Mapping the Biomimicry Online Course Ecosystem

by Jessica Berliner | Originally published on the Biomimicry Institute

This question arrived in my inbox a few months ago:

“Hi Learn Biomimicry. What is the difference between your course and the Arizona State University MSc?” … “Well… We both teach biomimicry, but at different scales. Ours is a distilled short course. Their course involves an additional 4 years, $30 000 and a Master’s degree qualification. May I ask; what is it that you’re looking for?”

And then the question appeared again. And again. And again. Now, I have a personal rule that if I receive the same question 5 or more times, this is a clear indicator (or feedback loop) that there is some critical piece of communication that is missing upstream.

I turned to my colleague, Claire: “We need to fix this. We need to write a blog.”

This is that blog, and I hope it gives you a better understanding of what courses exist, how they compare to each other, and how you can go about choosing the right path for yourself.

P.S. There’s also a 15% discount code hiding at the end of this blog if you’d like to join us in celebrating Earth Day, every day, by furthering your biomimicry learning journey.

Do you seek qualifications or experience, grasshopper?

After a few working sessions of scouring websites, course descriptions, and currency conversions, Claire and I had our preliminary data. We were mapping an ecosystem.

Through this process, it became clear that there are two very broad categories of biomimicry online courses: “qualification-based” and “experience-based”. Now, before all you educators out there raise an eyebrow in pedagogical objection, hear me out.

To get to those terms, I’m using the lens of that all-important student question: “What am I going to get out of this?”

In our experience, people are usually seeking either:

1) an academically-recognized qualification that they can use to get specific job positions, or

2) experience / learning that will support their careers or interests, and do not require an academically-recognized qualification.

Naturally, you’ll get experience and some form of certification in both types of courses. But it’s important to be aware of what it is that you’re really seeking from this education. To borrow from biomimicry thinking — what is the FUNCTION of you taking a course? What is your CONTEXT? What kind of RESOURCES are available to you? All of these questions should be brought to the table when you make a decision on which course you want to take.

Using these questions, would you be able to start making decisions around which course you should do?

The Online Course Ecosystem Map

In our research of locating all of the biomimicry online courses, our biggest realization was that there was no global “roadmap”. How might aspiring students traverse this online learning landscape? No wonder people kept asking us… there was no indication of the bigger picture and of what their options are.

So, knowing that people are visual creatures, we created the infographic below to show our findings.

Visit to zoom in on graph.

On the horizontal axis we have time, and on the vertical axis we have price (using a log scale). We’ve used the maximum prices for all courses. All information is based on what was available at the time.

Sidenote: Are you interested in appearing on this map? Are you here but would like to update your information? Please use this form to tell us more.

How can we interpret this map?

On the far left, you’ll see the Biomimicry Toolbox — the free biomimicry basics resource from the Biomimicry Institute. This is followed closely by us, Learn Biomimicry, who aim to guide you into and through the world of biomimicry. We’ve positioned ourselves as a starting point for anyone who wants to enter into the world of biomimicry (or as a low-cost refresher for those with prior experience). These short courses run asynchronously and can be completed within days to weeks.

As we move right and upwards, you’ll find other online courses that provide you with specializations, cross-disciplinary methods, and more project-based learning (such as our Learning Journey, Biomimicry Commons and Biomimicry Academy). In this space, you’re looking at synchronous courses that run over a few months.

Towards the top right side of the graph, you’ll find the most academically distinguished qualifications, such as the Biomimicry Professional, MSc and PostDoc courses. These courses are in-depth and subsume a lot of the content listed in the courses above, and require extensive commitment. They run synchronously over two to five years.

We’re a Connectivism Organism

In education theory, there are a number of different teaching styles. As Learn Biomimicry, we opted to follow a connectivist approach.

“Connectivism is the notion of combinatorial creativity — we connect knowledge, we build, we grow, we advance. In a networked world, learning is a network-forming process. Knowledge is a networked product.” — (Dr George Siemens, 2005)

The central idea is that learners need to be able to connect new knowledge to existing knowledge in order to form complex networks of understanding. This might be building on initial understandings, it may be within a particular course, transitioning between courses, or the ongoing activity of integrating your learnings into real-world experience.

We aim to teach independent thinking, based on working towards a collective vision for a living, thriving future. We’re most interested in you “being locally attuned and responsive”, and “adapting to changing conditions” (that’s right, they’re Life’s Principles).

What does a biomimicry education journey entail?

Diversity. Networking. Life-long learning. As Claire explains in this short video on our Learning Journey page, biomimicry is really a life-long and life-wide practice. Regardless of your experience and/or qualification, the more you practice it, the better you’ll get (which is why we often have qualified biomimics coming to us for a refresher as well!).

From Learn Biomimicry’s standpoint, we aim to give the broadest and most diverse starting point for someone entering into biomimicry. We want you to be able to make those social and conceptual (inter)connections for yourself, and build up something that works for you.

The world is changing rapidly and new information is surfacing all the time. Oh boy, it can be overwhelming. As individuals and a species, we need to be equipped with the skills to handle this data and make decisions that are right for our own contexts. Gone are the days of “one size fits all” ideas — we’re in an era of customization and connectedness.

Embrace the (Re)Connect tenet of biomimicry and access the wisdom of your local and global networks, courses, resources — and even in the nature around you!

In Closing

Every year on 22 April, we join millions of others in celebrating Earth Day: a global event that motivates us to design a way of living that is healthy, equitable, and thriving. From the tiniest products to the largest systems, biomimicry enables us to make this goal a reality. Why not join us this year? If you’re feeling inspired to make the leap into the world of biomimicry, a 15% discount on all Learn Biomimicry courses awaits you. Simply use the coupon code EARTHDAY-15 at checkout. (Valid until May 31, 2021).

We encourage you to use our infographic to connect the dots and create your own journey that answers your own needs. Whether you choose to start with us and move all the way up to the MSc, or whether you decide that a specialization course is your best move — it’s up to you.

Start where you are, and #thinkoutside.

Jessica Berliner
BTech Communication Design, B.Practitioner (BiomimicrySA), Managing Director of ‘Learn Biomimicry’

An unwavering passion for nature slowly steered Jess’ career from graphic design to specializing in biomimicry education (and, subsequently, the business management thereof). She has worked closely with BiomimicrySA for around 10 years to build the biomimicry community in South Africa, and frequently gives talks and runs workshops on biomimicry in Cape Town, SA. Jess is passionate about improving the way that we design our products and systems, and believes that biomimicry provides both the vision and the means to do so.

The Biomimicry Institute empowers people to create nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet.