Geoff Lawton’s Online Permaculture Design Course: Is it Worth Doing?

Editor’s Note: Registrations have closed on this course. The 2016 course will begin soon. To register your interest head over to

Earlier this year, Geoff Lawton ran one of the biggest online Permaculture Design Courses. It ran for 12 weeks and featured content not normally shown in an average PDC course. What was it like? Is it worth doing and will students gain any lasting benefit from signing up with Geoff to do a PDC?

Handling 12,000 questions from students in a normal 72 hour PDC is probably something that you’ll never experience in a conventional PDC, but it happened in Geoff Lawton’s new online Permaculture Design Course. The course was presented over 12 weeks earlier this year and was fully sold out within one week of being launched.

The number of questions asked by students online was staggering and Geoff did his best to answer each question patiently from all sorts of unusual locations. Whether he was hanging out of a tree talking to an online audience or sitting in a mangrove swamp, Geoff was there to answer each question on video to his online audience. The strength of the course meant Geoff had to be fully committed to his online students. Other paid consultancy work was put on hold.

Susan Lesage accepts her online PDC certificate from Geoff Lawton

The power of a 12 week course

The course was deliberately rolled out on a week by week basis, so people unable to do a conventional PDC could do so at their own leisure over three months. But how successful is an online course like this in producing quality students and giving them the understanding of the design principles of Permaculture? Were they able to implement designs successfully?

According to Geoff, the quality of the course is not evidenced in the teacher, but in how active the students are able to implement the designs after they leave the course. This became evident when some students submitted their designs using YouTube, elaborating on them and giving a tour of what they had constructed over the same period.

As Geoff said:

Well, we’ve had an unusual experience because we tried something we thought was going to be quite special, and the effect was even better than we thought.

I would say we had ten times plus the effect we normally get. — Geoff Lawton

The feedback from students who have completed his 12 week online Permaculture course was incredibly positive.

What made it so special?

We had people who sold their car to take the course, and then ended up with three design jobs and a career and the ability to buy a course afterwards from their consultancy earnings.

The enthusiasm of the students, the questions, the design exercises, the interactions and the views made it special. We could see people running through lecture after lecture and confirming that they wanted to ask questions. They wanted to know specifics and we could provide it.

We could over provide. More than we ever could before. — Geoff Lawton

Geoff Lawton demonstrating the A-Frame
level for online students

Geoff also noticed from online student feedback where more attention was needed. Some students had difficulty understanding specific details of the course and would get confused. Simple concepts were sometimes difficult to comprehend. What is contour? How to use an A-Frame surveying tool? Geoff would film a special segment to explain the detail and use it in the many questions and answer videos that were created to keep people on track throughout the course.

Is online Permaculture the way to go?

Geoff crunched the numbers and realized that teaching small groups of 30 students over two weeks in a real classroom situation could be expanded to teach the many people who were unable to attend his course in Australia.He realised that by providing the information in well presented bite-sized videos of 30 minutes duration and less, people would have time to re-watch and digest the information that so often goes zipping past their heads in a live classroom environment. Students were also able to review the information and ask questions of each video and interact with each other.

Geoff continues:

This is what I really wanted to do. I haven’t been able to do it in 72 hours. It’s the best course we’ve ever taught.

I think the students were very surprised at how interactive and personal it was and how much information can be crammed in with the digital effect.

People were helping each other with the information and sharing their experiences, quickly, rapidly and en masse across the world. — Geoff Lawton

The founder of Permaculture, Bill Mollison, even tuned in from his home in Tasmania to watch Geoff’s lectures. Mollison was so impressed with the course that he offered his own prestigious PDC Tagari Design Certificates to students who were successful in the design exercise course assessment. Over 90% of students submitted a design. A very high percentage for an online course.

“Everybody was very grateful that we provided this kind of course, this kind of detailed information. The level of understanding reached by students was definitely evident in the design exercises.” said Geoff.

Earthworks course

Geoff Lawton’s philosophy is to over-deliver with content so students are given all the tools needed to accomplish the task of earth restoration. Part of the bonus material given to students was an online Earthworks Course when they completed the PDC. The Earthworks course explained the details of dam and pond construction, terraces, benches, spillways, crossing pipes and road-works. It particularly looked at working with excavators and heavy machinery to restore farmland to productivity. This additional knowledge built on the grounding the students received from their PDC and took it to another level.

The proof is in the designs of the students

We had designs that came in from right around the world. We had school sports fields being redesigned for future celebratory events. We had a roof garden in Mumbai in India designed. We had a design for an old Amish farm in America coming in. We had designs coming in from Croatia, Central America, South America. We had designs coming in from some of the coldest parts of the world to the warmest.

