In-Person vs. Online PDC

As you’ve probably already read, not all Permaculture Design Courses are the same.  They should cover the same “core” topics, but how that happens varies wildly.

One of the most extreme examples of this difference is represented in the comparison between Online and In-Person PDCs, just as with many other types of education now offered in digital form.

Online Permaculture Design Courses

These have a place in the “educational ecosystem” of permaculture and are suitable for certain people and certain circumstances.  If you have a schedule that simply cannot accommodate a live course schedule, if you prefer to work primarily on your own, if the “community” and local network aspect of a live course is not a priority, then by all means…you should consider an Online PDC.   Remember – that even Online PDCs vary!  We are very happy to give you advice on which online courses are worth taking and which are a waste of your time (or worse!). There are currently only about two or three in North America that are designed and offered by trusted colleagues that we would recommend.

In-Person Courses

Every approach has pros and cons.  While in-person courses require you to be in a certain place and commit to that schedule and also require you to interact with other people (good for some, uncomfortable for others!), there are certain advantages to this format.

If you value the following, then a live, in-person course is probably a better match for your needs:

  1. The ability to learn from, and with, local experts and experienced professionals who are doing permaculture design and implementation right here in the Northeast, in this ecosystem, with these plants and conditions.
  2. Depending on where your take your course, learn directly with/in the ecosystem in which you plan to practice.  Understanding local climate, soils, plants and culture are invaluable for many who are planning to “put down roots” and establish a relationship with a particular place.
  3. Hands-on work with others who also bring expertise to the material.
  4. The ability to connect with a network of your classmates, facilitators, guest experts and field trip hosts which would become part of your ongoing “community of practice” into the future.
  5. Being able to ask questions real-time, put your hands into the work and visit a set of field trip sites chosen to bolster your learning experience.
  6. Be able to experience a participatory and effective learning environment with experienced facilitators who model permaculture in HOW they teach as well as being.
  7. Learn skills for doing permaculture collaboratively since it is highly likely that the permaculture you do after this class will involve other people!
Student Feedback on In-Person vs. Online PDCs

We recently started asking graduating PDC students what was helpful about the in-person format for their PDC.  Here is some of what we are hearing:

“A beneficial aspect of the course is the small conversations one has with other students in the course, during lunch and other breaks. These conversations add a human richness to the whole course experience. In other words, the online course might lack a room full of conversations and laughter. The course is a metalogue, where it is connected to nature while giving a message of observing connections in nature. Plant ID only makes sense if you are observing actual plants. Digging in the soil and planting plants enables the skin, muscles, and bones to learn the lessons of permaculture.”

“For my personality and learning style… I need a classroom scenario with live human interaction and hands-on learning experiences. I have a toddler and trying to do work at home is impossible because she wants to play and I struggle to ignore her. So if you have cats at home sitting on your keyboard or a kid that is so much fun to hang out with… the live in-person course will help give you the environment to focus on the course.”

“The PDC “in-person” experience allowed me to meet and connect with other like-minded souls in my area. Half of the value of the course involved getting to know these special, interesting people. Strong bonds and connections were made and I look forward to staying in touch and working together with them in the future.”

“The in-person course through the Resilience Hub gave me the experiential learning that really cemented aspects of the course for me. Also, the camaraderie with classmates was immeasurable.”

“I’m sure everyone faced with this question has already covered the “personal interaction/ student community emergence bit…so let me see if I can think more tangentially here. “Dirt time” comes to mind. Also, It occurs to me that the Internet is a powerful tool for staying in one’s own bubble. It’s too easy to skip over lines you don’t want to read/ can’t conceive of and to avoid topics/ discussions you don’t want to face. No one will call you out or even look at you funny on the internet for non/false-participation. In the analog classroom there is a greater pull to be a part of challenging discussions/ experiences and that personal interaction will shape your learning experience in a way that will be significant to your success as a designer. If you plan to do this stuff in the real world, consider learning it there too. Nuff said.”

“For many of us who took this class, we left the last class feeling that the community building aspect was perhaps a benefit we never expected yet is in many ways what we cherished the most. Learning together, learning from each other and sharing projects allowed us to develop the skills one needs to do this work with others. It is also so nourishing to spend time with a very diverse group of people, connected by a common intention. My classmates have become allies, colleagues and friends. I would have gained some part of the information from an online class but a much smaller fraction of what I learned. Without the field trips, shared observation practices, discussions, collaborations, hands on earthworks, and group design projects, it would have missed huge amounts of experiential learning. I would also not have had the sense of interconnection, and the empowerment of community and the support that will continue now that the class has ended. Very different indeed. So grateful I got to do this study in a group!!”

“So many conversations happened at this in-person PDC that never would have happened online. The most important of these are the Zone 00 discussions, or how to apply permaculture principles to the space between one’s ears. Because you have to be in such a good place to consider taking this class, I have opened up to and received very valuable feedback from my PDC peeps on things that I would never discuss over the internet.”

“There is so much that comes from an in-person experience that is not present in an online forum. The material is just the starting point… It’s the conversations, interactions, hands-on skill building and in-person site visits that bring about the development and deepening of knowledge. It’s the things between the prescribed course work that really bring it home and offer you the sort of learning that you can integrate, retain and build upon. It takes the material out of a vacuum and brings it into real life.”

“Technically, an online course is adequate if one is not looking for a deeper personal connection to either land or community. While I learned some important components regarding water capture, greywater systems, and polyculture plantings in the online course I participated in, I feel there is a lot to be said about the value of a face to face interaction. The ability to question and interact with both facilitators and fellow students is, in my opinion, the most important reason to attend an in-person class. The course materials regarding subjects beyond trees and other plants (peak oil, alternative building methods, the 8 forms of currency)….these subjects were not presented in the online class I took. While I was very comfortable with sheet mulching and hugelkultur and appreciated all the additional information I received in these areas, I was most impressed with the other aspects and benefits of how a permaculture system truly functions: Without a tree or two and some subsoil connections, mono trope uniflora cannot exists; the same is true for the human race!”

“The relationships that I built in the group of permies was one of the most worth-while investments I’ve made. I have grown so much just from the opportunity to learn from so many people with different perspectives, backgrounds, skills, and personalities. I have done a great deal of self-discovery as well, which I think has been uniquely fostered in this setting.”

“THE COMMUNITY and the realization that all of these people learning alongside you are experiencing the same frustrations and griefs and doubts and fears, while at the same time contributing to the betterment of the world and community in whatever way they can. The conversations outside of lectures and collaborative activities are so crucial for what could be considered “supplemental” learning, but really is a core ingredient to the experience.”

“While online classes can be more accessible financially, there is absolutely no substitute for the emergence that comes from a well designed in class experience. The key here is “well designed.” The PDC at the Resilience Hub maximizes the potential for the development of meaningful relationships upon which collaborative learning and work can be built. Other “live, in person” courses might not feel that much different from online courses that could be cheaper. This highlights the importance of course design and creating/evolving the form of the course along a stewardship model. Lisa and the Resilience Hub do this masterfully, implementing what might be called “Educational Permaculture” in all aspects of the PDC. Prospective students can gain a lot of information from online courses, especially as a way to introduce themselves to the field. These types of courses can tell you some of the “what” of Permaculture. The Resilience Hub’s PDC offers the “why” and “how,” taught through practical skills demonstration explicitly through the implementation of specific permaculture design elements and implicitly through the way they model communication and form. If you want to delve into Permaculture, ecological, community, network, or really any kind of design, there is no course but the PDC from the Resilience Hub.”