Reimagining the Scuba Training Experience

With the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, companies across all sectors have had to quickly pivot and adapt their operations to digital channels. Stay-at-home orders, global travel restrictions, and an increase in public health concerns have forced companies to accelerate digital transformation initiatives to stay competitive and remain relevant.

The Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the world’s leading scuba diver training organization, is one organization that — by redesigning the scuba training experience — has positioned itself to thrive now and in a post-pandemic world. The organization quickly pivoted its business model — heavily dependent on in-person training — to an e-learning-first model by releasing over 50 digital courses when the pandemic began to take hold.

The article below — written from my perspective as the organization’s design leader — outlines how the fortunate timing of a digital initiative to revise its cornerstone product led serendipitously to an enforced need for PADI to go “all in” on digital learning as a strategy for survival amid the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PADI Worldwide at a glance
  • Provides the world’s most popular scuba training programs
  • Taught in 180+ countries supporting 26 languages
  • Used by over 135,000 instructors globally
  • Certifies over 1 million divers annually

As part of its commitment to deliver state of the art diver education, PADI sought to re-evaluate and update its flagship product, the Instructor Development Course (IDC) for the first time in over 10 years in 2018. The purpose of revising the IDC experience was to not only enhance the curriculum by digitizing course materials, but to also deliver a new learning experience by launching a new cloud-based platform and companion mobile app. The IDC revision was strategically planned as the foundation for revising PADI’s entire digital learning experience, enabling its training to be accessible to divers of all levels.

My Role as Design Leader

In early 2018 I teamed up with the VP of Training Products to set in motion the vision and execution of a reimagined learning experience for PADI. As VP of Product Design at PADI, I developed and owned the vision for the new learning experience, managing the design department that would execute this strategic vision. This multi-disciplinary team consisted of UX researchers, product designers, visual designers, and instructional designers. Working alongside my design managers, my primary role was to support and clear the way for the team to meet our objectives and successfully implement the vision.

The team behind the Instructor Development Course (IDC) revision

The team behind the Instructor Development Course (IDC) revision

The Solve

We realized early on that the need for a formal discovery phase was essential to the success of the project.

Users, Journeys, and Insights

Multiple discovery workshops were held with training staff and content subject matter experts (SMEs) in the first few months of the project. Personas were identified and generated from the outputs of our initial workshops to help direct design decisions. The end result of our sessions was the development of a set of comprehensive service maps that identified the pain points and opportunities for each of the key actors in the training and certification process. Key decisions made early in the project were to create parallel design tracks for the course content and delivery experiences, as well as to design the experience holistically for both student and instructor.

IDC project war room

IDC project war room

Utilizing our Design System

Throughout the project, the team looked at building out efficiencies for future course builds. This was primarily done by taking the same systematic approach that had previously been done when creating the Cousteau design system. By taking the same “atomic” approach that was used to create the learning platform experience, the team was able to adjust and create an innovative solution to the massive task of creative asset production.

PADI's proprietary Cousteau design system

PADI’s proprietary Cousteau design system

Prototype, Test, and Iterate

As we progressed into our design phase the decision was made to procured a rapid e-learning authoring tool to enable efficiency and consistency in the development of the digital course materials. More importantly, the new platform allowed instructional designers to quickly prototype a multitude of learning experience variations that dove-tailed into the broader learning platform experience their UX design counterparts were creating. These early-stage prototypes were tested extensively with our SMEs and other PADI training staff to ensure standards were being met while honing in on some of the nuanced pain points of the overall learning journey. Each iteration of the full experience was trialed “in the wild” by a select group of PADI field sales reps and instructors in key locations around the world for testing with real-world students.

E-learning prototype iterations used for testing

E-learning prototype iterations used for testing

Demo, demo, demo

Finally, we took our pilot experience to Las Vegas to demo it to the larger learning and development (L&D) industry at the DevLearn 2018 learning conference. We had our design team lead the demos, giving them first-hand exposure to baselining the new learning experience against industry expectations.

Demoing new learning experience at DevLearn in Las Vegas

Presenting the new learning experience at DevLearn’s DemoFest in Las Vegas

The Product Experience

The end result was the creation of a new learning experience that was comprised of three key parts: 1) A custom learning experience platform; 2) a complementary training app, and 3) the digital course material itself.

Learning Experience Platform (LXP)

The new learning platform was designed and developed from the ground up using PADI’s proprietary Cousteau design system. It was built as a scalable framework to eventually support the migration of PADI’s entire e-learning library to the new experience.

While the initial focus was on providing course access and delivery, the learning platform created the foundation for the ultimate re-design of the entire PADI customer platform.

Training App

The new digital course material was designed with a fluid layout responsive to any screen size and with functionality optimized for each of the most popular devices. The experience was further enhanced with the addition of interactive learning features and the contextual integration of tests and quizzes to create a seamless pathway through the coursework for the learner.

Digital Course Material

The new digital course material was designed with a fluid layout responsive to any screen size with functionality optimized for each of the most popular devices. The experience was further enhanced with the addition of interactive learning features and the contextual integration of tests and quizzes to create a seamless pathway through the coursework for the learner.

Key Challenges

The complexity of the task brought with it some interesting challenges:

  • Navigating the Unknown No research had been performed to inform the user experience. The design team also had little knowledge of the current IDC process as the course was taught only a few times a year and only at select locations around the world.
  • Digitally Enhancing an Analog Experience Practically every step of the process was being done manually – from registration through to accreditation. As such, the design team had to consider not only digitizing the courseware itself, but also identify key opportunities for digitizing key moments across the entire user journey.
  • Designing for a Global Audience The IDC product is used in over 180 countries globally and made available in 26 languages. Accessibility was a key consideration in design – not only for usability, but in the cultural (religious implications on image selection), geographic (literacy concerns), and technological (access to web) context of product use.


The impact from the launch of the new learning experience was vast:

  • The digital revision of PADI’s Instructor Development Course resulted in incremental revenue of over $7M in the first year of launch. PADI earned a further $1.5M+ in revenue in the first month of launching the first diver-level course under the new experience in early 2020.
  • From 2018-2020 PADI was able to increase the adoption and utilization of its online learning platform from 35% to 65%, providing its members with educational products that were both resilient to shipping disruptions and provided an environmentally-friendly option for training materials.
  • App store ratings for the PADI Training app increased by an average of 2 stars across both iOS and Android platforms versus the previous tablet-only version of the app.

“I absolutely love the revised course! The e-learning was extremely effective at delivering content to the candidates. They took a lot in and classroom time was way more fun, effective and interactive.”

Holly Macleod, PADI Platinum Course Director – Indonesia

This article also appeared in UX Collective’s Bootcamp collection on December 15, 2020.