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