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Richard Perkins
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Diploma in Applied Permaculture Re Design!

Posted by Richard Perkins about 12 years ago

We got together as a 15 strong working group and re designed the way we are going about our learning!

Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design

A digitally connected integrated approach


This pathway has been forged in response to questions both in myself from my experience of the Diploma process, along with feedback and suggestions from both past and present Diploma students.  These questions have been a loose goals articulation that has been filtering through over the last couple of years, and is my way of responding to the needs, both actual and perceived, of some of the students I have been lucky enough to work with in my teaching pathway.  There is a certain pleasure in working constraints into shared opportunities, which has the potential for this group’s process to be so rich and fertile.


Below are some of the questions this project is responding to;


  • Why do so many students not complete the Diploma pathway, which has deep potential for personal, project, professional and planetary growth?
  • What supports people to keep challenging themselves and keep engaging in learning situations?
  • What keeps students motivated when life becomes very busy?
  • What tools and models support truly holistic growth?
  • How can learning lead to true experience rather than simple theoretical knowledge?
  • How can some of these transient yet strong communities that emerge in my courses continue to benefit each other despite living in various areas?
  • How best to facilitate and lead people through their own learning pathways?
  • How can people learn without getting into debt, whilst taking charge of their lives in a way that benefits others naturally?
  • What is missing from the conventional Diploma route?
  • How do guilds function well, and under what conditions do they stop being useful/ functional?
  • How can we support people to integrate modern languages and systems into essentially “earthy” and potentially “resistant” skillsets?
  • How can we support the learning and growth of others in our pathway?
  • How can we stay connected across continents in a useful and progressive way?
  • How can we up the level of support and engagement to support mutual growth and enhanced learning?


Boundaries and constraints


Having decided to take on a group of students, I already knew I would be travelling a lot of the time, both teaching Permaculture around the globe and then on our epic film journey.  I knew that I wanted to be able to connect easily and regularly with students, plus keep up to speed with their work so I could maximize the benefits of connecting.  Going fully digital seems like a useful response with multiple benefits.  The only challenge is ensuring all members have the basic skills to move forward and create an online repository which can be refined during the development of digital skill- flexes over the 2 year pathway.


I have worked in guilds frequently over the last few years.  I have been part of successful and unsuccessful guilds, and knowing the potential for impetus and growth on a shared pathway, decided this was a crucial aspect of designing the intensive pathway.  The limitations are getting people on the same page, organized and at a similar place in their pathways to be really sharing their experiences.  I have experienced guilds to fall apart when members cannot relate easily to where each other are at in their pathways and when setting up meetings becomes a tiresome chore with multiple emails around what is essentially a simple date!


Whilst anyone can take as long as they like to complete the Diploma, there is certainly scope for outputting project reports regularly and accrediting without feeling that everything is totally finished.  In keeping people together and rolling along with the 2 year framework, perfectionism can be thrown straight out, in favour of more a productive and less perfectionist approach.  Not to say quality should be lower, but getting out of unhealthy conditioning and into a clear and reflective state of consciously observing ones process and outputting regardless.  Projects can always be extended and refined.  Without a framework to work to, and a low level of support, it is hard for many to stay on track amidst the busyness of life.  This obviously also affects guild and peer support networks.


Support has traditionally been very limited to Diploma students, who are encouraged to seek out more tutorials and pay for extra sessions.   My experience with this style of learning has led me to think that everyone benefits from a much higher level of support, both student and tutor/ mentor.  Totally self led and self managed studies are a long jump from our cultural imprinting, and a higher level of support and engagement will no doubt enrich and enhance the learning journeys of all involved.  I also hold concerns with the cost of extra tutorials when the time is perhaps not utilized satisfactorily or in a way that secures maximum benefit for the student in a truly holistic sense of development and growth.




This is somewhat an experimental pathway, integrating some of what I have found useful in my pathways.  Whilst the Diploma is open and flexible in many ways, I knew I wanted to offer more structure and framework.  I also felt clear that I was willing to put in a lot of hours free of charge.  I believe this process can radically change peoples lives in a truly holistic manner.  In exchange I felt clear that I wanted to work with students willing to step up and go a little further, to really get the most out of their pathways whilst supporting each other in a useful way.


Sense of Community

The majority of people I am working with in this process have partaken in one of my PDC courses around the globe.   We spend some time engaged in experiential learning, building trust and community and looking at leadership development.  It is on the back of this initial work that I think successful functional guilds can be forged.  Once the guilds and group in general are working effectively, cross pollination with existing forum groups, etc, could be great ways to share the benefits.


Digital Portfolios

Good design starts on paper.  Opening up before closing down.  Despite this the modern world revolves around digital mixed media.  Literacy in this field offers much greater opportunity to stay connected and up to date.  Not only does this mean I am up to speed with each student when the time comes for a tutorial, everyone in this group can keep up to date with each others work which aids cross pollination and peer support.  Stacking functions is what this is all about, students are building up a professional portfolio as they go, and learning digital skill- flexes to become fluent in the language of the times, aiding design and collaborative possibilities during/ after the Diploma pathway.


