Teaching Tips: Personal Dive Computers

By Steve Lewis

We get a considerably varied and pretty constant stream of email into our office from divers across North American and from around the world. Sometimes it’s to tell us how pleased they are about the service they got from one of you folks. Sometimes it’s to ask about the quality of diving in some far-flung corner of the Pacific. Occasionally it’s a complaint. But from time-to-time we get asked to explain why we do things the way we do, and these are usually the most fun to answer!

Last week, I got a message from off one of the many scuba-related forums on the web that we monitor. Apparently this diver’s girlfriend had signed up for an open water course and he was shocked to learn that his local dive store had switched affiliations and was now promoting, what his old instructor termed, “SDI’s superior program!”

That happens more and more these days… but he asked what the differences were between the Open Water program he had taken through another sport diving agency and SDI’s. He explained that he was shocked to learn from his girlfriend that SDI promotes the use of personal dive computers (PDCs) rather than making students work through calculations using tables.

During one of our conversations, he said he felt she was being short-changed and that not learning tables was dangerous. He actually said “if sport divers or occasional divers can’t familiarize themselves with the tables then should such an unsafe person be diving?” Frankly, I was a little floored because it seemed to me he was telling me that ALL SDI-trained divers are unsafe, because their instructors have not made them slog through an antiquated system that most divers forget how to do unless reminded on a regular basis.

For the record, let me share with you want I explained to him because you too may run into someone who harbors similar misconceptions, and although I am sure you have your own version of things, the explanation that follows may help you sometime in the future.

Let’s start at the beginning. SDI is different to the other major sport diving agencies because it was created by people who ran a technical diving agency; the biggest technical diving agency in the world, TDI. The men and women who helped put together its curriculum and developed its courses had the strongest background possible in diver education and diver safety, and the attendee list of those early brain-storming sessions read like a who’s who of recreational diving… both technical and sport branches.

Their primary concern was to create an open water course that made diving an adventure rather than a chore, and one that had a sort of “sky’s the limit” perspective on diver education… after all, many of those early SDI instructors had experience exploring exciting spots around the globe that few divers had ever seen. The majority of them had been teaching people to dive in caves, and running diver programs to depths about three-times the “normal” sport diving limits. So their perspective on how far a student could progress was a mite broader than instructors from other backgrounds!

Right from the beginning, SDI brass determined that all SDI-level divers wear a personal dive computer. In the simplest terms, this determination was driven by safety, and not as my correspondent suggested collusion with the dive computer manufacturers! Personal dive computers have evolved immensely since the first brick-sized units available in the 1980s. They have become easy to read, understand and use. Their functions go way beyond those offered by their predecessors… for example, downloadable graphic dive profiles, and logbook functions. And, most importantly, they are the best tool currently available for controlling ascent speed… something we believe needs to be managed because of what seems to be a very strong association with bubble troubles.

Of course the core function of a PDC is to track average nitrogen loading in real-time and give a good approximation of the decompression status of the person wearing it minute by minute (actually, second by second in many cases). Because of this, among other benefits, a savvy diver is able to maximize her bottom time while keeping within the No Decompression Limits of her dive. No table can come close to this level of accuracy and, by inference, offer comparable security. The mitigation of DCS is never zero regardless of what method is used – tables, PDC or some other Voodoo – but for sport divers, a PDC is without comparison.  In short, a PDC is an extremely useful tool within the budget of the majority of sport divers.

Of course the one important proviso is that when a SDI diver graduates his or her open water class, their instructor has helped them to understand the computer’s functions and benefits, and they have been encouraged to read the user’s handbook and discuss anything they did not immediately understand.

Now on the topic of tables. We do not discourage instructors from teaching tables, in fact all our leadership courses (DM, AI, OWI, SIT, IT) have components where the US Navy, DCIEM and Buhlmann tables are used, but extensive research has told us that sport divers and tables do not mix well. In fact, there are strong indications that unfamiliarity with dive tables among occasional divers keeps people away from diving. Because of this and other concerns about table use on multiple dives, CNS tracking and related issues that may have a negative effect on a diver’s well-being, we discourage tables as primary information.