Every type of landscape you could imagine was designed in some form in great proficiency and wonderfully explained. Some designs were up to 95 pages in professional explanation.

A lot of the students were extremely talented and will become very good designers. It’s what we need. This course has enabled me to fast track my teaching and get more Permaculture designers and practitioners on the ground.

But the thing is global. It is people really understanding how to think globally but act locally and joining together as a group. A nation of permaculture people, thinking together and helping each other online. — Geoff Lawton

The 2013 online students went on to create their own Facebook page and continue to be very active promoting and sharing their design knowledge from taking the course.

A small selection of student permaculture designs reveal the depth of
knowledge gained from doing Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Course

Age groups

Our age group was quite broad. We went from an eleven year old up to a 92 year old. We actually had a 95 year old who signed up for the course, who had a bit of a health challenge and wanted to take the next one if or when we run one again.

There was just endorsement after endorsement coming in saying this has been a transformative event.

It’s wonderful to have transferred this knowledge through the internet into people’s homes where they can personally watch it and see the transformation. — Geoff Lawton

Whist presenting a lecture at the University of Massachusetts a representative from the United States Department of Agriculture inquired about Geoff teaching his department the online permaculture course. When the USDA becomes interested, you know that Permaculture is being recognised in the mainstream, as the USDA have over 15,000 employees.

When is the next online course?

At this stage Geoff Lawton’s next online course is scheduled to start sometime in the first half of 2014. The only way to be notified of when the course starts is to sign up and watch the free video lessons at Geoff’s website. Geoff’s team will email you when the next course will start. The last course held in May sold out in less than a week. It’s a unique learning experience which brings a new dimension to Permaculture teaching.


  1. But of course it is… The BESTEST thing I have EVER done in my life… Geoff is a GREAT teacher… thank you, Geoff! Cheers from Brazil

    1. I’d like to say first I really do think this is the best PDC you can get for the money. I have for kids in a single income family and even at 897.00 with the the survival podcast support brigade discount it’s just too much money. Perma Ethos will be doing a online video course while actually changing the lives of at least six families forever and many more in the future. At 300.00 dollars to give that many families food security and certify myself I’m sorry to say but if I pass this one and come up with more money in the future I would without a doubt take Mr Lawtons course then.

    2. You know it, Lee! Awesome learning experience. I think my head grew an inch or two just to make the room for the training. I’m also looking forward to taking Jack Spirko’s sponsored PCD. I’m only 40 minutes from the farm that will be used as the staging site.

  2. 3 months of video lecture, online/certificate credentials, lifetime support from PRI PDC Australia, classmates from all over the world, a possible career (aid,consultant,teacher), and knowledge that will stay with you that you can use anywhere in the world. I’d say that was a very good investment in yourself to help the world a better sustainable place. Thank you from Hawaii.

  3. It was the greatest experience in my life! I am so thankful for the opportunity to participate. To read that the USDA is interested… YES! My wholehearted thanks to you all, Geoff and team.

  4. This course, lasting several months, gave me a chance to pause the videos any time I wanted to take notes (lots), draw diagrams or look up unfamiliar terms. Given this advantage over the standard 12-day course, and the fact that we weren’t missing out on any hands-on experience, I’d say I definitely preferred this method. Another point is that it allows us to be taught by Geoff, rather than someone with less experience, who happens to be geographically closer.

  5. How wonderful, and not at all suprising that it went so well. How great to have a week to absorb, and trial what you learn about in each lesson, not to mention a week to talk about it with so many others. I loved my face to face PDC with Geoff at PRI, but was a little overwhelmed by it all… Very interested in the online earthworks – is that available by itself?

      1. Hi Andrew, I didn’t do the course, but how great would it have been to do it again and over so many weeks to absorb everything – would be a great refresher, and motivator to do the course in 2014. How goes your permaculture adventure?

  6. This was by far the best money I have EVER spent on education. The videos, the bonus material, the life changing information was VERY worth the money spent.

  7. I feel I got a great deal with this class. Geoff did go above and beyond what he set out to do! You can’t beat the price for the content and quality you will get!

  8. Agreed that it was the best educational money I ever spent! Geoff way over-delivered in a really GREAT way. I’ve met friends from all over the world in analogous climates and we stay in touch. What a huge learning opportunity and a community-building powerhouse. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this. For those of you waiting for the next class – JUMP RIGHT IN!

  9. This was an amazing experience. Geoff and his team poured themselves into this course. Please, if you can sign up for 2014, do it!

