How To Pick a PDC - Permaculture Design Course Selection Tips

How To Pick A PDC – Permaculture Design Course Selection Tips

Once you decide to take a permaculture design certificate course, the next choice is – which one?

There are many PDC schools available, some great, some good, and some not so great.

Let’s look at the factors to consider when choosing a PDC: cost, time, distance, teacher(s), and woo-woo.

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What is a PDC?

Simply, a PDC is a permaculture design certificate course. So lets break that down.

Permaculture is an ethical design science, that has one prime directive and three ethics.

Also, not in the Designer’s Manual but included later on by David Holmgren are the 12 permaculture principles.

Essentially, these are extensions or expansions of the prime directive and 3 ethics.

Originally, a course in permaculture design as envisioned by Mollison, was at first a 3-week onsite experience. Bill reduced this to 2 weeks as he found that a 3-week course severely limited how many people attended.

These days, a good PDC generally consists of 72 hours of instruction, the minimum for a PDC certificate. This is a standard to measure a PDC by.

For most people, permaculture is a paradigm shift in thinking and design philosophy, so lots of time to digest this change is a Good Thing.

Commonly, Bill Mollison’s Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual chapter header subjects make up the outline of course instruction.

These are:

  • 1: Introduction
  • 2: Concepts and Themes in Design
  • 3: Methods of Design
  • 4: Pattern Understanding
  • 5: Climatic Factors
  • 6: Trees and Their Energy Transactions
  • 7: Water
  • 8: Soils
  • 9: Earthworking and Earth Resources
  • 10: The Humid Tropics
  • 11: Dryland Strategies
  • 12: Humid Cool to Cold Climates
  • 13: Aquaculture
  • 14: The Strategies of an Alternative Global Nation

However, the content of a PDC is not set in stone. It will vary by the teacher’s experiences and knowledge, as well as biases and world view.

As permaculture practitioners learn more about natural effective design and implementation, this knowledge will improve and change a PDC, as it should.

This helps to inform the next wave of permaculture students to learn even more and design even better systems than before.

Which PDC format?

There are many formats to choose from. You can pick an onsite PDC where you go to a location, eat and stay there for 14 days.

Or you could choose a PDC broken up into several weekends over the course of a year.

Then there’s the option of an online PDC.

Some PDC “schools” are set up as a “go at your own pace” learning experience. Other schools have a structured release system, where each section is opened every week or so.

I’ve heard that many people find an onsite PDC very meaningful. You get to bond with others while learning about your new favorite subject, which some people find very enjoyable.

You will even find a few people who will say that there is no substitute for a in-person PDC.

However, an online PDC can be less expensive and much more convenient. Between time, money, work and family, it’s difficult to take two weeks off and also afford an onsite PDC.

You may not get to interact with people in person, but a well-run online PDC will have student social interaction technology. This could include “private” Facebook groups, chat sessions, Q&A, and message boards, as well as live video.

In these ways it can be almost like being onsite, but you can do it from your home computer.

What is not a PDC?

Speaking about permaculture’s vision and  guiding ideas, Bill Mollison said:

So it’s a revolution. But permaculture is anti-political. There is no room for politicians or administrators or priests. And there are no laws either. The only ethics we obey are: care of the earth, care of people, and reinvestment in those ends.

– Bill Mollison – from this interview

Essentially, a PDC should not be a means for a teacher to indoctrinate students with their particular political, spiritual or world view.

The goal is to educate students about basic permaculture framework.

Then the students can start practicing and learning more about permaculture design on their own, by experience.

Also, workshops focused about specific topics are not PDCs. They may be very good and useful, but on their own are not a proper PDC.

An earth-centered spiritual retreat is not a PDC, even if you talk about permaculture.

One important question to ask is if they cover everything in the Designer’s Manual, over 72 hours. If not, choose another PDC.

Why take one?

How To Pick a PDC - Permaculture Design Course Selection Tips

Some people take a PDC to be able teach permaculture. This was Bill Mollison’s (and Geoff Lawton’s) only strict requirement to teach a PDC.

However, most good teachers also do a lot of practical work using permaculture design to be able to show students the possibilities and what great systems it can design.

This is one way to pick a PDC, based on the results of the teachers.

Another reason to take a PDC is to implement your own design on your property. You could do this in addition to or separately from hiring a permaculture designer to help you.

A third reason, and most common, is to offer permaculture design consulting services.

Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but some people can get starry-eyed when hearing that some PC consultants make $1000 per day plus expenses.

Of course, these are highly experienced designers with many years of successful permaculture implementations behind them. And whose suggestions can save or make you many times the cost of their services.

So sure, in 20 years you might be able to charge that, given enough practical experience. Just not right after you get your certificate.

That said, having the understanding of permaculture design is never a bad thing. You can use it to design any human system, to make them more efficient and self-sufficient.

Permaculture can apply to everything from business to banking to personal relationships. The ethical design science of permaculture is the key.

But with all of that said, you DO NOT HAVE to take a certificate-earning PDC to learn permaculture.

There is a TON of free information (like this website!) available on the internet.

If you can pay a little more than free, recorded PDCs are available from many places, including one from Permaculture Research Institute (PRI) Australia (with Geoff Lawton).

You could also start a permaculture group and learn together from a book or offline course and materials.


Now, let’s talk money.

A PDC can cost $500-$2200 for a 2-week onsite. It may include some food & lodging in this fee.

That sounds like a lot to most people, but think of it as an investment in yourself.

A college class can easily cost this much, and be much less useful.

I know this from experience. Art history, anyone? Ugh.

Also don’t write off ever taking a PDC immediately just from the cost alone.

