Permaculture: Fundamentals of Ecological Design

​About the course

This 6.5-week online course provides an opportunity for you to build your knowledge about permaculture and ecological design. Permaculture gardens, farms, and backyards balance the provision of human needs with improvement of local ecosystem health. Participants will explore the content through videos, readings, and activities and complete portions of design for a site of their choosing.

Writing and reflection are key elements of processing information and the instructor will take an active role by providing feedback on your assignments and journal entries. Students also have the opportunity to learn from one another through an open forum in which you can share your ideas with others.

The purpose of this course is to examine the basics of permaculture design and understand the potential for ecological design on a multitude of scales and contexts. Students will learn the foundational ethics, principles, and planning tools to design ecological sites in the context of their local ecosystem and future environmental change (climate change).

Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Define permaculture and describe examples of permaculture sites.
  • Apply permaculture ethics and principles to a variety of contexts.
  • Discuss impacts of climate change and strategies for adapting to them.
  • Consider appropriate use of energy and technology in sustainable systems.
  • Understand a range of multi-purpose plants and design multi-kingdom polycultures.

This course is one of three that we offer in permaculture design. (Read more about Permaculture Design: Ecosystem Mimicry and Permaculture Design: Design Practicum.) Students may elect to take courses individually if desired or as a set. You may choose an order that best suits your availability and interest. There are no prerequisite requirements for admission into courses.

Most of our participants take our distance courses for life enrichment or professional development. Participants do not receive Cornell University credit for taking any of the courses. Rather, for each course you will receive a certificate of participation from our Office of Continuing Education and Continuing Education Units. If you are enrolled in a university undergraduate or graduate program and want to receive academic credit for a course, please ask your faculty advisor to consider approving your taking this as individual study. The Office of Continuing Education certificate will be evidence of your completion. 

To get the most out of the experience, expect to spend 10 to 15 hours per week on the lessons and assignments. The course is offered through the software Moodle, an easy-to-use online interface that you will view through your personal computer's web browser. Reliable, consistent access to a good Internet connection and a modern/current web browser are essential. You will need to have Javascript enabled and you should have common plugins installed such as Quicktime Player and Acrobat Reader. 

Course Schedule:

  • Introduction Week: Welcome & Introductions
  • Week 1: History & Definitions of Permaculture
  • Week 2: Ethics & Case Studies
  • Week 3: Ecological Principles
  • Week 4: Climate, Energy, & Technology
  • Week 5: Zone, Sector, and Elevation Planning
  • Week 6: Permaculture Plants & Polycultures

View full course syllabus