The arguments for tables actually remind me of the arguments that are offered against technological advances in all forms of sport and pastimes, not just diving. I’ve heard people rally against seat belts and anti-lock brakes, airbags and traction control in cars. (Actually, members of my father’s generation despised synchromesh gears!) But of course these innovations are now standard in any late model car. They save lives!

The vast majority of ski hills don’t allow skiers on their slopes without modern bindings and boots. Leather and duct tape are no goes.

The list goes on and in our industry, there are many of you who may remember the cries against SPGs, BCDs and things that we take for granted now. The old way is NOT the best way, and thinking that tables are somehow superior for sport divers is simply nonsense.

Forgive the personal note but my wife, a smart woman in all but her choice of life companion, was terrified of tables when she first learned to dive. It was not the math or the process that scared her, she’s an executive with one of the largest hotel chains in the world and deals with numbers and process-driven protocols every day. What scared her was getting it wrong. She felt the penalty for a mistake using tables was so severe, she was reluctant to dive. A computer solved that problem… now if I can just get her to master the reverse frog kick…

How does the Online Divemaster Benefit Me?


Information about the newest educational innovation from SDI™, TDI™

1.    Q: I’m sold on the benefits of SDI™ online training for open water and specialties like nitrox, wreck, deep, navigation and so on, but why Divemaster?


A: Often, the instructor who is best suited to develop dive leaders is the one person who has the least time available. The perfect solution is blended learning through SDI’s online training. The proven online system moves your divemaster candidates through their academics freeing up valuable instructor time to work hands-on with them to refine their leadership qualities as well as diving, risk-management, and dive business skills.


2.    Q: Do all my DM candidates have to do all the academics online now?


A: No, you can still teach a DM course the way you have always done with traditional classroom.  However, we believe you will find that your candidates come to class much more prepared if they do the program online first.


3.    Q: How do I get my dive center signed up for this program?


A: Simply contact either your local Regional Manager, or HQ and both can assist in setting up your facility to do the program.


4.    Q: If am already using the online program to do Open Water or Specialties is my facility already set up?


A: Yes and no.  Yes your facility is listed in the new website as an active online facility, but no you have to use a different link for this course.  www.sdi-onlinetraining.comleadership

5.    Q: If I have a link off of my own website to the online program for my own students, do I have to create another link to give access to my students for the DM program?


A: Yes, you can get the unique link using your username and password as a login in on  www.sdi-onlinetraining.comleadership


6.    Q: If a student signs up on the website and pays with a credit card directly on the site, what is the amount my facility gets?

A: The facility is issued a $225 credit and HQ takes care of shipping all the materials they need directly to the dive facility, including a DM manual, Knowledge Quest, and other items.


7.    Q: Can I buy access codes at a discounted rate as I do for the other online courses?


A: Yes, the amount of the discount depends on the facility current buying level.

8.    Q: Are all DM candidates required to choose a dive center to be affiliated with when signing up? 

A: Yes, all SDI courses must be taught through a recognized dive center. 


9.    Q: If I purchase codes for a DM candidate, is my dive center automatically chosen and locked in as the facility as it is with the other online courses?

A: Yes, DM candidates that sign up using an access code you provide to them or via your websites unique link are locked in as your students and you are given the credit.


10.    Q: Is there a user manual for facilities to understand better how the system works?


A: Yes, you can download one off of the members section of the website or contact your regional manager or HQ.


Contact your local SDI, TDI representative or call Cris Merz at 888.778.9073 for more information. Cris can also be contacted via email cris.merz@tdisdi.com


Make every link in the chain as strong as the next

 Customer service should be a priority for every staff member

A few nights ago, I was talking to a friend who works in the hospitality industry about the importance of customer service and its role in the ongoing success across so many market segments from hotels to retail business. It’s a topic we’ve talked about before but he threw a new angle into the equation and mentioned how the best laid plans can be derailed or reinforced by the attitude of the most unlikely and lowly staff member.

Hotels and resorts are in a constant and highly competitive fight to attract corporate meetings to their properties. Even a medium-sized business meeting translates into dozens of room nights and a healthy injection of cash into the food and beverage revenue stream. Of course the larger ones are more lucrative and senior management work hard to convince meeting planners that theirs is the right venue to host their event.

