If the title of this blog got your attention, awesome. Many PADI® Instructors find teaching dive theory low on their list of favorite things to do, and a few are actually intimidated by it. Even if you’re fine with it, you might rather spend your contact time with PADI Divemaster candidates doing more hands-on work. Rest assured, your candidates will still be learning dive theory (standards require it) – you’re just going to stop teaching it, or at least not teach it so much.
Speaking More Generally
Before getting into how to approach dive-theory learning, let’s revisit teaching the PADI Divemaster course more broadly. Because it involves training up-and-coming leaders, new instructors often think it is one of the more difficult courses to teach – but, with the right approaches, it is one of the easiest. Compared to the PADI Open Water Diver course, the knowledge and skill performance requirements are obviously much higher and typically the course duration is longer, but generally speaking (there are always exceptions) PADI Divemaster candidates differ significantly from lower-level students, and that hugely affects (and simplifies) how you approach the course.
Dedicated dive enthusiasts. Unlike beginning divers, PADI Divemaster candidates are heavily committed to diving. They’ve gone through multiple training levels, made lots of dives, almost always own all their own gear and have chosen to step into the leadership levels. This means they’re motivated, committed to learning and, with guidance, self-directed.
Massive context. Because they’re experienced dive enthusiasts, compared to beginners, divemaster candidates already have a large dive knowledge/skills base, which makes learning more knowledge and skills easier. This is because, as educational psychology shows us, we learn by creating associations between new and existing contextual information. The more of the latter there is, the more readily we learn and instruction can be much less linear. So, while your PADI Divemaster candidates must reach a higher and broader mastery levels, they’ve already learned a great deal and are ready to do so.
A lot isn’t new. Divemaster candidates already know the basics of what dive leaders do, and the course really focuses on the thinking behind these and details that may not be obvious. For example, as students PADI Divemaster candidates saw divemasters at work with instructors, and already know their duties include monitoring students in training, helping with logistics, assisting with two person demonstrations and so on. They generally know what to do, so they’re learning different positioning options, what to watch for, mistakes to avoid, communicating with instructors, etc. – stuff you know well.
Mentor, don’t teach. PADI Divemaster candidates are more like junior colleagues than basic students, so a mentoring/coaching approach that advises and guides is often better than lecturing. Think master-apprentice or professor-graduate student if you like.Give assignments. The PADI Divemaster course has a lot of hands-on workshops, but much lends itself to assignments and projects. Let candidates know when independent study, maps, emergency assistance plans etc. are due and the requirements, then leave it to them, knowing they can get your guidance if needed.Remediate real world. Schedule follow-up and remediation sessions along with diving when possible. If a candidate is struggling with something, ideally work on the point with a real-world application of it, or a simulated one otherwise. For example, if a candidate struggles with recognizing stress in beginning divers, discuss it, but then have the candidate watch for stress signs in your next Open Water Diver course pool session, followed by a conversation about it after.It’s okay to know less about something. Divemaster candidates are enthusiastic, experienced divers entering leadership levels, so don’t be surprised if they know or do some things better than you. Because we all have our strength areas, in fact, it would be more surprising if they didn’t. Leverage this by learning from your candidates, and getting them to team up to learn from and help each other. Similarly, it’s okay to not know an answer to something esoteric – look it up together so you mentor how to find needed information.
Now let’s apply those concepts specifically to dive theory:
Use the tools. Unless not available in a language the candidate understands, independent study with Divemaster eLearning® (dive theory review), Dive Theory eLearning, RDP Instruction for Use and Study Guide and/or the PADI Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving should cover the bulk of dive theory learning. Assign dates to be done and turn them loose to do it.Remediate prescriptively. Using results from knowledge review results, impromptu questions to or from candidates and the PADI Divemaster Final Exam, spend most of your time discussing problem areas and expand on interest areas.Assign team remediation. Have candidates help each other by pairing weak and strong areas. This helps both candidates learn. By the way, often an effective approach is counterintuitive: Have the weaker candidate “teach” the topic or point to the stronger candidate. The “teacher” has to learn it well, and the “student” can help guide if the lesson isn’t quite right.Ask to see their work. Especially helping with physics problems using math, ask to see candidates’ work. Often, a relatively simple, easily corrected missed point – like repeatedly forgetting to move a decimal – underlies what seems to be a big knowledge gap.Answer by asking. As a mentor, you’re trying to guide learning how to think, so use leading questions when you can. For example, suppose a candidate’s air supply calculations keep coming up wrong, and looking at their work you see they forget to convert gauge pressure into absolute pressure. You might say something like, “That’s the correct pressure for the depth – but should you use gauge, or absolute pressure from here?” If it doesn’t click then you may need to more guiding questions or to be direct, but often the first question is all you need for a candidate’s “ah ha” moment.Show with examples, especially physics/math. When you use real world examples, most people are better at physics and math than they think they are. Remediating Boyle’s Law, for example, assuming they understand the concept but struggle determining pressure/volume changes, don’t start with V1 x P1 = V2 x P2. Instead, start with something like, “Okay, we’re at 20 metres/60 feet and have 2 litres of air in a lift bag that we’re bringing to the surface and want to know how big it will be when we get there. So, what’s the starting volume – volume one? What’s starting pressure – pressure one (guiding questions)?” After they answer these, write V1 x P1 = V2 x P2, immediately filling in volume, pressure etc. so you’re using the formula in context. Continue this way so the formula takes on meaning instead of seeming like abstract arithmetic mumbo-jumbo.Spread it out. Set dates to complete various independent study tasks, your reviews with candidates etc., but make the end point certification. There’s no need to rush – by spreading out and integrating dive theory learning with the rest of the course, you not only provide ample study time, but plenty of time for real-world application, team study collaboration and impromptu reviews. It takes the pressure off you and the candidates, and that usually leads to a better result.
In the second part of this series, look for how to streamline PADI Divemaster training in confined water using both the internship or scenarios approaches.
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