TEACHING PADI ONLINE
WHAT COURSES CAN SCUBA INSTRUCTORS DELIVER OVER ZOOM?
Before we got locked in our homes for months on end, the diving industry wasn't 100% convinced about teaching online. eLearning was kind of a thing, but actually delivering courses over zoom? Unheard of!
Turns out that teaching PADI online is actually an extremely effective way of delivering courses.
PADI have now embraced the idea and in this article, I'll explain exactly what we can and can't deliver remotely.
I'm a massive fan of online learning. Pre pandemic, I regularly logged in to webinars - and not just diving ones. I like to learn businessy type stuff so I'm always tuning in to online training about social media, advertising, marketing, anything like that.
I'm not sure why I didn't make the connection back then and think "we could do online training too, we should start teaching PADI online!" I guess 18 months ago I was still in the mindset of being a local dive centre where we only cater for divers in our local area. Having in-person events like GoPro nights and Project AWARE courses just made more sense. Get people in the dive centre, get them socialising and having fun.
Laura (my amazing PADI Staff Instructor and founder of Fit To Dive) had been dropping hints for months that I should be thinking about teaching PADI online. Like, waaay before we even knew about COVID. She'd been teaching this way for a long time and was delivering Fit To Dive courses remotely. As standard. That's just the way she's always done it. Plus in her day job as a Clinical Psychologist, she has always worked with clients over zoom. Online teaching was already second nature to her.
TEACHING PADI ONLINE | LOCKDOWN 1.0
In the first week of lockdown 1.0 I was scrabbling for ideas to keep our divers engaged. I was gutted that we weren't going to be able to go diving for what I thought was only going to be a couple of weeks (haha how naive). I wanted to do something that kept the morale of the troops up and keep them connected. I asked Laura... "so, what's the craic with zoom then?" As soon as she showed me how she delivered courses and interacted with people online I could see the potential. Around that same time, I had also started to dabble with Facebook live. Little did I know back then that zoom and Facebook would actually keep the business afloat over the next 3 months!
We started off with online socials and quizzes (fun at the time, but I'm sooo over them now... aren't you!?) and then when it started to dawn on me that the lockdown wasn't going to end any time soon, I realised online training might be the only way we could get money into the business. We started with an idea to raise money for Project AWARE so we organised online environmental courses. We did Project AWARE, Shark Conservation, Coral Reef Conservation, Underwater Naturalist and Fish ID in 4 regions - UK, South East Asia, Caribbean and the Red Sea. They worked so well that we also did the PADI Equipment Specialty which was an absolute monster of a course.
It was insane. We had divers from all over the world join us. The Fifth Point is just a local dive centre?? Pfff, stuff that! We went global! We had requests for courses to be held in specific time zones. James and I were getting up at stupid o'clock in the morning and staying late at night to teach people from the other side of the world.
I'll be eternally grateful to everyone who supported us during that time. We managed to generate about £7k from teaching PADI online during that first lockdown. We raised £1,660 for Project AWARE. Not bad considering we were only charging between £30 and £60 for the courses - most of them had a free option too so people could just drop in to relieve the boredom! It helped us keep the wolf from the door, it supported our favourite charity, but it also opened my eyes to the real potential of teaching PADI online.
TEACHING PADI ONLINE | LOCKDOWN 2.0
We were riding a wave of novelty during the first lockdown. Online classes were a new way of learning and everyone wanted an activity to stop them climbing the walls stuck at home. When lockdown 2.0 hit in the UK, people were sick of living their lives online. When you're working from home and you're in zoom or team meetings all day, the last thing you want to do is log on for some online scuba lessons. Repeating teaching PADI online like we did in the first lockdown wasn't going to work this time round.
So, we changed tack a little bit. We created on-demand training instead. Divers could log on and access pre-recorded videos, resources, pop quizzes and complete their training on a more flexible schedule. The beauty of this is that it's evergreen - those courses are still available now. I don't have to set chunks of time aside to do live sessions, I just need to check in with my students as they're progressing through the course. Plus, I can sell these online courses to students all over the world. If it's a dry course like Project AWARE or Coral Reef Conservation I can certify them after we check-in. If it's a wet course like Underwater Naturalist or Fish ID, once I've gone through their knowledge reviews with them I can give them a referral. They can then come to us to complete the dives or they can hit up their local dive centre with their theory already complete (you're welcome!).
By this time, we'd upped our video production game. I learnt how to use green screens and how to live stream. It was looking pretty slick! In Lockdown 2.0 we were still doing live events, but we weren't teaching official PADI courses. We focused more on general dive stuff using Facebook Live with the goal of entertaining and engaging our audience. We did a chat on Hyperbaric Medicine with our resident diving doc Aaron, a GoPro night where we live-streamed with PADI pros from around the world as they told their story, but my favourite event was the virtual dive. We got all of the video footage we'd took during the summer and turned it into a showcase of local diving - taking the viewers on a typical dive off the Northumberland Coast. We were getting crazy views (I think we had like 1.5k on the virtual dive) it was soo much fun and a real eye-opener to how we could use different media to engage with our audience.