My friend explained to me that his property – an upscale resort in a beautiful waterfront setting – has just landed a huge shoulder-season booking that was being chased by a handful of competitors. “Securing this one has made up for some of the bad news we’ve had during the past few months complements of the economy,” he confided.

Of course, I’m pleased for him and his sales team but the reason I’m sharing the news with you is what clinched the deal.

Now you could be forgiven for thinking the item that tipped the balance in my friends favor was a discount or a sweetener like upgraded rooms or a special event thrown in at low-cost. Nope. No special deals at all. In fact my friend said that his resort’s proposal was probably not the lowest bid… so what was it that did the trick?

It turns out that the meeting planner snuck back into the resort after her meetings with the executive team to check things out from the customer’s point of view. My buddy says that’s not an unusual tactic… a sort of secret shopper routine. Apparently the meeting planner took a little walking tour on her own and finally settled unnoticed in one of the resort’s three restaurants to have supper.

The email she wrote to my friend the following day confirmed the meeting and contained a short explanation why she’s opted to go with his resort.

She mentioned the great location, the understated luxury and several of the pillars of his property’s brand… what he refers to as all the usual stuff… but she wrote she was most impressed with the level of service she received during her clandestine supper. She mentioned the manners of her server, her attitude and her attention to detail. And she mentioned the professional way ALL the wait staff seemed to deal with diners seated at surrounding tables. She wrote in bold letters that it made her feel welcome and comfortable… “as though I’ve been a regular special customer in your restaurant for many years,” was how she phrased it.

She went on the say that if the close to 200 delegates expected to attend the meeting she was arranging got the same level of service, she’d look like a hero.

Of course my buddy was very pleased, but not too surprised since the hotel management company he is part of is one of the best-known in the world and pays particular attention to training its associates. But when he shared the news with the restaurant manager, he was a little surprised to find out that the server who had managed to be a successful ambassador for the hotel and who had helped secure a few hundred thousand dollars worth of business, was a newbie! The night in question was her first day on the job!

The lesson that I took from this is a simple one, but one worth paying special attention to: Every member of our staff must buy completely into the store policy when it comes to dealing with customers.  And regardless of their job description, every member of staff should treat anyone who comes into your store or who walks onto your boat or steps into your classrooms, with respect. If fact it’s safest to assume that your next customer has the potential to spend thousands with you over the next few years… all you have to do is make them feel special.

The Biggest Business Challenge


By Steve Lewis

During the past several months, I’ve read several surveys that report on “the number one” concern of small business owners. Inflation, poor credit, factory closures, the collapse of the auto industry, the war in Iraq all have been featured in one way or another.

These are all serious issues but they are all beyond the control of the small business owner, and therefore make it impractical to be proactive about them in our business planning… all we can do is adjust as circumstances dictate and move on with making a living. And in that way, I really don’t think any one of those problems can be labeled “biggest.”  To begin with, what determines a big problem depends on the industry and your location. For a store owner in a small community the biggest problems might be changes to a local bylaw governing signage, while for a charter-boat operation, weather can be the bug-bear. Neither of these is likely to show up on the business journalist’s radar and they are not going to be featured on the six o’clock news, but that doesn’t make them any less influential.

One challenge when putting surveys about the economy and how it affects small business is that they generalize. Issues specific to one industry or a segment within that industry are not targeted. In a simple sentence, Generalizations are easier to report on.

That’s not to say surveys cannot be helpful. One of the best customer service tips I know, was learned as a result of a survey my old company sponsored for clients in the retail sector.

That survey asked what SHOULD BE the number one concern for small business owners. It targeted specific concerns that related to customer satisfaction, and included input from customers… the classic 360 degree survey.

The outcome was interesting and surprising… and relevant to our industry. It highlighted that the biggest issue was Communications. Everything else paled compared to it. Sure, customers expected to be able to see and touch the products they were interesting in. They wanted choice. They expected to get value for money, and they wanted after sales support. But key to forming and cementing a relationship between the customer and the retailer was communications.


Makes sense, doesn’t it? After all, we live in the communications age, and certainly it seems logical for our customers to expect us to share information with them, so there are no surprises there. What did shock us a little though was the shape and form of the “complaints” the survey turned up about poor communications.

