Exploring Animal Behaviour


The behaviour of animals continue to fascinate us, perhaps because we can recognise many of the behaviours from ourselves. The study of animal behaviour, less than 100 years old as a scientific discipline, has demonstrated that behaviours, similar to anatomy and physiology, have been shaped by evolution. However, at the same time many behaviours show an astounding flexibility that allow individuals to learn and adapt throughout their life.

Thus the study of animal behaviour is not only shedding light on the range of fascinating behaviours found in nature, but it also increases our understanding of our animal companions and ultimately of ourselves. In this course, you will get examples of a wide range of behaviours, while at the same time getting a comprehensive introduction to evolutionary thinking. During the course we wil be using examples from a broad range of animal groups ranging from social behaviours in ants to tool use in crows and chimpanzees through animal personalities and attention in dogs.

You will discover how these behaviours are shaped by evolution and linked throughout the various animal groups. Via brief lectures, discussions and your own mini-project, you will learn how to analyse and understand the behaviours you can observe in the animals surrounding you.

Programme details

Courses starts: 25 April 2023

Week 1:          Introduction to animal behaviour and Tinbergen's four questions

Week 2:          Evolution and adaptation of behaviour

Week 3:          Foraging and decision making in animals

Week 4:          Measuring and analysing behaviour. Introduction to methods and topics for written assessment.

Week 5:          Communication and reproductive behaviour

Week 6:          Social behaviour and kin selection

Week 7:          Learning and memory

Week 8:          Animal welfare, artificial selection and the behaviour of pets

Week 9:          Excursion - Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

Week 10:        Animal cognition and tool use


Students who register for CATS points will receive a Record of CATS points on successful completion of their course assessment.

To earn credit (CATS points) you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee per course. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Coursework is an integral part of all weekly classes and everyone enrolled will be expected to do coursework in order to benefit fully from the course. Only those who have registered for credit will be awarded CATS points for completing work at the required standard.

Students who do not register for CATS points during the enrolment process can either register for CATS points prior to the start of their course or retrospectively from the January 1st after the current full academic year has been completed. If you are enrolled on the Certificate of Higher Education you need to indicate this on the enrolment form but there is no additional registration fee.


Description Costs
Course Fee £238.00
Take this course for CATS points £10.00


Dr Thomas Hesselberg

Thomas is a zoologist who has studied the behaviour of spiders and insects and worms for more than 20 years in both temperate and tropical climates. In addition to his teaching for OUDCE, he is a senior research fellow at the Jersey International Centre of Advanced Studies.

Course aims

To explore a range of different behaviours found in a variety of animal groups, using a scientific approach and an evolutionary perspective.

Course Objectives

1. To get an overview of the different types of animal behaviours.

2. To understand how evolutionary thinking and the scientific analytical approach are applied to the study of animal behaviour.

3. To apply this knowledge to analyse behaviour in animals of your choice.

Teaching methods

The course will be taught via brief lectures, discussions of published research, and small practical activities, including examples of experimental design, and description and analysis of behaviours from recordings. Each weekly class will consist of one or two lectures followed by, or interspersed with interactive sessions. In addition, there will be an excursion to the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens to allow for observations and analysis of behaviours in living animals.  

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be expected to:

1. Be familiar with a range of different types of behaviours found in both lower and higher animals.

2. Understand how evolution has shaped behaviours in the long term through genetic adaptations, and in the short term, through enabling modifications of set behaviours by learning and behavioural flexibility.

3. Have the skills to analyse behaviours and understand the functional reasons behind the expression of these behaviours .

Assessment methods

The assessment will consist of option B:  A mini-project in which the students will describe and analyse a behaviour from an animal of their choice (either via own observations or via online resources) with a discussion of their function and evolution.

In the project or essay (1500 words), the students will analyse a behaviour in an animal or a group of animals by referring to relevant and recent research on the area. The students choose, in agreement with the tutor (outline due in week 5), an area or behaviour that interests them and will then identify suitable online resources or observation methods as well as one or more relevant scientific papers . Alternatively, there will be also be an option to develop an essay-based project (1500 words) for students wishing to explore a more theoretical or general topic (outline due in week 5).

In addition to the credit-bearing summative assessment described above, students will have the choice of completing a formative written coursework  (500 words) to be completed before week 5, where students will describe the behaviour of an animal from a recording found by the student with help from the tutor and analyse it in term of one or more of Tinbergen's four questions.

Students must submit a completed Declaration of Authorship form at the end of term when submitting your final piece of work. CATS points cannot be awarded without the aforementioned form.


To earn credit (CATS points) for your course you will need to register and pay an additional £10 fee for each course you enrol on. You can do this by ticking the relevant box at the bottom of the enrolment form or when enrolling online.

Please use the 'Book' or 'Apply' button on this page. Alternatively, please complete an application form.

Level and demands

Most of the Department's weekly classes have 10 or 20 CATS points assigned to them. 10 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of ten 2-hour sessions. 20 CATS points at FHEQ Level 4 usually consist of twenty 2-hour sessions. It is expected that, for every 2 hours of tuition you are given, you will engage in eight hours of private study.

Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS)