When it comes to choosing the best online permaculture design course, quality design of the course structure is paramount, as the lack of a physical classroom can make it hard to get in the studying groove.
Take it from me- I was looking for an extremely detailed, top-notch course to take while working a 40+ hour per week job and maintaining a decent work-life-education balance.
After spending many hours reading reviews and course promotions, I finally settled on Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course 2.0. And boy did I make the right choice!
In order to help you make the decision to commit your hard-earned money and more importantly your time to a course, I decided to write up a testimonial and long-form review of Geoff’s course- what I liked, why I liked it, what I learned, and what I’m up to now.
I also filmed a short video testimonial if you’re more into brevity, which you can find below.
Geoff Lawton’s Online Permaculture Design Course
As I mentioned above, one of the most important things for me when looking for the best online permaculture design course (OPDC) was a well designed structure. With limited time in my busy life, each and every minute I commmited to the course had to be well spent to make it worth my time.
Geoff’s OPDC delivers on that front. The course is divided into 14 modules that follow the chapters of Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual- the cornerstone and original manual on permaculture design. Geoff was actually one of Bill’s most dedicated students and uses Mollison’s work as the backbone for his course.
Now, when I say the modules follow the permaculture designer’s manual (PDM), I mean it. Most of the chapter headings and subheadings within the book are used almost word for word (with permission!) in the course. Since Mollison’s PDM is still the foundation of most quality permaculture education, you know immediately that Geoff’s OPDC is legit.
If you’ve ever tried to read through Bill’s PDM, you’ll know that the level of detail within the text is daunting. Tiny print spread over almost 600 pages with somewhat dated language can make it a challenge to get through.
Well, Geoff takes all that material chapter by chapter and somehow makes it seem like obvious knowledge through filmed blackboard presentations and animations. His way of describing complex topics in simple ways makes it easy for anyone interested in permaculture to understand, whether you’re an amateur or complete novice.
But why take my word for it? Check out this lecture pulled straight from the course on one of the most complex topics in permaculture- pattern understanding.
Each module is released weekly over approximately 6 months according to a syllabus with strategic catch-up weeks included. If the module is particularly loaded, sometimes only a portion of the content is released so as not to overwhelm the students with the sheer volume of education.
Modules are usually released every Friday knowing that most people taking the course are also working a full time job during the week.
Once the content is released, students have the whole week to watch through the module, rewatch if desired, take notes, and come up with questions on their own schedule. Usually the content released equates to about 6–10 hours of lesson time including watch time, notes, questions, etc.
Questions & Answers
Below each section within the module is a comment section powered by Disqus where students can ask specific questions based on the video lesson or animation. These questions are answered remarkably quickly by a team of permaculture teaching assistants (TAs), allowing students to get quick answers to their questions no matter where they are in the course.
The comments section is often where I solidified my understanding of the content presented by reading through questions posed by other students, adding my own, and reading through the detailed responses by Geoff and the TA team. I would constantly be checking the comment sections whenever I had time to see what new knowledge was there to be gained.
Any repeated questions or those that would be useful to overall student understanding are added to a list of questions that Geoff personally answers weekly through a separate q&a video. This video is released each Friday with the module release, giving students the opportunity to revisit past lessons to solidify understanding before moving onto the next module.
The q&a videos are sometimes longer than the actual video content of the module, showing how much care and attention the team puts into student understanding. The q&a recordings are also offered as downloadable audio files, allowing you to save them and listen to them during your commute or at your leisure throughout the week.
At the end of each module are two extra sections to help students check in on their understanding.
The first of these is a knowledge check- basically a quiz that covers the content from the related module. These quizzes are not graded, but allow the student to see what topics may need a second viewing or review before moving on to the next module.
The second is a list of practical activites that help students to put into action the information gleaned from the relavant module. These can be as simple as an observation activity or more hands-on like building an a-frame level to measure contour aross a landscape.
After going through the module, asking questions, hearing the responses, taking knowledge checks, and doing practical activities, I personally felt more and more comfotable with my understanding of permaculture as the course went on.
One suggestion I have if you are planning on taking this course is to watch each video in the module casually, perhaps while eating or in the background to wrap your head around everything covered that week. AFTER that, go back and watch through the videos a second time while taking detailed notes.
I found the first watch to be an introduction and the second viewing more like the actual lesson. This double watch really aided my understanding of the concepts being taught, as there is SO MUCH information being shared in the course that I found I was able to hear more details on the second watch through that I may have missed the first time.
One of the main reasons I believe that this is the best online permaculture design course is the level of community interaction that Geoff and the team are able to provide despite not being an in-person course.
I find it’s easier to learn new subjects when I have other students to bounce ideas off of and interact with.
Well, this is included in the design of the course via a private facebook group associated with the course. All registered students are able to join the private group and interact socially outside of the actual course platform.
Within the Facebook group, students share the projects they’re working on, questions they have that don’t pertain specifically to the lesson content, and helpful resources or articles found while moving along their permaculture journeys. I even managed to meet up with a few of the students from my cohort that lived in the same area as I did during the course!
