On-Line Classes: Good for Diving Education?

I recently popped my head into an online PADI instructor forum. There was a discussion about online courses. It seems, many of the instructors (and dive store owners) were loving these classes. The consensus that I read into the discussion was that those who favored the online courses, liked them because the reduced their work load when teaching the course. I’m not a fan of online scuba classes and I feel they will hurt the scuba diving education business.

Keeping true to my PADI beginnings, let me start off with some of the things I like about using the Internet with scuba diving courses. I feel that the Internet should be used to supplement the classroom portion of the class. Having some kind of online knowledge pool will help enhance a student’s education in the classroom. However, Internet usage should not be a replacement for classroom learning.

What do I dislike about online classes? You guessed it, everything. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against home learning. However, instructors bring so much more than just reading off of PowerPoint slides. For example, in the open water class, there is a section about the aquatic environment. This includes currents, tides, etc. My friends in the Seattle area have to take into consideration tidal conditions when they go diving. They have to know how to read tidal forecasts, the times the tide come in and goes out, etc. This is knowledge that is specific to their area. You won’t get that with a general PowerPoint presentation.

In the open water course I teach, I have added a section in the classroom dedicated to local diving. I show videos of our training quarry, diving in Lake Michigan and us hanging out at dive sites. It’s important for me to show my students what local diving will be like when they get out and start diving. This way, when they move out of the clear pool (with 100+ feet of viz) into the quarry (with less than 10 feet of viz), they are not as nervous. It also helps me, subtly, to promote continuing education classes and local dive operators without sounding like a salesman.

Online scuba classes have been advertised as a way to get the classroom portion done quicker. The truth is, it really doesn’t save you any time. Many students, when they get to the pool section of the class, have forgotten much of what was taught online. Then the instructor, assuming they actually care, has to remediate and re-teach some of the things the student should have already learned at the pool. Thus, consuming much needed pool time and perhaps requiring additional pool time just to make up for what was missed while re-teaching classroom stuff.

The biggest thing that I dislike about online scuba courses is the fact that they can breed mediocrity. From lazy students, to lazy instructors, to lazy dive store owners. Online classes can allow the instructor/store to offer a bare minimum in terms of classroom knowledge. Then charge a premium. You simply show up, go over your knowledge reviews, take the final exam and leave.

In a time when the cheaper and faster mindset is dominating the scuba industry, online classes can give unsavory people the tools to perform a cashectomy on your wallet. Some people will play into the misnomer that instant gratification in scuba diving classes is just as safe as taking your time and earning something. They are wrong!!!

An instructor, even a bad instructor, can share a passion and excitement about scuba diving that you won’t get with a PowerPoint.

Have you taken an online scuba class? Are you a dive store owner offering them? I’d love to hear you opinions.

About Duane Johnson

Duane Johnson is the founder of Precision Diving and runs a scuba diving blog to help scuba divers improve their diving skills and enjoyment. He teaches recreational and technical scuba diving classes in the Chicago area. Learn more about him here and follow him on Twitter at @PrecisionDiving.


  1. Nate says:

    Hi Duane,

    First let me say that I read and agree with a lot of your articles and this one for the most part is no different.

    The only online course I have taken is the IDC online module, but in this case of the IDC, the online module is not the stand alone knowledge development area as is the case with the recreational courses. With the IDC, there were still many hours spent with my course director simply discussing knowledge based ideas and concepts. In this situation, I did appreciate the online option since I could study this material without having to travel a couple hundred miles to my instructors location. As well, at this level, much of the information in the online section pertains to sales and management, not key scuba fundamentals.

    As an instructor, I will not recommend the online courses for two main reasons. One, it is very easy to just click through slides without really having to read/understand the information, even with the little quizzes that are normally more common sense than anything. As you said, this can and will result in mediocrity.

    The second reason, and more so, the online course does not include any training materials and is only available to the student for 12 months. I am a fan of students having reference materials to look at on their own even after a course. I personally have found that reviewing the books and materials a second time after a course was completed was extremely beneficial. As well, for those who do aspire to become a DM or higher, they will be required to purchase all of these materials again at a later date.

    So again, in a few rare cases, I can see how online courses can be a huge benefit, but overall for new recreational divers, I think it increases the risk of unacknowledged divers entering the water. As well, it undermines the value of building a reference library that most divers I think would agree consider very valuable.

    Thanks again for all of your articles and the maintenance of your website. Like I said, I agree with a lot of your views and it’s reassuring to know that I am not the only one that feels these ways. Hopefully at some point, our paths will cross and we can dive together sometime.

    Take it easy,


  2. Jan says:

    I think, online courses in the first place are a huge benefit to the agency offering them, think of it, same contend than for example the OWD manual but no printing and storage cost, but yet it cost double than than the “old” manual.
    The student probably expects a discount from you as he already completed some portion, so you can not sell materials as he already gave all the money to PADI which should have been going to you the Instructors Wallet. Also you still have to teach stuff on your own – as somebody doing the course in January but doing the real thing in August probably retains little.
    So overall the courses not necessarily become better but likely more expensive. The students are tricked with the “it easy and convenient” but that is not really the case.
    The maximum discount I would give someone showing up with a proof of online learning is the cost of the book – 30$ – 50$, not a lot.
    If the online option would cost the same as a book or slightly more because of the test, it might be OK but other than that, it’s not convincing to me yet…

  3. CL says:

    I did the PADI AOW course online a few years ago. The dive shop I was using was in Florida (and I was in Maryland) so it seemed convenient at the time. I would never do this again, which is no reflection on the dive shop who were trialling the online course. Not being able to ask questions until I actually got to the shop was my biggest gripe and when we came to the knowledge reviews, for some reason they just would not print and the shop ended up giving me a book anyway (in which I had to redo all the knowledge reviews).

  4. Keith says:

    Based on your post, I am left wondering if you have done any looking into online classes at all. As part of the online class you still have to do a review with the student. This review offers you all the opportunity in the world to go over the things the student has not picked up from his homework, local environmental conditions, and the whole host of things that dedicated instructors add to their class. Our experience has shown that students show up much more prepared for class, we get much more of their time to actually teach them to dive, rather than just review the basics they can get from a book. The online classes have made our great students even greater and easier to make sure the students that just want a quick cert get a full education and leave knowing how to actually dive (rather than just jump on a boat and follow a divemaster). My experience is that those who don’t like the online version are usually the instructor that automatically default to the laziest approach possible, I am surprised to see you on that side

    As with any dive class, the effectiveness is all up to how the instructor AND student approaches the class. This is true for online classes or book work classes. For many students this is a much better use of their time to ensure they still get everything they can from the class.

    • Keith,

      I have read through the standards as they apply to on-line training. I have seen the “reviews” conducted over the phone rather than in a classroom setting. While you and your shop may do something good with online courses, it opens up the door for people to less than optimal with it.

      I fail to see why giving presentations and real lectures are the lazy way to teach? All of the prep work that I put in to getting ready for lectures doesn’t reflect this. (I put in about a days worth of prep work for each day of class)