Approaches to learning

Permaculture makes useful connections into the world of learning and a look at some of the key principles can give us some practical ways of developing our skills.

Observe and Interact

David Holmgren's new principles start with one that is all about learning. Firstly observe is observation - a vital skill that uses all five senses. As Leonardo Da Vinci said 'develop your senses' (...if you want to develop your genius!). Being able to listen well, watch carefully, smell distinct aromas, taste many flavours and touch with sensitivity, gives you a set of skills which will help you to interpret your world, and make observations that you can use in your design. Your body is an amazingly sophisticated and sensitive observation system, but you need to practice to make best use of it.

Secondly, observe and interact suggests a process, and this process is called action learning. Its a way of learning that is naturally used, but more effective when used consciously. It involves a cycle of learning from 'observe', to 'act', to 'observe results', to 'evaluate' and then 'plan next action'.

Work with nature, not against

Bill Mollison's famous phrase that sums up permaculture so neatly, also suggests a vital way forward for us as learners. Different people learn differently. We all have different 'settings' that make us more responsive to different ways of learning. There is a lot of theory about this, and it seems to suggest that we have 'multiple intelligences' that include:

  • Interpersonal / social
  • Intrapersonal / intuitive
  • Logical / mathematical
  • Musical
  • Linguistic
  • Kinaesthetic / body
  • Visual / spatial


Different researchers state them in different ways, and there may be others! The key point is that we each have capacity in all of them, but by knowing our preferences, we can 'work with our learning nature'. You can find a range of self-evaluation questionnaires online, with a good overview of the subect on wikipedia.