elearning fail

How eLearning Is Failing the Diving Industry and What We Can Do to Fix It.

by Brian Carney, President of SDI/TDI/ERDI:

“The Trend to encourage online and resort-based training could be hurting industry sales significantly.”

- Dive Center Business

“Today, it’s estimated that about 46% of college students are taking at least one course online. However, by 2019, roughly half of all college classes will be eLearning-based”

- www.ElearningIndustry.com

“About 4.3 million undergraduate students, or 20% of all undergraduates, took at least one distance education course in 2007-2008”.

– National Center for Educational Statistics

“Most (59%) of Respondents prefer classroom based learning.”

- Dive Center Business

See Brian Carney’s webinar presentation here:

See Brian Carney’s live presentation here:

Simply put, elearning is not going away; it will become an even bigger part of everyday education.  What do we need to do to make it succeed?

In July of 2015, Mark Young from Dive Center Business came to visit me at our headquarters.  His reason for this trip, other than the usual discussions we have over the years, was to give me the heads up on a series of articles he was publishing based on data he had compiled from dive centers.  The focus of these articles was how elearning is contributing to the decline of the dive industry.   My response of, “You’re right”, was not the one he expected. How can the president of one of the largest training organizations in the world, one with 20+ elearning courses in multiple languages, say this?   Because, in the past SDI had made mistakes in the way we promoted elearning to our members, and on how to use it.  However, SDI realized these mistakes and changed the way we educated our members about how to use elearning; but many in the industry continue to make these same mistakes.    Dive Center Business’s spotlight on this issue needs to serve as a way to wake up the industry and change how we utilize elearning.

the past

In order to correct the direction the industry is going, we need to understand how we got here.

As an industry, the concept of Self-Study has been around for a long time.  First, with take home study programs, or plug in and play training videos in the 80’s, then CD Rom’s in the 90’s, and finally with the prolific number of elearning courses we see in the industry today.

Scuba Diving International’s advantage with how our elearning programs are produced and operate comes from the fact that SDI has been using this technology since 2001 when we launched our first Open Water course online. Our advantage is time. And having made a few mistakes in the past with how we promote it; over that time we learned what we needed to change.    Initially we started with the following promotional ideas, which some organizations still use today.


 “E-learning shortens classroom time because the student completed their academics online”

“Elearning replaces the classroom”

“You can fast track them to the pool, where the real learning is done.” 


What we learned is that elearning is not the problem; the problem was in how we promoted the reasons for using it, and how we define a “Classroom”.

The first solution to the first problem is pretty simple, stop using it as a time reducer and use it for its intended purpose: to allow the instructor more time to spend with the student on issues or skills they have an interest in or are struggling with.

The second is to understand how we define “Classroom” and change it.  Classroom is defined differently depending on age demographic as much of the older generation sees a classroom as a place with a chalk board, or dry erase board, with a series of desks placed throughout a room where a teacher can stand in the front and lecture. This is now considered the “Traditional Classroom”.  While others in the younger generation will define a classroom as any place where a teacher is giving information where learning can occur, i.e. on a computer screen, on the beach doing a briefing, and even underwater.

What SDI/TDI/ERDI learned is: in order for elearning to work, we needed to embrace the concept of a Flipped Classroom.


As the chart above shows, students should have the elearning course done prior to coming to the first “classroom” session so that they have a basic understanding of what they will be doing before the first class even begins.

Dive industry professionals need to embrace this concept and change their classrooms.   Here are a few ways this can be accomplished.

  • First and foremost, assign the work prior to a student’s first class session. Probably during the initial sign-up phase of the course.

Then when they come in for their first class session, change the method of delivering the information.   Here are some ways to do this:

  • Put a circle of chairs in the middle of the store to go over what items the students struggled with, and to review key concepts.
  • Stand at the repair counter and go over how a regulator works. Go to the compressor room to learn how cylinders should be handled and why.
  • Spend time at the counter going over environmental considerations when diving, i.e. the need for proper buoyancy.
  • Visit the boat in the back of the store to learn boat diving techniques
  • Spend more time at the quarry.
  • Do a slide show on things divers see underwater.

The intent of following these guidelines is two-fold. One, the student is more prepared when they first come in.  Two, when they arrive they are not limited to a traditional classroom for their course.  The benefits seen by many SDI Instructors  as a result of employing these techniques are: not only is the student more ready to learn, but they are also more engaged in the course.