  10. This was one of the best courses I have ever taken and the amount of information was informative and well presented.
    I could not fault this course and I have worked and studied in a University and the amount of work that went into the videos and student questions segments was world class.
    Geoff teaching was up there with some of the leading Professors that I have listened to in their field of expertise.

  11. I have wanted to do a PDC for the last couple of years. I run my own business so taking a week off to do a course is very difficult. When I found about Geoff’s online course I jumped at the chance of doing a PDC which proved to be way better than I anticipated. I already knew the high quality of Geoff’s work via his DVD’s and countless YOUTUBE videos but was still a little unsure as to the detail that the course would go into ONLINE. Boy was I in for a great shock. This course proved to be way better than what I expected from an online training program and the detail of information was at such a high level that i feel super confident that I can design using permaculture principles. It has given me the gift of certainty about what is possible for humanity in the future if we can all make the right changes. Peak oil, food security and climate change are all issues that we worry about and this course has been the catalyst in designing the future for my self, my family and my community. I feel blessed and lucky to have passed the course and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for sustainable, sensible solutions to our current problems.

    1. I’m truly amazed you can afford to teach for free. Please continue to do this as permaculture needs to reach everyone not just those who can afford it.

  12. Christine…it brings to mind the ole adage…”you get what you pay for”. I feel the education was worth every cent I paid for it. I know I received the best from the best…

  13. The course was fabulous. Geoff is a passionate, enthusiastic, and articulate teacher. He’s the most qualified person alive to be teaching this class. I did a PDC in May 2010 that was disappointing. Participating in this PDC with Geoff is life altering. Great lessons are learned even when Geoff shares his mistakes. The experience is never wasted as long as you learn something from it. Geoff deserves an award for patience, as the number of questions he answered was phenomenal. He even patiently answered the same questions …..over and over and over again. Reading that the USDA is considering enrolling their employees is monumental news. WOW! That reassures me that we can solve our problems. Years ago when I watched Geoff’s video ‘Greening the Desert’ it was a turning point for me and I knew right then and there that we could correct our mistakes on the planet. It’s pure inspiration! Thank you again.

  14. The on-line PDC was a very enjoyable way to take the course. The amount of information presented each week was enough to easily digest before moving onto the next slice of information the next week. Watching Q&A on each segment was very useful, it either confirmed what I had learnt or added to my knowledge. Throughout the course I learnt how to work with nature to achieve abundance and learnt a lot about the world around me in general. It was a global event and we saw students from all over the world interacting and sharing knowledge. I am grateful to Geoff for being such a great teacher/communicator and for making the course so enjoyable.

  15. To Christine: There is an old saying, “Don’t muzzle the ox that treads out the corn.” I do not begrudge Geoff the money our family sacrificed to put me in the class. He has a family to feed and aid work to finance, and he put in a lot of time and effort to support our hundreds upon hundreds of questions, both by video response and in the response sections after each teaching video. At one point, he was beginning to lose his voice, because he was answering so many questions during the time that he was also teaching an on-site PDC. He works hard, and he produces active students. To all you potentials out there, if you can swing it, DO IT! I paid more than this for an on-site PDC in Haiti, and I didn’t get to take home DVDs of the course or have online support for any question I wanted to ask or Q & A videos I could watch over and over at my leisure. It’s worth it.

  16. By far the best investment I could have made, a life-changing course that builds confidence not only because of the material, but because of the global experience of the teacher. So happy that more people can experience and propagate this wisdom via online access.

  17. It is highly recommended! Geoff is a great teacher and has a lot of practical experience. Also the videos are of great value, a must have for permaculturists.

  18. As far as I am concerned Geoff Lawton’s on-line PDC was more than worth the investment made, infinitely more. Given my work commitments, I could probably never have found the time much less the additional money required to travel to Australia and do a PDC there. So the opportunity to learn on-line was an absolute boon. Also, given everything I learned during those few short months, I consider it an absolutely invaluable experience. Not only have I been taught by the Prince of Permaculture himself but also gained a huge network of permaculture friends with whom I can continue to interact with and learn from for the rest of my life. Rarely does one stumble upon such a rich resource of readily available knowledge and experience in life, the long-term value of which certainly exceeds by far the initial sum invested. I am both honoured and proud to have been a part of Geoff’s first on-line PDC and can only hope that I can follow in his rather large and somewhat intimidating footsteps, albeit in a small way, and by so doing persuade whomsoever I can that permaculture does indeed have the potential to provide an abundant future for us all.

