What we’ve learned from our first free PDIA online course

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written by Salimah Samji

The broad principles that underpin the PDIA approach to building state capability are gaining traction in development and policy circles. We recently experimented with an online course as a modality to diffuse the essence of PDIA with the long term objective of creating a global community of practice that collaborates, learns, shares and grows together, ultimately leading to more successful development outcomes.

We offered a free two-part online course entitled, PDIA: Building Capability by Delivering Results. The first part of the course ran for 6 weeks from November 8th to December 20th, 2015. It included video lectures, reading lists, assignments, reflection exercises as well as peer interaction. Here are some stats:

  • 510 development practitioners from around the world began the course on November 8th
  • 58% (295) submitted the assignments for the first week
  • 47% (241) completed the entire 6-week course, spending an average of 3-5 hours a week on assignments.


where they work

One of the course participants wrote the following in his blog, “The highlight of the year for me has been the online course on PDIA set up by the team of the Building State Capability at Harvard.  It was a great idea to set up this free online course to push a bit more the message about PDIA across the development sector trying to reach people like me who kind of felt instinctively that things have to be done a bit differently for projects and programs to succeed but we did not have an intellectual framework to organise the ideas and gut feelings.”

Here’s a summary of what we learned:

  • There is a demand for approaches to do development differently.
  • Development practitioners, who have busy schedules, are willing to work an average of 3-5 hours a week for a course they find useful. Some of them spent 10+ hours a week.
  • Simple, short videos can be a powerful means of instruction.
  • Reflection exercises allow students to internalize concepts and apply them to their work.
  • There is a spacing effect of learning in one’s own environment especially with active experiential learning. Learning concepts in your environment and over a period of time is transformative because some concepts require some time to really sink in.
  • Sustainable change requires teaching teams who work on the same/similar issue.
  • There are two potential audiences for future versions of our course: those who are interested in the meta level understanding of PDIA (breadth), and those who are in the weeds of development and actually want to do PDIA (depth).

The second part of the course is 8 weeks and will end on March 30th, 2016. We plan to offer another round of courses soon – stay tuned!


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