The Professional Association of Diving Instructors plans to launch an online version of the academic portion of its introductory Open-Water Diver course in the Spring of 2007, according to Kristin Valette, director of marketing and communications at PADI Americas.
"This is something we tried in the past," Valette said today during a seminar on the organization’s efforts to attract new divers. In 2005, "we put a couple of courses up to just sort of test the waters and that’s truly what we did — we tested the waters; it was sort of a non-committal approach," she said.
PADI decided to pull the courses down "because we didn’t see a whole lot of success with them and we realized we put the wrong courses up, Valette added. "And we said, ‘You know what? We need to rethink this; we need to give it a little more time, we need to see what happens in the e-learning area and when we go back into it we need to go back into it with two feet, full in, just dive in and make it right.’"
Which is what PADI has decided to do, she continued. "Basically, we felt . . . if diver acquisition is our industry’s main problem right now, in terms of trying to recruit new participants into the sport, what better thing to do than broaden the potential reach, to get in front of more people? And we’ve got to start our main course online," Valette said. "We can’t go into it half-committed, we have got to go full-heart into this."
PADI’s goals for the program include increasing entry-level diver business by driving new enthusiastic student divers to PADI Dive Centers and resorts to complete their in-pool and open-water training, according to Valette.
"They’ve got to get into the pool, they’ve got to get into the open water, they’ve got to sit down with that instructor and have that face-to-face interaction because that is how you learn to dive," she said. "How you get the knowledge development is secondary to that."
Under PADI’s plan, the prospective student diver would sign up for the knowledge development portion of the Open Water Diver course through either a dive center’s web site or PADI.com, according to Valette. Upon completion of the academic portion, the student would then sign up for an in-pool session with a local dive center.
PADI is taking full responsibility for the academic section of the course, Valette said. "So it means it’s up to us to retain their records for seven years, it’s up to us to make sure they have mastery — we’ll do the remediation until they have absolutely 100 percent mastery of the material. So when they come to you [dive operators] they have a signed referral and they’re ready for the pool," she added.
Valette emphasized that the program is still "really in the formative stages right now; we know the basic structure and the delivery, but all of the fine-tuning still needs to be done."
One of the benefits of the new program for dive centers and resorts is that they will get to share a portion of the fee the prospective students pay PADI for taking the online course, Valette said.
"There will be a set price — there has to be — but you will receive a revenue share," she told the dive operators in the audience, although the exact price of the course as well as the amount of the benefit has not been determined.
"Obviously this is going to be slightly different than how you price your courses, because now they’re coming to you with their academics done, and they just need their pool and confined water," she added.
Prospective divers have the benefit of taking the academic portion at their own pace, according to Valette.
"We hear this over and over as one of the perceived barriers to scuba diving: They just say, ‘I don’t have the time. I’m just too busy. I can’t fit schedules in.’ So that addresses that concern," she said.
Further, the student divers will be very well prepared for in-water training because they will be required to have mastery of the material before being able to move on, Valette added.