materials, assessment strategies and tutor feedback on assignments. Reflective learning is built into Level 1 modules in order to support your awareness of how you are learning and how you can improve your attainment of key academic skills by best use of the resources around you. At Level 1, you are also introduced to a range of ICT skills.

At Level 2 key skills become more advanced. More complex skills of interpretation, critical judgement, selection and synthesis are required. Understanding and working with a more complex and various ranges of sources and different kinds of evidence at Level 2 will develop key analytic skills. Independent learning is firmly embedded at Level 2: you will be encouraged and rewarded to search for and deploy information by yourself, within contexts defined by the module team. Information literacy skills that develop independent learning are taught specifically in the compulsory Level 2 module, and will provide a stepping stone into the full independence required for Level 3 study.

The acquisition of these skills is developmental and cumulative. Personalised support and feedback from tutors and other OU staff will enhance learning in these areas. Being able to engage successfully with, absorb and creatively use critical feedback on assignments is a key part of the learning process at Level 1 as are presentations, as well as essays.

With support from tutors and other OU staff, as well as using resources such as the social sciences subject website and careers resources, you will be able to consolidate your study towards this diploma by planning steps towards a further study goal – an honours degree.