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Understanding global development

The new geographies of prosperity, poverty and inequality are creating complex challenges for development activists, practitioners and academics around the world. Meeting these challenges requires advanced understanding, innovative ideas and critical thinking. If you want to build these capacities, then this module is for you.

This module enables you to more effectively understand and respond to development challenges, in whatever context you are working. You’ll be able to reflect critically on dominant approaches to development and explore development alternatives, enhancing your capacities to negotiate development effectively and work towards more socially and environmentally sustainable futures.

Vocational relevance

The module will have particular relevance for you if you are working, or want to work, in development-related fields in the UK or around the world. It serves as a gateway for anyone for who wishes to enter the field of global development and as a challenge to the thinking and practice of anyone who is already established in the field. With its breadth of focus across development theory and practice, the module is designed to equip you with the capacities to undertake a wider range of careers in development-related fields, including in academic and applied research, the design and management of development projects and interventions, and development policy analysis and formulation.


DD870 is a compulsory module in our:

DD870 is an optional module in our:

Some postgraduate qualifications allow study to be chosen from other subject areas. These qualifications allow most postgraduate modules to count towards them. We advise you to refer to the relevant qualification descriptions for information on the circumstances in which this module can count towards these qualifications because from time to time the structure and requirements may change. 

Excluded combinations

Sometimes you will not be able to count a module towards a qualification if you have already taken another module with similar content. To check any excluded combinations relating to this module, visit our excluded combination finder or check with an adviser before registering.


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
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Find out more in Why the OU?
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

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What you will study

This module focuses on the key theories, approaches, and challenges shaping contemporary development. You'll explore the major development issues of our times, including migration, socio-economic security, environmental sustainability, technological change, and the politics of development, and examine the global frameworks shaping our responses, most notably the Sustainable Development Goals.

You'll be provided with a comprehensive and critical overview of dominant development thinking and practice, as well as gaining exposure to new approaches that recognise the global nature of contemporary development issues and the challenges they pose to ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries alike. In exploring development practices and processes across the global ‘North’ and ‘South’, you'll be equipped with the conceptual tools to critically understand and respond to key development issues. This will involve recognising the importance of taking a historical perspective and being attuned to the different scales at which development unfolds, from the local to the global levels. Questions of power and agency are also central to this, enabling you to comprehend and negotiate the contested nature of development and the ways in which change occurs.

This module balances development theory, policy and practice, using case studies to reveal how development thinking, interventions and processes operate in diverse and challenging contexts. There are five main blocks of study that build on one another to deepen your learning as you progress through the module as follows:

Block 1 introduces you to the latest debates on global development thinking and practice, highlighting how contemporary development challenges are increasingly seen to be global in scope, connecting and affecting countries across the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ worlds.  The block moves on to critically examine the SDGs as the leading example of global development thinking in practice, asking what constitutes a global development challenge, who decides, and how responses are formulated. Crucially, it ends by introducing an analytical framework based on concepts of Power, Agency, Scale and History (PASH) as a key tool for understanding and responding to major development issues explored through the module.

Block 2 builds on this by further developing the Scale and History elements of PASH and using them to explore the key development issues of socio-economic security and migration. In doing this, it critically examines the analytical value of different historical and scalar approaches and how they can be used to understand global development issues, such as migration and socio-economic security, as   processes occurring at a range of intersecting scales (from the individual and household to the international and global) and shaped by historical events and economic models such as structuralism and neoliberalism.

Block 3 follows by developing the Power and Agency elements of the PASH analytical framework and uses them to explore the key development issues of environmental sustainability and technological change. It looks at the major theoretical ideas and perspectives underpinning notions of power and agency and how these can be usefully employed in analysing the inherently contested political processes shaping development issues and attempts to make change happen.

Block 4 brings together your learning from Blocks 2 and 3 to explore how the four elements of PASH intersect and can be utilised together in making sense of and responding to global development challenges. It does this through a particular focus on the key development issues of the changing international politics of development and the politics of making change happen through development  interventions.

Block 5, as the final black, provides space for you to review and consolidate your learning from the module, allowing you to look back on what you have learnt and forward to the future of global development. 

Woven throughout these blocks is a comprehensive skills development programme that equips you with both the capacities to study at postgraduate level and the ability to independently examine and critically interrogate development thinking, policy and practice. You will have opportunities to develop and practise digital literacy and academic writing and reading skills and also to create a network of peers. You will be part of a cohort of development scholars and practitioners around the world and your collaborations and debates with peers will be an important part of your development as a reflective critical problem solver.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

This module provides the support and guidance needed for distance learning students to work at a postgraduate level potentially for the first time and provides the academic skills to enable them to progress through this module. You will be a member of a tutor group and have a tutor who will work with you and your group while completing the module. There will be a number of ways that you and your tutor can stay in touch: by email, phone and through the tutor group forum. The tutor group forum also gives you an opportunity to meet the other students in your group and a space in which you can discuss key issues arising from the module. Your tutor may also flag up issues to the whole group – whether about module content or points of information about the study process. Your tutor will also organise online tutorials. You will receive communications about the schedule for these from your tutor or OU regional office. Finally, the tutor will mark your assignments and give feedback on them.

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 above.

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

Course work includes

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

Future availability

Understanding global development (DD870) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2021. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.


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.

    Entry requirements

    There is no educational requirement for this module. It will beneficial if you hold a bachelors degree from a UK university, or the equivalent. If you do not have a degree you will need to be adequately prepared for postgraduate study. Your spoken and written English must be of an adequate standard as you will be required to write essays and reports at a high level, to undertake work with numerical data, and to understand and apply scientific principles.

    If you are unsure whether your previous study or experience will sufficiently prepare you for this module, please contact us for advice.


    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 2029.

    Future availability

    Understanding global development (DD870) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2021. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2029.

    Additional costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

    Ways to pay for this module

    We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

    That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

    Study materials

    What's included

    The study planner forms the central spine of the module website and structures your study week by week. It contains the teaching material, which include readings and audio-visual materials. The activities in the teaching material will often ask you to reflect on your own experiences. At certain points you will be asked to share your comments and views with other students on this module and your tutor.

    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

    Written transcripts of any audio components and Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader (and where applicable: musical notation and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way). Other alternative formats of the module materials may be available in the future.

    If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Disability support website to find more about what we offer.