It was a laundry list of what not to do in the retail environment and ran the gamut from confusing answering machine messages to badly organized mailings about store specials.  But number one was that customers complained about retailers not listening to them.

There were lots of different specific complaints and pitfalls described but the scenario commonly painted was: “I explained what I needed, but did not get what I wanted… at least not on the first try.”

The lesson to be learned from this is an obvious one: Listen to shoppers in your store, and your chances of making them a customer are increased. This is so much a part of Retail Business Guidelines to Success that we were honestly surprised that it was not universally followed. But it was not.

And the situation does not appear to have changed much: at least, not based on my experiences this past weekend.

I was shopping for plants in a newly opened garden center in the next town. One of the owners served me and although she may have wanted to win me as a customer, she failed miserably. During our conversation, she interrupted me several times to give orders to staff, became distracted by things going on in other parts of the store, answered a phone call and when I eventually finished explaining my landscaping problem, had to ask me to repeat most of it.

Now, that’s an extreme case but certainly it is not an isolated one. It points out some of the issues that can turn a potential customer away. She failed to open our relationship with the very basic message that she cared about what I had to say and that she was interested in helping me out.

You may find in your own experiences in these competitive times even the BIG Box stores are catching on to the need to retain the customers they all ready have. Have you noticed…gone is the day of when you asked for an item and a  store employee would point over their shoulder and murmur the aisle, now they drop what they are doing and lead you directly to the product!

Your store may not be so big that you must lead every customer to an item but engaging them is a MUST.

At the base level, initial communications between store owner and customer need to establish several key points. This includes forming some level of trust, establishing that you are qualified to help, showing that you are willing to listen and interpret what’s being said, understanding questions politely, and understanding what’s actually needed. This informs a fundamental attitude shift from “What can we sell you?” to “What needs do you have that we can help you meet?” And to understand what a customer needs, the store owner/staff member has to listen to the problem.

Sometimes, listening is a creative exercise. Someone comes into a store and asked for a widget but the problem they describe doesn’t require a widget at all.  Creative listening, and creative problem solving is a key difference between the shopping experience in a store and online. As store owners and dive professionals we have to make sure that our skills in both areas are not getting rusty. Most importantly, do we listen? Do we know the right questions to ask (the high gain ones) to tease information from a shopper? Have we thought of the customer’s real needs BEFORE suggesting a solution? And does that solution solve a problem without creating another one?

The garden center I was in last week had some great deals and some unusual plants, but the owner did not win me as a customer. I’ll go back to the local nursery where they listen to me and care about my garden… or at least that’s the impression they give!



Responding to Market Shifts Keeps Us ALL Relevant



new enewsletterDiving Adventure Magazine goes on line June 2009, and that means greater exposure and opportunity for each and every one of our members… but your help is needed!

By Nestor Palmero

“The only constant is change” is a quote that some attribute back as far as Heraclitus a Greek Philosopher (c.535 BC- 475 BC) and it is a wisdom that we should all embrace, since it is more relevant now in business than ever.

The Publishing Business is in constant change, reinventing itself and evolving, Diving Adventure Magazine finds itself in the throes of that very evolution.

Carbon footprint, diminishing rain forests, run off effects on reefs worldwide…wait a minute!     This planet’s health is crucial to our business…what are we doing?

Well we are waking up and forging ahead and asking you to join us…come with us!

How does SDI, TDI and ERDI taking Diving Adventure Magazine on-line benefit you?

  • The Associate Members Newsletter (read your Divers) subscriptions will transfer to receive Diving Adventure Magazine on line.
  • You can extend an invitation with your compliments for a one year FREE subscription to Diving Adventure Magazine on-line  to every NEW Diver you certify, from NOW ON!
  • It gives you DIVING  NEWS to share with your Divers, while the publication strengthens the brands you represent SDI™, TDI™ and ERDI™
  • Diving Adventure Magazine online will reinforce the programs you teach  to your Divers urging their participation
  • The Travel you sell, at home and abroad, is reinforced and endorsed, urging your divers to stay active and GO DIVING!
  • The Pro Members Newsletter that only you receive (read NOT YOUR DIVERS) gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how you can capitalize on the ideas presented to your Divers in Diving Adventure Magazine online; all of which can directly and positively affect your business!
  • Our subscriber lists ARE NEVER SOLD, and yes many have asked!
  • How can you help?
  • Enroll your NEW Divers and everyone you can to receive the Diving Adventure Magazine online. Your divers always have the ability to unsubscribe at their leisure, if they so desire.
  • Tell your vendors to take a look at advertising in this publication if they want to sell their products and services to your customers via your store. Readership currently stands at  50,000 and thanks to you is constantly growing.
  • Submit your own articles and photography to our editors for consideration. Have an idea for a story? Pass it along. Have a challenge you need solved? Let us know.