The school may have work-share option, or scholarships available. Usually you just have to ask.

They may have very rustic BYO camping facilities, or summer camp bunk-style cabins, and may supply some or all meals. Again, ask.

Now, it will probably be less expensive for an online PDC, though you may miss some of the benefits I talked about earlier.

But it will be more convenient and maybe even required for people who can’t get away for 2 weeks AND pay ~$2K for the PDC.

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This was my situation. If I hadn’t gone the online PDC route, I probably still would not have taken one.

Prices (and quality) vary, so do some research on the school before forking over your money. More on this next.

Which one?

So which one should you pick? This is a very personal choice and will be specific to you in your unique situation.

There is really no blanket “best” choice right now, just a best choice for you in your circumstances.

First, and in my mind most important, are the teacher(s).

As in, what have they done with regard to real permaculture design AND implementation?

You don’t want someone teaching you who hasn’t put the information into practice. Like in most of academia.

In other words, “show me the money permaculture system.

Find out if the course is taught in the place where their design is done. Live examples are quite helpful for learning.

Then look at their credentials and teaching time, philosophy, skills or area focus (small scale, community, farms, sustainable development, etc).

Find out where they got their PDC from, what kind of teaching they do (lecture, field walks, hands-on, drum circle emotional sharing, etc), and if they have guest teachers.

It’s also good to know what facilities are available, whether classroom or outdoors, and what teaching aids (projector, TV, whiteboards, etc).


The second criteria is woo-woo.

Specifically, how much woo-woo (AKA neo-paganism or modern spirituality) or drum circles or barefoot campfire dancing or purple breathers you are willing to put up with (or enjoy).

Some PDC schools are know for overt spirituality and getting in touch with “Mother Earth.”

Meanwhile others are more known for practical knowledge and teaching without woo-woo.

So, make sure to pick based on your preferences for that.

Time for a PDC!

Then, think about time. Yes, think DEEP thoughts about time. Ommmm.

Now, an in-person PDC can be done as 14-day immersive, over several weekends, or every month for a year.

Different PDC schools/teachers will have different models and schedules, so look at what works best for you

Another consideration may be distance, as in how far from home it is. You may want it to be far away and feel more like a vacation.

Or you may want it to be as close as possible to your home, to reduce the cost and time of travel.

Finding a close school may also help in that they know more about your climate and can be more helpful in that respect.

If you’re really short on time, look into an online PDC. More on this later.

Suggested on-site schools

I have heard good things about several PDCs.

The first is Midwest Permaculture, run by Bill Wilson in Illinois. He has a great, practical no-woo-woo PDC in the Midwest. And his backyard is amazing.

Plus, Midwest Permaculture’s curriculum was developed in coordination with PRI Australia.

Second, look at Ben Falk of Whole Systems Design in Vermont. The PDC is highly hands-on, and goes beyond the required 72 hours.

The permaculture systems Ben has installed are just incredible. (Are you seeing a theme here yet?)

Finally, Barking Frogs Permaculture in Florida. This is where Bill Mollison started when he brought permaculture to America.

They have a few different PDC format options, like a Mollison-favored 3-week PDC, as well as a 6-month “Permaculture Design Correspondence Course” which works well for couples and groups.

Barking Frogs also has numerous workshops and courses, including an “Advanced Permaculture Training” for furthering your permaculture education after a PDC.

Online options

If you’re limited on time, cost or distance like most people, you should look into an online PDC.

These PDCs have the benefits of more time freedom, so you can complete them without the time and location requirements of an onsite PDC.

Online PDCs can also be less expensive, though they aren’t always. This is because the lessons are recorded, then replayed on demand. It doesn’t cost much to host videos online as hosting a live onsite event, so the prices can be lower.

As I said earlier, some PDCs have a self-paced curriculum, while others are structured and each section is opened every week or so.

With an online PDC, most of the “due diligence” reasearch still applies.

Unfortunately, online PDCs make it easier for substandard teachers to profit from people who don’t know they’re getting a poor permaculture education.

One aspect that becomes much more important is the ability to communicate with and ask questions of the instructor(s).

Make sure there is either direct email access, forums, chat, or some way to get your questions answered. And yes, you will have them.

I thought I learned pretty much everything about permaculture before I took my PDC with Geoff Lawton. Well, let’s just say I was not correct, and my eyes were opened to what I still didn’t know.

Read reviews from former students about a PDC, just not from their website. If possible, talk to some students.

If the school is not good or if someone is known to be a bad teacher, you should be able to easily find that out.

One permaculture school to look at is The Advanced Permaculture Student Online.

It’s a PDC plus an Advanced PDC in one, and they have over 70 instructors, 150+ hours of video, and lots of bonuses.

If you’re in a financial hardship or just having a hard time putting the money together, they even have payment plans and scholarships available!

You get self-paced, lifetime access to the course, dual certification in the PDC and Advanced PDC, and a great support community.

I think this is one of the best PDCs available today, and considering all the content you get with it, this is a great deal.


A PDC is a permaculture design certificate course.

Good PDCs cover 72 hours of instruction at a minimum.

Permaculture is not about spirituality, veganism, or drum circles.

A PDC is not necessary to learn permaculture.

The cost is not insignificant, but there are way to cope. Plus it’s an investment in YOU.

Do your due diligence on the teachers and school.

Pick the format, time option, cost, and level of woo-woo that works for you.

Consider online PDC options.

OK, that’s all folks! Do you have any questions or comments about PDCs, sustainable homesteading, permaculture design or anything else? Ask your question down below and let’s talk! You can also use the contact form, or email me at info at thepermaculture dot life.

Thanks from TPL

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