  19. Yes! I received my Masters degree in distance learning and have taken over 100 hours of online courses. As with any online course, the community of learners is the magic that makes or breaks an experience and I must say this community was fantastic. Of course the material delivered by Geoff was the best in the business and the Q&A videos alone were priceless, but the course forums, facebook groups, websites, etc. created a true community of learners that far exceeded anything I have experienced before. And the beauty is that many of the relationships I developed have continued, and in some cases even expanded, after the course has ended. This course was a great invest of my time and money and I am very thankful for the opportunity.

  20. The course was fabulous and quite engaging. Geoff provided an amazing opportunity for so many people across the globe that otherwise would not be able to attend a PDC and he did it in a way that made you feel you were right there with him.
    I was concerned at first about missing out on the “hands on” experiences you would get in a regular PDC course, but having the DVD’s to watch over and over with my husband far outweigh it. The time and effort that was put in by Geoff and his staff was phenomenal. They clearly worked very hard to make this a meaningful experience for the students. Some of the best money we’ve ever spent and by far one of the best educational experiences ever. Thanks Geoff!

  21. Geoff is inspiring as well as a patient and caring teacher. I am grateful that he offered such an intensive PDC course to we, his lucky students. What we learned will stay with us forever, and the passion that drives Geoff on his mission to teach everyone in the world how to live sustainably has, I’m sure, instilled itself in at least some small way in each of his devoted students.
    Thanks Geoff!

  22. Was very happy when Geoff announced this online course. He is the only person I wanted to get taught by and like some form of miracle he announced he would release a online course, saved me thousands of $$$ in traveling expenses and it felt like our lounge was transformed into a university, only better. Obviously it would have been good to be in the classroom asking questions, however it was still very worth while.Great course by the best teacher. Highly recommended

  23. Simply the best money I have ever spent on education. It is worth more than double what you pay for considering the videos, extra q and a videos and the earthworks course you get. Geoff is truly an inspiring and gifted teacher. I feel honored to have been able to take part.

  24. I did this course and I have to say that this is very practical, applicable knowledge I am already using every day in my (balcony) garden and other projects. Geoff is an amazing teacher. His words are simple, humble and very inspiring. His experience in the field is invaluable. From the bottom of my heart I highly recommend this course!

  25. It was more than worth it; it was life changing. I think the hours (and hours) of Q&A alone meets the price tag. The DVD set will also prove to be an invaluable asset. I really do feel that I learned more important information than I did getting my degrees. And I spent less money on the course.
    The only downside is you miss out on all that great looking food you see in videos of Zaytuna Farm.

  26. The great thing about the course was not how good the teaching was but that my husband was able to listen as well (the computer is in the living room) which means at last we are both on the same page in regard to land care and development. He learns better from seeing and listening rather than reading. I have just not been very effective at trying to explain why I want this done differently. Now I can refer to a video and he can understand both the theory and the practice behind an element. Thank you thank you Geoff and all the team behind you.

  27. This was a great course that I wouldn’t be able to take if it woudn’t be online, because of travel expenses and time. Geoff is really the best permaculture teacher. I got the confidence to put in practice what I learned 2 months after taking the course. Also, the possibility to re-run the videos and understand concepts that maybe were not so clear the first time is priceless. And they were not so clear for me not because they weren’t fully explained but because it is so much valuable information in the course that it was challenging for me to pick all that info at once. Best investment ever!

  28. Yep. Accurate article.

    I have already 29 hours of excavator work digging swales & dams and have planted 100’s of food trees on legume-laden swale mounds, in a wild land setting, and my backyard.

    Excavator is coming in again this week, and I have had discussions about potential design work.

  29. I have tried to find out the price of the online PDC but had no luck, could some one post the price, and if it has been decided, could someone post how much the last one cost? Thanks

  30. I wasn’t able to get in on the first Online PDC that Geoff offered but I am going to be ready to go on this next one. It can’t get here fast enough. I come here and read this article once every couple weeks and it just gets me so fired up. I CAN’T WAIT!

  31. Yes, bring on the next course. I have the money and the energy waiting :-)
    We have a small block of land which we live on and I’ve been staring at it for 4 years wondering how can we make this place grow food for us and to share with others! I discovered the concept of permaculture few months ago so reading a number of books and listening to recordings has been great inspiration but now I want to get started . . I don’t know how :-( start with water!

  32. want to know pdc sked for 2014,am an avid follower of geoff here in philippines and have 4hec.of land overlooking taal lake/volcano calabarzon region.have already rough draft farm plam for this,but i think it would be nice if enroll in geoff`s pdc course and make/submit it as my thesis/project…cant wait till the next pdc,please notify me soon.