Embrace the constant change and make it your own. The tree that bends under the weight of the snow upon its branches is the one that survives to grow old. Capture and cut and paste this story and make it part of your own Newsletter inviting your Divers to come aboard!


Maybe an easier concept for all of us to embrace in our business was Bob Dylan’s…”You best start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone… cause times they are a changin’ ”

Having fun at the old watering hole, AND build your brand


I’d like to propose something totally radical to you today: take down the calendar on your shop wall and circle four days next month when you will invite customers to go diving with you. No courses, no pressure, just for fun.

Now I can think of a thousand excuses NOT to do it. And I’m sure you can come up with a few dozen of your own. Most of mine flutter around the triumvirate of procrastination: no time, no interest, no point.

But there are three excellent reasons to get on with it and make these events happen.

Let’s start with the simplest one: It promotes local diving. Now we all know that local diving off Key Largo is a little more generally appealing than diving a local quarry in the mid-west, but both have something to offer your customers: entries in their logbooks and more experience under their belt. Both of those things are good for business.

In a recent survey sent out to more than 20,000 divers we asked about diving in 2009 and more than two thirds of the folks who responded told us that the focus this year would be on local diving… something within one to three hours drive time. That means your customers could be onside with any local dive initiatives you offer them.

The second good reason is this. The best thing that divers can say about you and your staff is that you dive. Promoting diving just for the sheer fun of it sends out the right message to your customers and that message will get around. Like it or not, you and your staff, SDI, TDI or ERDI dive leaders, have some level of celebrity in the local dive community.  Going out and diving with local divers at local dive spots and making it a fun, enjoyable time will generate tons of good will and get you unbeatable word of mouth publicity.

The third good reason is that promoting diving will help to build YOUR brand. Forget about SDI, TDI or any of the other agencies… the success of your business depends on YOUR brand. Give your customers the benefit of your enthusiasm, experience and professionalism and they’ll be more likely to call you up or visit your store for their next purchase of equipment, training, travel or gear repairs.

Remember, your customers have no objective measure of quality between agency A and agencies B and C ,or between your dive store and dive stores X, Y and Z. Diving with you and your staff is the experience that informs them about “who’s the best” and they make subjective evaluations based on that experience. Going the extra mile to make local diving fun underpins YOUR brand and builds your store’s reputation.

If local diving features accessible wrecks and wonderful underwater flora and fauna, recruiting customers to join your “Local Diving Promo Days” is going to be easier than if your local watering hole is a flooded aggregate quarry with a few tadpoles and sunfish. But underwater games and “skills challenges” can make diving the most basic pond fun.

Organize buoyancy courses: things like a shot line with a few clothes pins at regular intervals that have to be collected and then replaced in the correct order… all of course without holding the line.

Run underwater orienteering races: a complex multi-leg course where teams start with the bearing for the first leg and collect bearings for the others as they go.

Put together treasure hunts, underwater pumpkin carving, run underwater map-making “classes.” Have underwater photography “contests.” If you dive in a quarry where subjects for pictures are limited, bend the contest rules to include categories for that work with what’s available.

Put in a little work making local diving fun, and the dividends will be more active divers calling your shop “home base.” Your brand will grow and so will your business.

Understanding Your Insurance Coverage, Your Options and Conflicts in Coverage


Carol Christini, M.A., President, Insurance Management Services, Inc.

Each year when you purchase insurance, coverage and service is not the only issue to consider.  Differences in policy wordings may impact you and your dive business.  In addition, it is important that you know your training agency will accept the insurance that you purchase.

