Geoff Lawton’s Online PDC Opens February 7! (Plus My Review of the 2013 Course)

Geoff Lawton is running his third online Permaculture Design Course this year, starting February 7! You can find the official course brochure here. (I promise I won’t do too many shameless plugs like this. But both Geoff and Permaculture are awesome enough for me to wax lyrical about the PDC just this once.)

For those who don’t know him, Geoff Lawton is one of the big names in the Permaculture design, research and teaching world. He first took his PDC with Bill Mollison in 1983, and has been involved in aid work, designing and teaching since 1985. He runs the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia at Zaytuna Farm in Northern New South Wales.

I took Geoff’s online PDC in 2013, the first year it was offered. I’d known I wanted to do one for a good five or six years before then – I just never had the money or the time to travel to an in-person course. Regular PDCs are usually run over ten days. Some places will have that as one, two week block. Others schedule classes over a month of long weekends. and can cost $1600 and up. And that’s just for the course – travel time and lodgings can add even more on top.

As an example, my nearest PDC is run once a year, over a month of weekends. The course itself costs just under $1700 and lodging adds another $100-$200. Travel time would be two hours each way. The online PDC, on the other hand, is US$997. No travel, no camping. When I found out it was being offered, I jumped at the chance.

Geoff’s online PDC runs over twelve weeks. And the learning is all self-paced. This is a godsend for people like me, who for whatever reason can’t make it to a regular course. You do need between three and four hours each week to watch the videos and study the course material, but I found that relatively easy to fit in around other commitments.

The videos for each section are released at the start of the week, and you can take as long as you need to watch, rewatch and take notes. I found this invaluable, since I was often joined/distracted by Chipmunk. Being able to pause, rewind, look up things as thoughts occurred, and repeat segments until I got what was being discussed, was more than worth the cost of the course. Even better, you get a copy of the course videos on DVD, plus six extra permaculture DVDs! The extras are known as the “Geoff Lawton collection” and are worth about $40 each (Geoff also sells them separately in the PRI shop).

Geoff also does a Q&A video session (or multiple ones, depending on how many questions were asked) each week, answering everybody’s queries. You also have access to the previous years’ Q&As. I found these videos to be a goldmine of information, both expanding on course content and providing examples of real, live sites and potential design strategies for them. Sadly, they’re only available online – though the 2014 class Q&A sessions can be downloaded as mp3 files.

Of course, being an online course offering, there’s other, online-only bonuses involved too. (Does anyone sell anything online these days without offering bonuses?) The two biggies are the Earthworks Course, which is normally $1200 for a weekend workshop, and Reading the Landscape. I confess I haven’t actually watched the Earthworks Course yet. Reading the Landscape, however, is a real eye-opener. It follows Geoff as he walks several clients’ properties and starts to establish the basis of a permaculture system for each place. It’s got all sorts of neat tricks and tips in it, such as how to find the keypoint of a hill with your feet. It’s a shame that it’s only available as part of the online PDC – it’s the sort of thing I’d happily buy a DVD copy of, the info is that good. It would also be a very useful tool to introduce the design process to non-designers.

Another thing I appreciated was the chance to purchase “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual” at a discount direct from Tagari Publications. This not-quite-600 page tome is both the textbook that the PDC is based on, and the main book that covers the principles of Permaculture design in depth. Mine is slowly but steadily filling up with highlights, sticky notes, and marginalia, and I still get something new out of it every time I browse the pages. (Being able to mark things up is 110% worth having my own copy, instead of having to borrow the library copy multiple times.) The Designer’s Manual is normally $115 plus shipping, but with the discount I managed to snag it for $85 all in.

But I can honestly say that before the PDC, I just didn’t “get” a lot of what Bill Mollison talks about in the Designer’s Manual. The Manual is a very big, very dense book, and puzzling my way through it was slow and frustrating. I tended to skip a lot of sections because I either couldn’t understand most of it, or didn’t think they were as important as the other, more interesting (to me) sections. Oh, how wrong I was. The sections I was skipping (Pattern Understanding and Methods of Design especially) are some of the most foundational to a complete understanding of Permaculture design. Having Geoff explain things, plus a few video animations, managed to shed light on these rather complex topics. I highly doubt I would have been able to puzzle through them on my own. Doing the PDC brought a whole new dimension to my understanding of good design.

I think everyone who has even a small interest in sustainability, gardening, eco-friendly house and settlement design, and pretty much anything that could be considered “green”, would benefit from doing a PDC course. (Actually, I think everyone would benefit from doing one.) The internet is really helping make Permaculture education accessible and affordable, and I feel privileged to have been a part of that. So if you’ve wanted to take a PDC but haven’t been able to, maybe this is your chance?

Registrations for Geoff Lawton’s Online PDC will open here on February 7, and remain open for one week.