  33. We’re going to get PC into Town and Regional Planning in Durban South Africa whatever it takes so any examples of enlightened bureaucracy incorporating it in their planning departments are requested.We have climate and population advantages to lead the world in the Food Forest Races if we can get bureaucracy to the start line! Thanks Geoff for your role in these wonderfully exciting times and the start of “The Community and the Mountain” story.

    1. I live in Sheltered Social Housing.
      Permaculture is ‘Written In’ to the paper word now thanks to a head of department with vision of a way forward.
      I am sending the current free videos to
      staff. Deep raised beds have been installed in the grounds of a recently built Care Home which indicates that little by little the Pc message is getting through. Hope this a a bit of help for you. Maureen B.

  34. Dear Geoff…been studying permaculture for a while…love Bill Mollison…ready to get certified this year and wondering which class to take and where…love your videos…your knowledge and great spirit…we definitely want to sign up with you!!! We have a little 10 acre farm and we are soooo excited and ready to learn!! Sign us up!! Dee and Lisa

  35. I heard today on the Whole Earth Summit that Geoff’s next course is coming up at the end of April.

    I did the last one, it was awesome.


  36. Currently on a 3-6 month Australian road-trip in search of land – with Bill’s design book in hand! So will have to sign up for next year’s course instead – shame!

  37. just wondering if the course would be worth doing even though I don’t have my land yet? Do the design projects require you to have a real piece of land in mind?

  38. Jenny, knowing the basics of permaculture design will inform you as to what sort of property will be best to buy.

  39. Wow! I don’t need to add anything, but will! I was skeptical of the price of the course at first, as it summed up to more than half my monthly income..

    Thanks a million to Jennifer Wadsworth for convincing me to take it! I had to take a loan from the bank to do the course, AND IT WAS WORTH MORE THAN WHAT I PAYED FOR!

    I’m currently implementing a design on a rental property and starting to seriously look at implementing my main design on a 10Ha plot in the desert; and Geoff, Daniel Halsey and their teams at PRI Australia and PRI ShouthWoods are assisting me as much as they can! Hoping to set up a PRI Namibia real soon! MONEY WELL SPENT!!!

    1. Grant – congrats on your plan to set up a PRI Namibia! Please keep us all posted – would love to visit as Africa is near and dear to my heart having lived in Somalia, Kenya and Lesotho.

      All the best – Jennifer

  40. I’ve done a design course in the UK but the Earthworks element of the online course would be very useful as we have just bought a property that needs some “sculpting”. so is it possible just to do this element or to buy a dvd of it?

    Thanks, Paul

  41. I am visiting Hawaii from the 30th Jan-14th Feb 2015. I would very much like to visit the ‘Fishponds of Molokai’ first hand. Please could you send me the address and how can I find it. I would really appreciate it if you got back to me with a response. Thank you for your help in advance.

  42. Hello Geoff,

    I’m planning on being in Jordan next Fall (2015). Will you have another design course in the Al Jawfa, Dead Sea area again in that season? If so, can you send me the dates? And just in case I cannot make it back to Jordan when I hope to, when is the next online course and how much will it cost?


    1. Thanks Jason, but I can’t make any of those three dates. Do you know if they’ll be any other dates for any of those in the Fall of 2015?

  43. It was very well worth it. I took Geoff’s 2014 OPDC and have also taken 2 other PDC’s since then — one local PDC and also a different onlinePDC. Geoff’s OPDC was by far the most informative. Plus you have access to it again and again allowing you to get as much out of the course as your mind can possibly soak in. The Q&A feedback from both Geoff’s video feedback and the networking and communication with other students on the forum is priceless and makes the PDC that much more valuable. It is most definitely a life changing experience.

  44. I have described this course as an intro to environmental engineering. 😊 One of a very few courses that is that life changing experience.

  45. Is the OPDC available yet? I keep getting told it will be starting in January of 2015, but nothing has been released yet as far as I know :(

  46. I’m interested in doing the online PDC but the payment is quoted in USD. The AUD is depreciating daily against it which is making the course increasingly expensive. Are there any other options, please Geoff?

  47. I can’t wait to sign up! I found out about permaculture a couple years ago, watched many videos and read two books on it. Now is the time to take my education to the next level and explore other career opportunities.

  48. I’m really keen to do the online PDC coming up, but I don’t have any land myself. Can I still submit a plan at the end based on some other piece of land? Also, will the course DVD’s be available in a format suitable for Aus as well? Thx

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