Reviewing the history of insurance in diving reveals that in the early 70’s the legal climate began to change in the United States.  Prior to that time no insurance was available or required. In response to the liability changes, the training agencies began to offer insurance to their members because insurance was not available from the agent around the corner. Because coverage was not available initially the coverage was based upon the specific training agencies’ standards. Practically 40 years later, coverage for those working in the diving industry remains a unique and specialized coverage that is available only from limited sources.  However, now coverage is based upon the respective training agencies’ standards, national standards (RSTC) and international standards (WRSTC and/or ISO).

Here are a few are ways you can determine for yourself what is the best coverage for you.  Understanding will help you be an informed insurance consumer.

There are five major sections to any insurance policy wording.

1)    Agreement, outlines the intent of the coverage and who is insured

2)    Exclusions, advises what is not covered

3)    Policy Form, explains if the policy is a claims made or an occurrence form

4)    Warranties, states agreed expectations and are a requirement of coverage

5)    Conditions, details requirements placed on the insured

The brochure you receive with your insurance application or posted on the website of your insurance representative or training agency should spell out this information.  It will also provide other information such as: the insured (the association), the insured certificate holder (you the diving professional or dive business), additional insureds, and which insurance carrier, underwriter or company is providing the coverage. It should address the policy period and total cost, as well as conditions placed upon you if you are involved in an incident or accident. Also it should explain any restrictions or limitations on additional insureds. If the insurance brochure does not outline all of this information— buyer beware!


No policy covers everything. Insurance policies are written to cover only very specific situations. Every policy, even your homeowners and auto insurance policy, contains exclusions in coverage. Therefore, you have to read the exclusions, which describe those situations not covered under your professional liability policy. Professional liability policies may exclude situations considered outside the scope of your “professional trade” such as employment related issues, equipment product liability, or boat operations. Business liability policies may exclude professional liability.  Watch carefully for items excluded which are a specific part of your activities. Typically items excluded may be available under another type of policy.


Warranties are specific to the type of “industry” the policy pertains to and will spell out standards within the industry the insured is expected to adhere to. Many of the warranties in scuba professional liability policies address standards or expectations within the scope of supervision of, orientation to and instruction in scuba diving activities. For example: warranties will address the need for use of waivers, supervision of entry-level divers during training and industry expectations for medical screening. Seasoned professionals within the diving industry understand these warranties as part the normal    “standard operating procedures.”

If you are multi-certified (teaching for more than one training agency), I caution you about limitations specific to one agency’s training standards. This could restrict or eliminate coverage under the insurance when you are adhering to the “another training agency’s standard while teaching another agencies course.” The warranties are professional expectations and as a warranty, you agree to abide by them. Intentional violations of these warranties can void your coverage. The fewer the warranties — the less likelihood you could do something to void your coverage.




Additional Insured Requirements and Special Wording for Additional Insured’s

Many training agencies, retail businesses, pools, charter boat operators and bodies of water require to be listed on your professional liability policy as an additional insured. Why? Because your activities as a diving professional can bring liability exposure to their business entity that is not specifically covered elsewhere. Additional insureds should be given broad protection under the policy arising from the action of the insured (professional or business) that leads to the additional insured being named in a legal action.  Additional insureds should have coverage that protects them for their own acts, errors or omissions if they cause the problem.

How can you know for yourself?

Read carefully the brochure especially the exclusions and warranties, as well as coverage for additional insureds. When you purchase insurance this year make sure before you buy that it will adequately protect you, your training agency. Don’t assume that anything you buy will adequately protect you and will be accepted by your training agency as meeting their requirements for liability insurance. Ask your training agency prior to purchasing insurance if the coverage you intend to buy will meet their requirements. They will tell you if they have been provided a copy of the policy wording for review and if it is acceptable. If you represent several training agencies, check to see which policy will be the broadest protection for you and the training agencies. Most importantly, is the coverage acceptable to the training agency that you certify the most students.


Carol Christini has offering insurance and risk management guidance to the diving industry for 25 years. She is a diver and understands both insurance and diving. She or other IMS staff can be reached for further questions regarding insurance at 800-467-7282.

Training Standard questions should be addressed directly to your training agency.

Deconstructing the Process of Learning and Instruction

It’s fair to say that the goal of most candidates who are working through an SDI or TDI leadership system to earn their instructor rating is to deliver the best possible standard of diver education possible.


