The story of our online learning platform
Article by Jemma Findley, Education Lead
"Championing and broadening the reach of quality permaculture education."
What we are offering now
We’re very happy to say that we now have a series of tested and thorough online permaculture courses available:
- Foundations Teacher-Led Course
- Foundations Self-Study Course
- Free Members course - Connecting with your network (£5 for non-members)
- How to Apply Permaculture - Holistic Design
- Coping with change - A nature based approach
- Online Diploma Registration and Assessment Courses
- Education Members and other networks are building courses on our platform now
- By the time you read this article we may well have more, just take a look at our main course directory.
Get a tour of our online learning platform and Foundations course in this video:
Why the platform came about
Lots of thought led to the development of online learning at the Permaculture Association. Seeds were sown when Andy Goldring, CEO first heard about Geoff Lawton's online Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) and the potential for the UK to do a network approach that drew on all the amazing educators.
When the Permaculture Association interviewed for a new education network coordinator in 2017, I brought strong ideas about online permaculture learning to my interview.
Work really got going on this project in 2017 when I submitted my first project funding submission for an online learning project, learning from the PAB’s experience with the Grow project, a partnership with Dundee University to create the MOOC - Citizen Science - Soil, Seed and Sky.
The vision from the outset was collaboration - Integrate rather than segregate. We wanted to serve the people, our educators, members and wider society and work together to broaden the reach of permaculture.
We have an active network with a wealth of experience. Our educators are well respected globally, with our Certifying Teachers’ Register and Diploma being used by educators worldwide. It seemed like an obvious (if ambitious) move to try to bring this all together for this project.
Benefits of online learning
Permaculture in itself is transformative education, a course can change a person's world view - that’s certainly what happened to me after completing a Permaculture Design Course in 2015.
Work on the BLAST project is supporting educators across Europe to better understand transformative education, especially in the blended learning context.
This is a really exciting time for permaculture education. Permaculture offers solutions to problems faced across the globe, by all people. The idea that we can increase access to invaluable and practical design solutions is heart warming.
However, other online courses appear to be priced high (perhaps due to associations with ‘celebrity’ names), making them less accessible to those with lower incomes. Online permaculture education often felt exclusive- benefiting the few.
“Making permaculture accessible is literally our number one priority. Online learning allows us to reach people that can't access local courses or need to be able to learn in a much more flexible way.”
Andy Goldring, CEO, Permaculture Association
The problem is the solution
Surveying our network showed a clear solution to many of the challenges in both the world and in permaculture education.
The course is a yield of the education role, combining multiple resources - our Educators’ network, our LAND network, the international educators’ membership, our existing web resources and knowledge base, skilled staff members and key education projects, and our existing partners such as the Permaculture Magazine and the CoLab. I began working on a diploma design for the online learning platform.
Small and slow solutions
We’ve used fast iterations with feedback from actual learners to improve and hone our courses as we built them lesson by lesson - the result is a series of courses designed around a diverse range of learners- meeting their needs for maximum and lasting learning impact.
We’ve used a SADIMET framework, but as we’re using an iterative approach, we’ve named this SADIT-MET. Technically, it could be called SADIT-MT-ET-T, as the focus is so much on the tweaking (although a bit more of a mouthful!). And we’re continuing to tweak and improve in this manner based on ongoing feedback from our learners.
As Education Lead, a central part of my role is supporting, collaborating with and marketing permaculture educators. Therefore we highlight the amazing work of our educators throughout our courses, supporting learners to choose the best permaculture educators for them on their learning journey.
Creating this online platform feeds into all of my charitable education work:
- Reach more people with permaculture
- Support learners to see permaculture in practice through the LAND network.
- Improve our membership offering
- Increase financial security for educators
- Support key skills sharing for educators, especially learning new technologies to get online
- Generating funds and support for valuable permaculture projects
- Showcasing the amazing work our network does!
- Revenue from the course provides:
- More time to better support educators
- Greater marketing budget for permaculture courses
- Better education events
- A budget to pay a diversity of speakers for events and on courses
"Excited to be part of a growing movement of people that really have an interest in bettering life, not just for themselves but also for others. I think the free share documents and information makes it really accessible so that anyone who hears about Permaculture can get started without having to spend money on courses or buying information."
- EP, Learner
Building the team
In 2019, we hired an experienced and talented course developer Alex, to support us with this project.
Brand new learning content was custom created drawing from our existing resources, the Education Working Group, the teachers’ guide, Permaculture Magazine and our experienced educators.
We hired a marketing lead, Ewan and we applied to Pimp My Cause for marketing support, where we connected with permaculture-loving SEO specialist Matt.
Marketing was identified by Educator members as an area where they need support, so we have made this a priority. With this team and the wider network, we have the potential to reach a global audience, working with international educators to build quality accessible learning experiences.
“It feels really worthwhile building course content knowing that it’ll end up in the hands of so many people around the world - essentially providing them with tools they can use for the rest of their lives.”
Alexandra Nicoletti, Online Course Developer
How COVID-19 changed things
In March, online learning suddenly became even more important. This became a necessity for 2020 and for the foreseeable future until there is a break in the pandemic. And with everything we’ve learnt, there is a risk that this will not be a one off occurrence.