An additional point to deliberate is that many will say their students don’t bother doing course work prior to the start of the class.  Through SDI’s research over the years, this is definitely true of students using books, or other take-home type study programs, but not true with elearning.  For some reason students who are taking elearning courses generally have the entire course done prior to the start of the class, even if the instructor doesn’t tell them they must.

Finally, it is important to remember elearning was created by SDI many years ago to allow the instructor more freedom to teach more, not reduce the amount of time instructing the student.  Remember that the next time you teach a course.  If being used properly as an education tool, elearning will allow the instructor more time to develop the relationships and skills needed to grow our sport.

What we are doing about it

We are taking measures to make eLearning a more resourceful and better learning experience for diving. Check out what we doing now with Live Chat with an Instructor during your eLearning Course

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18 replies
  1. paul seldes
    paul seldes says:

    elearning is more than just the wave of the future. it is a far more effective way to learn and retain information. As an instructor it allows me to be more effective and to be more a mentor and facilitator as opposed to a “sage on a stage”. elearning allows me to have quality time with students and in the end create far better divers!

  2. Matt
    Matt says:

    In other words, the agency takes a cut of the course fee and then expects instructors to spend just as much time with the student. I’ll never be a fan of elearning, it takes away the chance to spend time getting to know the student in a less stressful environment.

    • Michael
      Michael says:

      A rather negative response to an agency that has given you so many tools to work with …. oh that’s right, you don’t utilize anything other than your own “best efforts.” As to agency expectations, yes they do expect you to spend enough quality time with students to bring them to a level of performance and comfort so they may complete their ow dives successfully and safely ….. that’s certainly nothing new! Your last sentence makes no sense at all ….. e-learning tools, properly employed, enhance both the learning experience for, and relationship with, the student. But then you’ll “never be a fan of elearning …..” or perhaps that should have been just “learning.”

    • Rick
      Rick says:

      The agency “takes a cut” of the traditional learning method as well by selling you the materials. What is the difference between selling a hard back book or a code? The agency has to stay in business too. And yes, they expect you to spend just as much time with the student to build a relationship. Did you watch the and understand the full presentation?

  3. Dave Grandy
    Dave Grandy says:

    I did my theory thru e learning.. due to being a shift worker and having scheduling issues. . So it was convenient however I do feel like I missed a few things which leaves me slightly concerned.. and if I had of had the time.. I would I done the classes… on a positive note it forced me to further my learning online and thru discussions at my very helpful local dive shack.. so I think as long as you are the type of person who is not just satisfied with a card in your wallet…then you’ll be alright.

  4. Michael.
    Michael. says:

    It has always been my opinion that classroom learning is better. When in a group an answer given to one is explained to all, so anyone that may have a basic idea of something leaves with a better understanding. E learning really only tests ability to memorize answers and doesn’t test a persons understanding of the topic

  5. Por
    Por says:

    We have used elearning in all of our SDI/TDI courses in the past 1-2 years. My opinion to your point is most of the elearnings (especially the TDI ones) are just the electronic copies of the paper books. So for us they do not replace the classroom hours and also they are more expensive than the actual books. But we have to use them here because of the logistics and availability of the paper-based books.


  6. Daniel Eddinger
    Daniel Eddinger says:

    It’s the good, bad, and the ugly. Good to have the ability to use eLearning, bad if you have no interactive time with the students prior to pool, ugly if the students just go thru the motions of eLearning and don’t learn anything. I have only been instructor for two decades, I have seen alot of changes over the years. ELearning can be good, bad and even ugly; the instructor has to make learning how to dive safe enjoyable, and educational. The certifying agency is only the tool used to help accomplish the mission.

  7. Ted Reitsma
    Ted Reitsma says:

    There are also good and bad classrooms too. Having the students go into room, watch a bunch of (PADI or a NAUI) videos and then doing the quizzes is not a great deal different. Discussion at the end of the quizzes is. I am more of a visual learner and having the book as backup/review and having ability to discuss any questions is vital. I personally always buy the books ahead of time, read them front to back and use the class as the review session. Some classes (new to diving) maybe too large to get your questions asked as getting to the pool on time can be an issue depending on dive shops scheduling. Otherwise I see no real difference. The student has responsibilities to speak up to ask questions just as much as the dive shop has to TRAIN the student. If the dive shop stresses the pool sessions and has great instruction and advice, they should still survive in a ever challenging global market

  8. Henrique - BRASIL
    Henrique - BRASIL says:

    And how about last minute enrolments?
    And how aboaut students “too busy” who fail self-study and mess pool sessons previously scheduled with others?
    When on vacation trips self-study is an ilusion unless instructor plays the insisting role. It demands unavaliable time and attention.