Strategic Guild Support

Designing guilds geographically make sense, built on top of connections forged during intensive PDC courses.  There are also people planning to be abroad, so linking up people in the most useful way seems very important.


Structured Learning

An idea is to put together a timetable for Project Report submission that keeps people on track for 2 years.  This could be tied into Skype sessions as tutorials, timed around the Project Reports for Design Support and Feedback.  Having some shared timeline also aids guild functionality.


Increased Support

Initially I have proposed monthly Skype Design/ Process check- ins with each student.  This will be a heavy workload in some ways, but I also think it will allow for big effects with minimum effort.  I feel clear that this is a facilitator’s role primarily, and it feels like a privilege rather than work.  Adding up to an additional 20 hrs support over the Diploma process I really think this will help keep the Project Reports rolling and offer maximum growth for participants.


Common Language support

All the Diploma students are invited to a free 2 day Non Violent Communication (NVC) training before the orientation to offer up a useful tool to integrate into daily life, project work and anything that may come up in working together!  It is my experience that communities that function in healthy ways usually have some common language or practice like this.


Additional Elements

As a group we have already explored various models during our PDC courses.  Building upon this foundation I am hoping students embrace common languages to keep in touch with how they are designing their pathways, constantly identifying and responding to edges for growth and learning.  In addition we will be consciously sharing and reporting back on best practices and resources that have been useful in all areas of development to participate with other group members learning.  Building a professional portfolio begins from the very start, presenting skills and achievements to date and creating a professional and up to date C.V.


2 Day Induction

Covering basic digital literacy aspects required to start this process, along with building trust and designing the details of the pathway in a way that is agreeable to all requires more time than a conventional induction.  We added a 2 day orientation at the end of a PDC to give us space and time to work through all the various elements involved in creating a successful foundation for our work together over the next 2 years.





The induction process was a lot of fun!  Using the ideas I had generated ahead of time we worked together in an emergent process to come to some basic arrangements that everyone could agree too.  This came about through presentations, discussions and participatory engagement through games and tasks.  The end result is a highly structured framework, which allows for total freedom out on project work, yet with a deep level of support across the group.  We even designed in a peer support element, which is a great improvement in my mind.


Peer Support

After each project report students have 2 weeks to offer peer to peer feedback.  Using a designed template this ensures another person has read and engaged with each persons project report over the next 2 years.  This is a really great opportunity to keep up to date with each other’s work as well as offer a different angle to the feedback I will be giving.  It allows for cross-pollination and will no doubt inspire others future work.  It also helps peers tap into different qualities/ styles/ storytelling abilities for which there is no clear standard.


Project Report Cycles

We all agreed to the idea of having Project Report deadlines, it seems clear that people desire an element of structure to keep on track and bust through perfectionism!  We have set approximately 10 week cycles for putting something up online, around which there is still a huge amount of flexibility.  As this is process orientated, not strictly outcome orientated, I think this will work well.  It also hugely supports guild functionality.


Strategic Guild Support

Guilds have been designed around geographic’s mainly.  We have a model down for running guilds at least in the first few instances.  We have designed in guilds right in the middle of the 10 week project report cycles.


Digital Portfolios

During our time together we have been through the basic digital skill- flexes required to more forward and get Project Reports out- even for the most digitally shy among us.  This included Web Design, Photo sharing,  Mind mapping, Video work, Skype conference calls, Image processing, Presentations, etc.  Everyone is clear how to take the next steps, which will no doubt lead to brilliant portfolio’s down the line!


Increased tutor support

We designed 5 weekly cycles for me meeting with each student, placing one a few weeks before a Project Report deadline, and another just after, following the Peer Review.  This allows for leverage in using the time together for maximum benefit.


Forum Support

We have since built a forum, calendar with relevant dates on it, plus a central space for uploading files relating to Project Report Specs, etc.  We will have our own group space like this, which will be encouraged to move out into established forums, etc, as things get moving.


Additional Elements

From the word go students are being asked to step up the level of Diploma presentation.  Not only is everything to be placed online, additional elements are requested in Project Reports to benefit the group and wider community at the same time as creating a professional portfolio.  There are some specific elements requested in reports that will filter out in the peers work in the coming months.


It is a very exciting time for this group!  It is too early to say this will work well, who knows!  It does feel very positive, progressive and shared experience so far, and it is this sense of inclusion and purpose that could make this process so powerful.  The ultimate goal is for every one of this group of students to finish the Diploma to an excellent standard and then continue their awesome work out into the world.  None of us know where this will go, but we are all glad to be working together in this beautiful way we have created.


We will be reporting back and highlighting awesome work along the way!  Yeeehaaaw!


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