Fortunately for us, the wheels were in motion already, we had already begun testing in March '20, with our original target date being September '20 in time for our national Convergence. Now nearly all our educators were being forced to move online.
We ended up being delayed by 1 month because of the pandemic, mostly to give us time to respond to the needs of our educators, who suddenly needed more support than anticipated. That delay would have been longer if it wasn’t for the support from the CoLab and its work supporting international permaculture networks.
Luckily as we had taken an agile approach, we were flexible in our content development and could concentrate on the pandemic, holistic approaches to health, and designing for change in the course materials - this was so essential because of how relevant permaculture is to resilience. Adaptation and change became key to our first course - Design For Resilience: The Foundations of Permaculture.
This course equips its learners with design strategies and resilience exercises focused on the COVID-19 and beyond.
Edge Effect & Equity
A huge part of the learning that came about in the first lockdown focused on Black Lives Matter. There are many challenges to accessing education, and lockdown has really amplified these issues. It was clear before lockdown that we had an issue around representation across our video content and across our networks. We had taken strategies to make our course relevant to a broad range of people, such as offering free places to test and develop our course with us, to marginalised groups such as LBGT+, disabled, and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities.
We applied for funding from SHED, to offer free places for minority and marginalised groups on our Teacher Led Course with 1 years’ Permaculture Association membership included to better connect with the network - click here to learn more.
We have made a real effort to include a balance of voices in our courses, but there is much more work to be done. We found it difficult to access footage of underrepresented groups and this highlighted the inequitable state of education and permaculture. With the support of our network, work has accelerated to address these inequities in the Permaculture Association.
We hope with our course we have supported more learners to understand the indiginous roots of permaculture and the importance of creating and finding out about the myriad thriving communities across our planet.
We give thanks to the international educators for their support highlighting permaculture learning in different places and different cultures.
And by getting to know more educators we have been able to support their work in turn. Ian Solomon Kawall, an activist, educator and diversity trainer who I had the pleasure of interviewing for our course, was able to tell me about his Crowdfunder campaign which was then published through our network. May Project Gardens still needs to raise another £7000 towards its goal of £25,000.
"Good signposting of resources and showing examples of a very diverse range of people and places where permaculture is being put into practice, and generous discount on books; Highlighting the essence of the ethics and principles at the heart of permaculture."
- LO, Learner
We have had access to a wealth of resources - working in collaboration with our educators and the Permaculture Magazine, we have developed a really thorough foundations course.
By working with educators using zoom calls since 2018, we have developed solid relationships. We meet regularly, sharing valuable learning around online courses. Many educators agreed to be video interviewed, helping to explain permaculture concepts from their unique perspectives, in turn highlighting their awesome work.
Over time I developed an interview technique to try to get the best out of them in order to consolidate collective knowledge into one coherent course. We have educators featured on our course from all walks of life.
"This course is so full of information that I think it is a resource that I will come back to many times over and for me over and above all that I have learned knowing that there is one place where I can find it all is fantastic. Also, all the downloadable worksheets are a super resource, especially when just starting out. Simple and user friendly layouts."
- CS, Learner
We’ve had lots of excellent reviews for our open access course, and building on feedback with our testers and our educators, we have got to a really strong point.
- Our Teacher led format has sold out for October and January.
- Due to high demand we’re about to start taking enrollments in our new course (running in March 2021).
- Many teachers are planning to deliver our Foundations course as it’s a great opportunity for them to reach new learners with our tried and tested lessons.
- Within 8 weeks after our course launched in October 2020 we had hundreds of enrollments from only advertising within our networks. This is just the start- as people share our courses we expect to see many more over time.
“Permaculture techniques have an exponentially positive effect over one’s life, which is why it’s so important for people to begin their permaculture journey as early as possible. That's why I find it so rewarding working on ways to break down the barriers for learning these essential skills.”
- Ewan Findley - Content and Communications
There is so much more to be done to make permaculture education equitable.
We are aiming to eventually offer 1 free place for every 10 courses sold on our open access course in partnership with a charity working with refugees and others to ensure we make the greatest impact across many demographics.
If you know of a charity that may want to work with us to give away these free places with support for learners, please get in touch.
We want further beneficial collaboration and relationships with members and educators - we want to make this mutually beneficial and offer fresh and novel revenue opportunities for educators in this challenging time.
We want to create a thriving platform that places quality educators at its centre. One that's multilingual, more accessible, and more equitable for all involved.
“Its great to see this new work flourish and all the amazing feedback from participants."
- Andy Goldring, CEO at the Permaculture Association
Gift a course to a loved one, or to yourself!
Give ethically to your loved ones, or treat yourself to a more resilient future. We have a range of courses to help you reach those in your life that you feel will benefit from permaculture education. 100% of the profits go to our charity, supporting the great work we do in education.
A part of this work will be giving away free places to those that need them. But if you would like to gift a place to someone who you dont know to make education more equitable, then please get in touch with me.
Visit our online learning platform to browse all our currently available courses;
"It is a valuable course"
- OC, Learner
We’d love to hear your thoughts on our story, if you’ve got some ideas, questions or comments, please go ahead and contact us.