Action learning pathway designs

What is an action learning pathway?

At the beginning of the permaculture diploma people are invited to create a pathway of their intended journey over the subsequent years. The pathway can show what they want to learn and what designs they want to complete. As the diploma is 2 or more years of self directed learning I ask my apprentices* to make their action learning pathway their first design. This allows them to use permaculture thinking straight away and builds momentum for future designs.

How is the pathway a design?

You may be wondering how can this be a design, isn’t it just a timeline or an outline of designs? It is both of these things but it can be much more useful than this. Using the design web, we look at our vision, helps and limits; we explore our ideas, patterns and how the principles can help us; we integrate all of thinking and think of the needs we need and how these can be met, we create an action plan and ways to maintain momentum; and we appreciate our journey, reflect on our progress and build in times to pause.

When we spend time focusing on the vision of who we would like to be at the end of the diploma, what skills we would like and how we think the diploma can contribute to our overall life, then we can use that vision as a benchmark for what we do in the diploma. For example, it may be that our vision is to have a portfolio of designing very diverse systems, in this case we may turn down opportunities to do a design similar to one we have already in favour of one that adds more diversity. In contrast our vision may be to become fluent and specialised in a particular area, it would therefore make sense to do several designs that contribute to this. By keeping our vision in mind we are able to make decisions that help us to get there.

In permaculture design we identify our limits so that we can design ways to minimise them or work around them. Perhaps one of our limits is only having small pockets of time available to work on the diploma. We might then look to the principles and think about what principle might help us. ‘Catch and store energy’  may be a useful reminder for us to make notes when things occur to us, so that we have lots of good starting points to make the best use of one of our pockets of time. And in our integration anchor point, one of the needs of the design is to maximise our time efficiency and we can then think of many ways we can meet this need.

Reflecting on our learning patterns helps us to anticipate the points in the learning cycle when we might be challenged and the things that we could put in place. We can use our learning patterns to plan a progression of our designs, thinking of the times when it is beneficial to have something straightforward and the times when we could do with a more challenging design.

An action learning pathway expressed as a treeBecause of the ongoing nature of this design it is helpful to complete versions and then to schedule in times to reflect upon what is working. We can put in a lot of detail for the near future and do wider brush strokes of the later parts of our diploma. Our action learning pathway can be presented in many creative ways, from mindmaps to drawings, collages to poetic prose.


Each anchor point is connected with each other and in this way is a web of thinking that helps us progress. Our limits influence our momentum; principles can be useful reminders for our action plans and so forth. Our action learning pathway is not just about writing down what we already know, it becomes more useThe web of connections in the design.ful and relevant, giving us insights and something we can return to for inspiration. We can play with the information, try out principles, change our patterns and expand the vision we have of ourselves.

*People studying for the diploma are called apprentices as they are apprenticing to permaculture.

** For full details of the anchor points of the design web please see People and Permaculture.

*** Pictures are from Rachel Woodisse’s ALP design

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