9 Ways to Earn Free PDUs

Woman working at laptop

Tom Merton/Getty Images

If you are a project management professional (PMP), you will need to keep your skills current. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers continuing professional education courses to those who are certified in project management.

All PMI certifications, with the exception of a certified associate in project management (CAPM), require holders to follow the Continuing Certification Requirements Program. The objective is to make sure that your certified competencies stay up-to-date and that your skills stay relevant.

What Is a PDU?

A PDU is a Professional Development Unit. The exact requirements for your particular situation will be set out in the Continuing Certification Requirements (CCR) Handbook from PMI.

You have to earn your PDUs over a three-year period, which starts at the time that you first pass your exam. At the time of writing, the PMP® qualification requires you to earn 60 PDUs in those three years by doing qualifying activities.

It all sounds very manageable, but if you hold a couple of credentials, or intend to keep your certificates valid and active for the rest of your professional career, then the cost of continuing education can soon mount up (don’t worry, this article will help you find ways to cut that cost).

What Counts as a Qualifying Activity?

A qualifying activity is one that is relevant to the PMI Talent Triangle topics, meets a specified purpose and uses knowledgeable resources.

The PMI Talent Triangle covers technical project management, leadership and business, and strategic management.

In other words, most of what you do and see regarding professional development is going to be relevant, but a chat with someone who knows nothing about the subject of project management isn’t going to count.

An easy way to check if your source is "knowledgeable" is to use PMI Registered Education Providers (REPs) but you will often find that these educational bodies charge for their training. Otherwise, use your professional judgment. If the source sounds unprofessional, it probably is.

Can I Get PDUs for Free?

Yes! You can earn PDUs for free. You can, of course, spend a lot of money on attending high-cost training and conferences. Or you can use the suggestions that follow and slash the cost of maintaining your PMI credentials.

Places to Look for Free PDUs

  • The PM Podcast: The PM Podcast is a free podcast (did you guess from the name?) covering all kinds of project management topics include interviews with experts. It offers you 60 free PDUs. Simply download the podcast episodes and listen at your leisure.
  • Attending organization meetings: These will be typically limited to only a couple of PDUs per recertification cycle, but hey, any free PDUs are better than none, right? You can claim a PDU for an organization meeting in certain circumstances, for example, a PMI Chapter event with a speaker. Professional bodies that hold meetings with an educational element, like a seminar or networking event that has a panel discussion or presentation, would count here. Some chapters charge for events, some allow PMI members to attend for free. Check the details with the organizer before you attend.
  • Reading: Yes, you can claim free PDUs for reading! Self-directed reading related to the credential that you hold will count toward your PDU total. There are countless articles, blogs, whitepapers, and books on topics to do with the PMI Talent Triangle themes, so you are bound to find something that is both interesting and meets the requirements of the CCR scheme.
  • Working as a practitioner: Working in your day job allows you to use your skills, and thus improve them. You can record time spent doing the work of a project manager (project coordinator or any other job in a project management field) as long as it’s relevant. So, a two-day company conference on the strategic business goals for the upcoming year wouldn’t count, but time spent preparing for and attending project board meetings, working with your project sponsor, delivering communication material about your project, and so on would all contribute. Be careful to note down exactly what you are claiming for and why it is relevant in your PDU log so that you can justify PDUs claimed for this area if you are asked.
  • Giving a presentation: Time to prove those public speaking skills! Giving a presentation to your colleagues or your local project management community is a great way to share the knowledge that formally and directly relates to your credential.
  • Creating content: Plus, you can count the hours spent in preparing your content! PMI offers publishing opportunities through KnowledgeShelf or ProjectManagement.com and the content you create and publish here (or elsewhere) can count toward your PDU total and will only cost you brainpower and time. Share your presentations on SlideShare or upload a video of your presentation to YouTube. You could write a short text to go with the video and put that on LinkedIn — you probably already have a profile there so you wouldn’t even have to create a new account.
  • Volunteering: If you have plenty of time but not much cash to spend on PDUs, volunteering is a great way to boost your total. There are thousands of PMI volunteers worldwide, and there is bound to be a chapter near you. Talk to your local team and see what positions they have that would be a good fit for your skills. If volunteering for your chapter isn’t something that appeals to you, think about donating your time, in a project management-related capacity, to a local non-profit. If your school PTA needs a hand organizing a big summer event, for example, using your project management skills to lead that piece of work would be something you could record on your PDU log.
  • Training: Most formal training is going to require a financial outlay, but look out for online courses that offer free access. You may also be able to attend training sessions as part of in-person conferences. As long as the material is relevant to the certification you hold, then you should be okay to claim PDUs.
  • Attending webinars: Webinars are often provided by reputable project management training companies and are made available for free, although you’ll probably have to listen to a sales pitch at the end. Check with the organizer about whether or not you can claim PDUs as a result of attending. If the presentation is scheduled for an hour, taking out time for irrelevant content and a question and answer session, you could probably still claim a fraction of a PDU for the educational content that was delivered.

How to Declare Free PDUs

PMI doesn’t care how you got your PDUs or whether you paid for them, so the process of recording and declaring your PDUs is the same regardless of whether they were paid for or free.

Simply log in to the Continuing Certification Requirements System and record your activities. The handy dashboard will tell you how many more PDUs you need to achieve in this current recertification cycle.

Remember, your PDU activity could be audited at any time, and you could be asked to provide justification of your learning and continuous professional development through these routes. Don’t pad out your PDU log with dubious activities. There are plenty of honest ways to learn, develop, and claim PDUs for free as long as you seek them out.