TEACHING PADI ONLINE | LOCKDOWN 3.0
I've got to be honest with you, by the third UK lockdown I was running out of steam. 2020 had been pretty much a write-off, James and I had worked our arses off to keep the business ticking over - we were exhausted and lacking motivation for survival mode a third time.
We made a conscious decision to slow down a little bit. We were cautiously optimistic that this would be the last chance we'd get to rest (there can't be another lockdown, can there?!) We took some time for ourselves, had some days off (omg!) and just pottered on with little jobs around the centre. We already had a strategy for 2021 planned out, and although the year wasn't going to start quite the way we had imagined, the majority of the plan revolved around online stuff anyway - building up The Honest Diver website, improving email marketing, creating more content. Lockdown wouldn't stop us from doing it, so we just cracked on.
One of the main tasks we'd planned for early 2021 was to improve our member subscription. We wanted to continue teaching PADI online now that we'd discovered the potential of online training. We set the gears in motion for Submerge - a rebrand of our current diver subscription that had been running at The Fifth Point for a couple of years already.
If you think of it like a gym membership but for scuba diving, you'll get the idea. Members pay a monthly fee and they get kit rental, guided dives, sessions in our training tank etc. etc. Plus we've got an active Facebook group that's for subs members and current students. There's an amazing online community developing in there. Divers help each other out, ask questions, offer support... and memes. Sooo many memes (thanks Aaron!)
Our goal was to expand the reach of our subscription and attract members from all over the UK (and the world?!). We now offer weekly training sessions live in zoom, covering all sorts of topics from dive planning to the environment, equipment to the psychology of diving and everything in between. Plus there's a back catalogue of recordings from every session for binge-watching and reference.
There's still the diving perks for members who live locally, but now we've got an online-only membership level so everyone, anywhere can make the most of our online training (and get big discounts on diving if they're visiting the North East on their travels!)
TEACHING PADI ONLINE | WHAT ARE WE ALLOWED TO DO?
There's been numerous updates over the last 12 months that guide instructors when they're teaching PADI online. It's been really interesting to watch the development - especially when it comes to teaching IDC courses online. Basically, I think PADI was a bit unsure about it at first and I get it - they were worried that the standard of teaching wouldn't be as high.
When the pandemic forced their hand, they had no choice but to let instructors start teaching PADI online. It's the only way dive centres could operate. Little by little, they were reassured that actually, online training does work and the teaching is just as good as it's ever been. Fast forward to 2021, PADI have embraced the idea. Teaching PADI online is here to stay, and I think given time there'll be even more development in this area - especially as all you fantastic dive pros come up with new ideas to make it even better.
So, what are we actually allowed to do online? Well, here's a current list and I've also included some resources so you can keep checking just in case it changes in the future.
- Go over knowledge reviews for all courses - schedule sessions to go through missed questions and commonly encountered problems. The possibilities for these sessions are endless. You can add your own flair, show them round the dive centre, use video clips to preview confined training and dives - if you're creative with it you can make it so, so valuable.
- Cover knowledge development - You can use this in sooo many different courses. It's perfect for areas students often find difficult (like Divemasters doing dive theory for example) and for times when you want to include more about your local environment (Fish ID and Underwater Naturalist would be perfect!)
- Delivering theory presentations - for courses where you'd normally have theory sessions before jumping in the water because there's no manual or eLearning (I'm thinking Shark Conservation, Dive Against Debris - that kind of thing) you can deliver the whole presentation online.
- Delivering dry courses - You can teach Project AWARE, Coral Reef Conservation, Equipment Spec, Nitrox, and some EFR courses completely online. PADI specify that there has to be two-way communication for this so you can ensure progress and engagement.
- Resources - In March 2021 a permanent change was made allowing IDC and Staff Instructor workshops to be delivered online because it was so successful. I can see this being rolled out in other areas too, but it's worth keeping an eye on things. All the info to keep up to date can be found...
It goes without saying that there's quite a lot of stuff that we're not allowed to do online. You can't substitute any in-water training. Obviously. Teaching PADI online also doesn't replace student materials like manuals or elearning - that's still required.
You also need to be careful when it comes to using copyrighted PADI material online. At the minute, it's all cool, crack on. But traditionally this required written approval from PADI. Right now, there's a waiver for this that's been extended until the end of June 2021, but you should keep checking on those links above to make sure this hasn't run out.
It's also really important to remember that we should be keeping PADI exams and quizzes closely guarded. We don't really want these to be leaked online for everyone to find so although you're allowed to screen share an exam whilst you watch your students filling in their answers online, make sure you don't email them a copy to work from. Try and keep it as secure as possible.
TEACHING PADI ONLINE | THE FUTURE
I'm excited at the potential of teaching PADI online going forward. We now have a whole suite of on-demand courses on offer at The Fifth Point so there's real potential for passive income. The Submerge training sessions are working really well and over time the back catalogue is going to be an insane resource!