A group of TAs also monitor the facebook group to give helpful hints and words of wisdom, though the group is primarily geared towards being a student-led discussion, knowledge share, and community interaction.
Within the course platform itself, the teaching assistants spend countless hours answering questions and interacting with students using the Disqus comment platform. Each and every comment within the course is read by a TA and responded to (if a response is warranted).
I found that the interactions with the TAs in the course took my level of understanding from the main lessons and amplified it, allowing me to understand concepts that I wouldn’t necessarily fully understand just by watching the module videos. I also became friends with quite a few of them!
The level of knolwedge that Geoff and the TAs bring to the table speaks to the quality of the content alone.
On top of that, the actual digital media content within the course is top notch. Filmed and edited by professional content producers, the audio and videos within the course are of the highest quality, making watching and listening to the lessons enjoyable instead of cringeworthy like a lot of online video content.
On top of that, each module contains supporting animations that cover topics within the lesson that are easier to show off-camera. The animations are beautiful and fun to watch while reinforcing the understanding of the course content in short, bite-sized pieces.
When filming the q&a videos, Geoff has a camera crew with him to be sure that even the unique course content is well produced and worth listening to.
Final Design Exercise
Once all 14 modules have been released and watched, the final step is to show your understanding of the course content through the Final Design Exercise (FDE).
Developed over years of experience in permaculture design education and consultation, Geoff’s approach to design is neatly packaged into a PDF form that guides students step by step from initial client brief to a full fledged design.
The FDE form is divided into 4 main sections, and Geoff walks you through each in a video instruction just like the course content. If any questions remain, the comment section below these videos is monitored by the TAs throughout the 6 month window to complete and submit your final design exercise.
That’s right. Geoff and the team give you a full 6 months to complete your design, allowing pleny of time for reasearch, site visits, or anything else you need to get a grasp of the information needed to complete the design. During these 6 months, you still have access to all of the course material to revisit for inspiration or to review key concepts you’ll need to complete the FDE.
Within the final design exercise guidelines are examples of FDEs from previous students that received their permaculture design certification from Geoff. These resources are a boon when you’re trying to put together the requisite maps and detailed information before submitting your design.
If you’re stuck at any point or need some help along the way, Geoff and the TAs are available and committed to your success and are there to help guide you through the process.
Once you’ve submitted the final design exercise, the FDE review team thoroughly reviews your submission and assesses course understanding and soundness of design. If your design isn’t quite up to par, an email with feedback is delivered detailing what you missed or what needs to change in order to pass.
Once your design merits a pass, a digital permaculture design certificate is delievered to your email accredited by the Permaculture Research Institute, one of the most renowned permaculture organizations in the world. And thus continues your permaculture journey.
My Personal Course Outcomes
Now that I’ve given you my full review and testimonial, I wanted to share a bit about what I’ve gotten up to since taking Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course.
Backing up slightly, before taking the course, I worked onboard cruise ships as a theatrical technician and began to recognize the massive amount of waste and pollution these floating cities created. I needed a change, so my buddy and I took a backpacking trip through Africa in 2015. While work trading in South Africa on a small homestead, we learned of permaculture through our host who happened to have taken Geoff Lawton’s first online permaculture design course. This experience changed the trajectory of my life, and permaculture became a new obsession (aka passion).
I completed Geoff’s OPDC in 2017. The knowledge and practical skills I gleaned from the course helped me carry out my job at the time as lead grounds technician at a nonprofit organic farm. While there, I also helped form a local non-profit club dedicated to permaculture education within our city and county.
In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria slammed the island of Puerto Rico a decimated the island. Having ties to the island through childhood and the fact that my mom lives there, I took 3 weeks leave to visit and help with the recovery. While there, I recognized a need for permaculture thinking and a desire from people to learn more on the subject of self-reliance and food production.
When I returned home, I chatted with my partner Katy and we decided to move to Puerto Rico the following year! We’ve been on island since the beginning of 2019.
Now, I’m helping my family here develop food security through food production systems on their 6 acre tropical homestead. I also work with a local non-profit dedicated to teaching local communities how to grow their own food.
Geoff often says that a good permaculture teacher creates other permaculture teachers. Well I’m here to tell you that is certainly the case. Staring in 2019, I started serving as a teaching assistant for Geoff’s online permaculture design course. This is perhaps the most rewarding and educational roles I’ve played so far in my permaculture journey, and I hope to continue serving future students in the years to come.
I’ve also started this website, of course, and a youtube vlog where I’m sharing what I’m doing here in Puerto Rico, including growing my own food and raising chickens in my small backyard. You can check it out here.
Wrapping up- The Best Online Permaculture Design Course
I hope this review/testimonial has helped you with your decision process for which online permaculture design course is right for you. If you have any questions for me personally or want some more information about Geoff Lawton’s online permaculture design course, please feel free to comment below or head on over to my contact page.
If you’d like to sign up for the course, you can use my affiliate link (or any of the links to the course page in this post) to support this website and what I’m doing here and in the vlog.
Thanks for reading!
NOTE: As mentioned above, all of the links to the course used in this post are affiliate links. If you purchase the course using one of my links, I may receive a commission, which helps support running this site and my vlog. Thanks!