Free online courses for international development professionals

It used to be that if you were working in international development and wanted to improve your skills you only had two choices. Either spend a lot of time and money doing a masters degree, or try to teach yourself using whatever old textbooks you could find lying around.

These days if you’re lucky enough to have the internet there are a whole bunch of online (Internet-based) courses you can do any time. Platforms such as EdX and Coursera are even offering free courses from high flying universities like MIT, Harvard and Princeton.

Here are some of my favourite free online courses for people working in global aid / international development:

The Challenges of Global Poverty on EdX

Delivered by two of the top thinkers in international development economics, Esther Duflo and Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, this is a fantastic introduction to global poverty. The course looks at what works (and what doesn’t) based on social experiments in the areas of poverty, education, health and microfinance.

You can take the course at any time, including watching all the video lectures and trying all the exams. However, if you want to receive a certificate of accomplishment you have to take it when it is officially running on EdX.

Update: This course is no longer available. Good alternatives are: Understanding Poverty and Inequality and Poverty & Population: How Demographics Shape Policy

Statistics and Data Analysis Courses on Coursera

Data analysis and statistics are areas where some people working in global aid / international development could use a little (or a lot) of help. There are a wide range of universities offering free courses on these topics through the Coursera platform. They usually run at the same time as the courses at the university and include video lectures, exams, assignments, and sometimes a statement of completion.

The courses range from beginner statistics all the way up to advanced levels. If you’re new to statistics or haven’t done it in a long time try Statistics One from Princeton or Passion Driven Statistics from Wesleyan University. Coursera also has a wide range of courses on other topics, including economics and finance, social sciences, health, nutrition, and the environment.

Management Courses on Learning In NGOs

Learning In NGOs (LINGOs) now called Humentum describe themselves as “a not-for-profit consortium of over 75 international humanitarian relief, development, conservation and social justice organizations that share learning resources and experiences.”

They’ve put together a collection of online courses that are particularly relevant for NGO managers. This includes courses on finance, human resources, leadership, staff security and project management. Some of the courses are available to the general public, but for others your organisation needs to be a member of LINGOs.

Global Health eLearning Center

The Global Health eLearning Center was setup by USAID in 2005. It now has a collection of eLearning courses on a wide range of global health topics. Most of the courses are very short, taking only a few hours.

The courses range from technical health topics such as antenatal care, through to general topics that could be relevant for many programs such as how to use demographic health surveys.

Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Open Courseware

Johns Hopkins have made a lot of the materials they use for their face-top-face courses freely available. The materials are all available to download through the website, including the syllabus, schedule, lecture materials, reading lists and assignments.

However, unlike the more structured online courses in Coursera and EdX it’s up to you to go through the materials yourself. There are dozens of course topics, including Statistical Methods for Sample SurveysInternational Nutrition, and Ethical Issues in Public Health.

For reviews of many other free online courses check out Human Rights Careers

Photo by Elvert Barnes

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About Piroska Bisits Bullen

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Piroska has worked on a range of international development programs involving local NGOs, international NGOs, UN agencies and government. She holds a Ph.D. in public health, has published articles in several journals, and was a speaker at TEDx Phnom Penh. Piroska is passionate about using scientific evidence and creativity to design programs that work.
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