But, there are 2 areas in particular that I'm super excited about.
- Teaching PADI online through on-demand courses is a better use of resources
- The potential for student preparation and readiness is unreal.
1. ON-DEMAND COURSES
We've always had conservation themed core courses - all our Open Water students take the Project AWARE specialty, our Advanced students take the Dive Against Debris course and so on. This is going to sound really bad, but delivering these bolt-on courses in person was not a good use of our resources.
The biggest USP for our recreational training is that it's on the customer's schedule - there are no set start dates, no groups - it's 1 on 1 and it's bespoke. This means we've got multiple courses running at any one time, all on different schedules. And we have a lot of students. Spending 3 or 4 hours in the classroom delivering Project AWARE and Dive Against Debris sessions to each individual student takes up a lot of instructor time.
The dream would be to get everyone who needs to do the training in a room at the same time. Teach them all together in one shot. But in reality, this is impossible! It's like herding cats - people's lives are busy and it kinda goes against the flexible approach that we're offering. So, we inevitably ended up with multiple sessions at the dive centre with only one or two people at a time. And even when we trialed it online, the same thing happened - multiple sessions with few participants.
The problem is, when there's not many people in class, the discussions aren't as good and there's not as much interaction. This is REALLY important for classroom-based courses - regardless of whether you're delivering in person or online, you've got to work the room. Gone are the days of death by PowerPoint and lecturing. We need to teach in a way that gets everyone involved and learning through discussion so you can check progression and keep students engaged. When I've only got a couple of students in my class, I find it harder to teach because it's harder to interact. Plus, even though I love the content, I get burnt out delivering the same presentation over and over, week in week out. In short, the student suffers. And that ain't good.
Now that we've got Project AWARE and Dive Against Debris (the two specs we teach the most) as on-demand training, students can watch me deliver the course content in pre-recorded videos. I'm super enthusiastic and passionate every single time they watch me! Plus we're back to providing flexibility because students can log in and learn whenever suits them.
Now. I'm teaching Project AWARE completely online. Remember I said above that the instructor is required to have two-way communication? I don't think that it's necessary during all of the delivery. I'm confident that my pre-recorded videos are high quality and the way the training is delivered is professional (we use Thinkific). It's on par with what I'd deliver in person. To be honest, it's probably even better than when I do it live. The on-demand version is tweaked to make it perfect - you can't go back and change the way you say something when you're delivering it live. For me, the two-way communication comes after the course is complete (or at certain points as they go along if it's a biggie). I can easily check in with students, monitor their progress, ask questions, check their learning and go through their knowledge reviews.
The hardest thing about teaching PADI online with on-demand courses is encouraging discussion. I can have great 1 to 1 discussions during our check-ins, but I haven't quite cracked getting discussions going between students. I'm still testing ideas... do you have any suggestions?!
2. ONLINE PREP
Creating online preparation resources for our customers was another big task in our 2021 strategy. We tested it by creating a full 4-week online prep course for our IDC candidates packed with video content, pop quizzes and other resources plus weekly zoom check-ins. The idea was to quash any nerves they might be having about the program before they arrive and to recap important information that they've learnt throughout their diving journey so far.
The course content looks a little bit like this:
- WEEK 1 | Your instructor adventure - explaining exactly what will happen during the IDC, IE and EFRi program
- WEEK 2 | Hack the instructor manual - explaining how to navigate the PADI Instructor manual, Guide To Teaching and specialty guides and practice exam questions to help prepare for the Standards and Procedures exam (If you're interested, you can also buy this section as a standalone mini-course - best £25 you'll ever spend if you're thinking about becoming a dive pro!)
- WEEK 3 | Psychology in diver training - discussing how students learn and how we can teach effectively as PADI Instructors
- WEEK 4 | Dive theory - a recap of key concepts and practice exam questions.
I just finished my first IDC using this prep course and it made a massive difference. The candidates already knew the team really well and they were successful with exams straight away. It gave us more time to concentrate on the "new" stuff - things like teaching presentations that they'd never seen before.
It was so successful that we've decided to include this type of prep in all our courses. Before anyone gets started on their training, we'll meet (either online or in-person) for a welcome session. It gives us the opportunity to answer any questions they might have and set up all the logistics for their course. We can schedule their sessions, give them a tour of the centre, introduce them to the team, fill in paperwork and even set up their elearning and show them how to use it. Everything is taken care of so by their first session they can hit the ground running!
We're even going to roll this out to our grey seal snorkel safaris. I'm in the process of creating an online mini-course so that all our guests can take some quick training that tells them how to interact with the seals appropriately.
TEACHING PADI ONLINE | IN SHORT, IT'S MINT
Teaching PADI online, or anything online for that matter, has opened the door to many new business opportunities and benefits to customers that I hadn't thought about before. I guess I've got something to thank the pandemic for! There's still a few more areas I would like to explore because I think it's got even more potential than what I've tapped into already. I'm looking forward to experimenting! I'm also excited to see how PADI run with this new way of teaching, now that they've seen how successful it can be. Watch this space!