The candidates who perform well, do so in part because they come into their IDC or IT program prepped and ready to learn. They arrive having worked on their diving and in-water skills… laps in the pool, mask clearing, gear removal on the surface… you know the drill.


Some arrive with a few miles logged making presentations… as an AI working with actual students or in front of their family and friends… or the mirror. Regardless of the methodology, they make an impression with their trainers because they’ve worked at to gain some experience, and it’s had a positive impact.


And the serious ones come primed for the knowledge review having studied their textbooks and leadership manual to brush up on dive theory –Gas Laws, signs and symptoms of DCS, etc.


But for the vast majority of newly minted instructors there is something standing in the way of them reaching their goal. What’s missing is the ability to read if effective learning is taking place in their classrooms. For lay educators not armed with the tools supplied by a post grad degree in education, or bloodied by the experience of teaching scuba in the real world with real people for a season of two… or three, this is a tough skill to acquire.


As experienced instructors and instructor-trainers, store owners, bosses, we mentor our new instructors but it’s hard to condense years of responding effectively to signs and signals from students into a few words. But there is help.


Gagne and the eight phases of learning


There are several established educational models in use by professional educators such as teachers, textbook writers, computer programmers, et al to develop instructional materials or presentations. We can learn a great deal from “borrowing” those concepts to help make the classes we lead more effective.


The work of American educator Robert Gagné especially had a profound influence on American education and on military, institutional and industrial training. His model is simple and applicable for scuba instruction.


Gagne explained that for effective learning to take place, whether the instruction is taking place in a classroom, on a factory floor or in a swimming pool, the learner must go through all eight of the phases in his model.


He stated that if one phase is ignored or if there’s a partial breakdown that extends over several phases, learning does not take place. It’s therefore primarily important that each of these phrases occurs, and if there is an issue, some person or material must make up the short-coming or effective learning will not occur.


The following paragraphs briefly describe each of the phases of learning presented by Gagne’s model:


Attention. Attention is the phase that pushes information into the student’s working memory and helps to keep it active there. And so for effective learning, the student must focus full intention on the learning activity itself. Although this is listed as the “first phase,” attention is critical throughout the whole learning process.


Expectancy. During this phase, the student realizes that the end result of learning is going to be something desirable. This develops motivation to engage in the subsequent phases of the learning process.


Retrieval of Relevant Information to Working Memory. This phase is entirely dependent on the student and his past learning experiences. During this phase, the student retrieves from long-term memory the structures that will be helpful in learning new information to him.


Selective Perception. This phase describes the student focusing their efforts on the  essential features of the instructional presentation. One important role of an instructor in this phase is helping students to direct their attention appropriately.


Encoding: Entry of Information into Long-Term Storage. During this phase the student remembers information. The information is transferred into long-term memory by relating the new  information to things that are already stored there.



Responding. During this phase the student uses what has been taught. He retrieves and actively uses the information that has been stored in long-term memory, and demonstrates through an active performance that the learning has taken place.


Feedback. During this phase the student determines the degree to which the performance during the previous phase was satisfactory. Positive feedback on a good performance usually serves as a positive reinforcement.


Cueing Retrieval. During this phase the learner practices recalling or applying the information after it has been initially learned in order to enhance retention of the information or to transfer the learning beyond its original context to a new application.



When Gagne stated that a student must go through all eight of these phases in order for effective learning to occur, he did not state that the instructor is the person responsible for causing all eight of them to occur. What he said was that Somebody (usually either the instructor or the student) must see to it that all of these phases occur, but the actual role of the instructor will vary from situation to situation and from student to student.


For example, during phase one an instructor will introduce a topic to be learned in a way that catches the student’s attention and causes them to develop expectancy (phase two) that it would be interesting to know more about the topic.



The Nine Events of Instruction


Based on the eight phases of learning Gagne developed with others nine events of instruction: useful information for us in the context of improving the effectiveness of the training we deliver and the way we coach new instructors. These focus on activities that can be performed by an instructor or by the instruction system itself to promote effective learning. Here is the list.