  9. @marco_valera
    @marco_valera says:

    I’ve been saying it: eLearners have the information but lack the knowledge. eLearning should be a supplement not a substitute, as other agencies uses it.

  10. Theuns
    Theuns says:

    Can you please explain how e-learning is destroying the industry?

    We need to keep in mind what information is important (or needed) to be deposited with the student prior to entering the water.

    A dive course is not an academic qualification, the theory should be no more than a preparation for the actual dive experience to follow, with the emphasis on safety.

    People learn to dive by diving, not absorbing theory. If e-learning or classroom learning is used in this context I fail to see how it could destroy the industry, but are keen to hear your side.

  11. Wesley Copley
    Wesley Copley says:

    I have used them for years and did my Divemaster and Instructor’s e-Learning, I found it much easier to complete the classes without the added pressure of schedule conflicts or location difficulties. I was in fact working in Afghanistan so it would have been impossible to complete either class on a few days leave.
    Furthermore, if all the instructor’s manuals were online and downloadable after paying, there would be no waiting and no matter where the travels took you, your resource material would be available to download on the run. I hope TDI/SDI expands the offering and cut out even the thumb drives and go digital for instructor’s manuals as well.

  12. Robert - Washington State
    Robert - Washington State says:

    Please excuse the brevity of the message: But If anyone has use the term “wave of the future” of then we’ve really missed the message. second, education is the on-line part and learning comes from the various aspects of how humans learn, adapt, and experience the result of the interactions after completion of on-line education. Three, the student I’ve interviewed tend to resolve their own education question on-line during the on-line phase prior to going to class so they can interact on the subject. This implies many student won’t form a relationship with instructor if the instructor is less educated or competent on the subject. Fourth, data from the learning institute does not factor in residual retainment of any subject unless facilitated with actual experiences. That is beyond the elearning mantra because human cognition comes through practical examples and real-life demonstrations. The is how the brain has been wired since we left the stones and spears in the cave. Fwiw, the circle of chairs is the basis of socratic learning. when done right the results could transform an dive shop into a super center for learning. We have adapted it–the result: our regional enrollment through word of mouth and advertising in local communities has gone up 200-300%. Plus we get new tweaks on improving the process from the students during the round chair sessions. Just my four cents worth. Don’t chat-do!

  13. Hugh - Australia
    Hugh - Australia says:

    Having been an Instructor from 1981, long prior to e-learning, I have seen the economic damage done by incorrect use of the e-Learning system. The current retention rate for students where they keep diving, purchase equipment from the training shop (if the shop knows how to sell), do follow on courses, trips etc is tragically low.

    Without quality surface time in a congenial environment with the Instructor, fellow students, divemasters and assistant instructors, the student has a tendency to feel lost and dive buddy relationships don’t develop, so the ‘new diver’ never really feels part of something on going.

    E-Learning definitely has its place allowing a student to complete the ‘bookwork’ but there is a considerable value in review and discussion in a group environment, and since the ‘buddy’ is so much part of our diving practice, students developing relationships with other students during this group time is critically important. The formation of ‘buddy’ friendships allows them to develop their skills at a comparable rate whereas diving with an experienced diver can be daunting for the student and a ‘pain in the ***’ for the more experienced buddy.

    We used to run a system where the course Divemasters and AI’s would run a month of follow up dives for the students, this was good for the staff and great for the students and their buddies they had met on the course, further cementing relationships, improving their skills and minimising the drop out rate. Going from computer to water work without the group time and the follow up effectively fails the student as all we have done is shown them how to dive not taught them to be a diver.

    I realise this discussion is all about e-learning, but it has to go further otherwise all we are doing is numbers and not building our industry for the future.

  14. Sales training nz
    Sales training nz says:

    In recent free webinar on the 10 Lessons Learned My First Year in E-Learning, I talked about my realization that the field of e-learning is so much more than just the practice of instructional design.


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