Gaining attention: Giving a stimulus to ensure reception of coming instruction

Informing the learner of the objective: Telling student what they will be able to do following successful instruction

Stimulating recall of prior learning: Asking for recall of existing relevant knowledge

Presenting the stimulus: Displaying the content and discussing it

Providing learner guidance: Supplying organization and relevance to enhance understanding 

Eliciting performance: Asking learners to respond, demonstrating learning

Providing Feedback: Giving immediate feedback on learner’s performance.

Assessing performance: Providing feedback to learners’ more performance for reinforcement

Enhancing retention and transfer: Providing diverse practice to generalize the capability 


There is something to be gained in sharing this work with new instructors, and reviewing it in comparison with our current classroom/training techniques. In fact we can use the table below to gain a better understanding of how the events of instruction interlink with the phases of learning. Reading Gagne will never replace the benefits of classroom experience, but it may help to optimize it.


Event of Instruction

Learning Phase

How Teacher or Text Does It

How Students Self-Instruct

When to Skip This Event


Gaining attention




Sudden stimulus change.

Call for attention.





Attentional set

Mood management.

When attention can be assumed – when learner is already alert.


Informing the learner of the objective: activating motivation.



State objectives and relate them to students’ needs and interests.

Student selects own objectives. (This usually comes first.)

Almost never – but maybe if the objective is obvious.


Stimulating recall of prior knowledge.


Retrieval to Working Memory of prerequisite information


Give an exercise or review activity to recall previous information.

Student looks for and retrieves relevant prior information.

Often students do this without even realizing that it is happening.

Almost never – but skillful self-learners may do this themselves.



Presenting the stimulus material.



Selective Perception

Text, audiovisual, or voice presentation.

Objects or demonstration materials

Show distinctive features and focus attention on them.

Student seeks out and finds relevant material to provide instruction.

Almost never – although learners may acquire stimulus material on their own initiative.


Providing learning guidance


Encoding: Entry to Long-term Memory Storage

Provide meaningful context.

Offer organizing strategies.

Relate encoding to the objectives.

Student uses rehearsal or chunking strategies.

Student selects storage structures to retain in-formation.

Student employs cognitive strategies

When the learner already possesses effective cognitive strategies.


Eliciting performance



Another online first from Scuba Diving International

Leadership/Instructor Crossover Orientation


“It had to come,” says Sean Harrison, Vice President of Training and Member Services for SDI the undisputed leader in online training for the dive industry with more than 65,000 online courses completed.

Harrison, talking to a gathering of training professionals was describing the latest chapter in the company’s impressive run at developing a full curriculum of diver training courses through its eLearning Program (www.sdi-onlinetraining.com/professional): Professional Online Crossovers.

“We have enjoyed an unprecedented demand from dive instructors wanting to join our SDI team,” he said. “They teach for other sport agencies, and either want to add SDI programs to bolster their career, or, more and more, want to switch to SDI fully because they find the benefits offered by our programs better suit them and their business goals.”

Harrison explained that the new online program, Leadership/Instructor Crossover Orientation, has been in full operation since the late fall and was developed by the same in-house group who have put SDI’s open water, nitrox, wreck, deep, and navigation programs available via internet access. “The real benefit of having our very own programmers and beta-testing people is that they know diving, they know the industry and in developing these programs is that they work right off the bat with no delays and no downtime. But the advantages of offering this orientation course online are actually much greater than with any online course we’ve developed in the past,” he said.

“Crossover candidates can go online when it suits them, and work through what is an extremely comprehensive and detailed grounding on everything they need to prepare them for their final meeting with an SDI or TDI instructor Trainer prior to being accepted and inducted as members.”

The online Leadership/Instructor Crossover Orientation is updated as standards and course outlines change and is available as a resource for any crossover SDI leadership at any time… “So it’s an excellent way to keep current and refresh one’s knowledge.”

Harrison said that many SDI facilities have found the online orientation a boon when they hire new staff. “These professionals can devote quality time to their orientation in their own time well before starting their new assignment, and be ready to teach SDI programs starting on day one of employment.”

There are no stand alone fees for this online course but the program is a required and integral part of the crossover process and is included in the $399 crossover price.


SDI vs TDI Nitrox: Which One and Why

We are often asked why we have two nitrox programs, one under SDI and one under TDI, and why should someone choose to teach one course over the other…. or even consider both?