Allow people to learn naturally

When instructors allow people to learn naturally,  students learn fast and have more fun.

It has long been said that people learn best when they are in control of their own development.
They need to be aware of the process and of themselves as learners. 

Now, there is research to back up this claim!

A recent study found that when people are allowed to learn in their own way and monitor their own progress, they are more likely to perform better than those who are not given this opportunity.

Involve your students

So, if you’re looking to improve your teaching skills, be sure to focus on strategies that allow your students to take charge of their own learning!

Particularly when they’re learning a new motor skill.

A PADI Instructor should always involve their student divers with their own development. 

All along the way.

Briefings and De-briefings

There are other articles explaining how Students can take ownership of their own learning and get involved with Briefings and Debriefings.

Other articles that explain the importance of making the lessons Student Centred.

This article concentrates on the actual moments when people are learning new skills.

Learning a new skill

We’re going to look at the actual learning process.

The moments when your students either transform from:
Not being able to do the skill


Performing the skill.


Being able to do the skill poorly


Improving quality and with less cognitive involvement.

Allow people to learn

The "Old" way of teaching scuba diving skills

The traditional way of teaching skills to new divers usually involves getting student divers to form a line while kneeling on the bottom in confined water. 

Following a demonstration, each student in turn attempts to perform the skill. 

If successful, the instructor usually congratulates the student and then moves on to the next. 

If unsuccessful, the instructor asks the student to repeat the skill, until they’ve met the performance requirement.

The problem with this method

It’s very time consuming. 
The larger the class, the more time each student has to wait, doing nothing while the instructor is dealing with other learners.

When a student is learning a new skill, they have so much more on their mind.
A lot of sub-concious information to process.

+ Every step of the skill
+ The sequence of the steps

+ The co-ordination involved

+ When to perform the skill

+ Interpreting signals of the Instructor 

+ Peer pressure

PADI IDC skill cirucit

Unnecessary pressure

Extra pressure is exerted because the skill has to be performed at the exact moment that the instructor tells them.

The student doesn’t have the choice to prepare and perform in their own time. 

Even more pressure is added by the student being watched closely by the instructor and often by the other students. 

Students often don’t get a chance to practice the skill once they’ve mastered it. 

For me the biggest problem is that the student isn’t learning what they have expected to learn and that is:
How to scuba dive.

Why skills are still taught the old way

I fully understand why PADI Instructors teach this way. 

In fact for 20 years of my teaching career, I also taught this way. 

I didn’t know any better. 

Instructors usually follow this process because: 

+ This is the way that they were taught when they were new divers.

+ The PADI IDC taught them to teach in this manner.

+ PADI Examiners congratulated them on teaching this way during their IE.

+ All of their fellow instructors in their dive centre teach this way.

+ Why fix something if it’s not broken?

+ Students usually go on to become proficient divers eventually. 

+ Instructors are uncomfortable with change.

Allow people to learn naturally

Remember when you first learnt to catch a ball, tie a shoelace, swim or ride a bike?

You learned naturally by trial and error. 

You experimented, with both doing the skill and your approach to the skill. 

Of course you had a mentor.
Maybe a family member who was there to coach, to give advice and encouragement. 

You were given space to gradually work out what actions worked best.

But that person could not “learn” for you.  
They probably still think that they “taught” you. 

But they didn’t, you “taught” yourself.  It’s the only way.

Learning naturally

It was you that learned. 
You learned how to time your movements in order to catch the ball. 
To feel the tension of the shoelace to get the knot right.

You wobbled around on the bike to get the feeling of balance.

People can’t “teach” you that. 
You can only learn naturally by trial and error. 

We’re all different, so we all take a slightly different path on our journey to reach mastery.

Most people dislike being closely watched while trying to sort out complex stratagies.

As long as safety isn’t compromised, people generally learn much faster, and much more efficiently when they’re allowed to learn.

How to allow people to learn

It’s very simple. 

And not that much different to traditional methods. 

Allow people to learn using Natural Buoyancy

I prefer to allow people to practice a new skill several times while swimming around. 

I explain more about this in the article about teaching skills to new divers.

Teaching like this is hard work for the Instructor and for Certified Assistants because you need to keep control without appearing to be overpowering.

But it does give students a wonderful sense of freedom while they improve their skills and develop their overall diving skills at the same time. 

Learn by diving and having fun

After a demonstration, ask the student to swim towards you and perform the skill right in front of you.

You are then in exactly the right place if they need assistance. 

Once you know that they can perform the skill, they can swim around in a pre-set circle and reherse the skill as often as they like. 

Allow them as much time to learn as possible. 
They gain so much confidence learning in this manner. 

However, it’s always important to remember: 
” Never ask a student to do something that you don’t already know they can do”.

Challenging divers is fine, as long as you KNOW that they are able to meet that challenge.

Teaching on knees

If you’re not yet ready to encourage divers to perform skills while swimming around, you can still allow people to learn specific skills on their knees by giving them space.

Following the Instructor’s demonstration, each student in turn performs the skill.
Just the same as before.

Also as before, if the student is successful the Instructor then moves onto the next student.

However, once the student has performed the skill, in front of the instructor, they can then be allowed to practice in their own way and in their own time. 

Encourage the students to repeat the skill as often as they like.
The instructor and certified assistants should always keep watch at a distance, but always ready to respond.

Try not to give them the feeling that you’re watching their every move.

(even though you are!)

Allow people to learn in their own way

However, your students will usually follow natural caution as they develop confidence. 

When people are allowed to learn in this way, they tend to stay well within their comfort zones. 

The definition of confined water is a “safe and controlled environment”.

Some students will be more confident and more daring than others. 

People learn in their own way, it’s important to allow them to learn using their unique and individual styles. 

They should be encouraged to repeat the skill as often as they want until they are happy.

Once each student has confirmed that they are able to perform the skill reasonably well, then the instructor can de-brief the skill and move on to the next. 

PADI Instructors need to allow themselves to learn too!

It’s not easy to change the way that you teach

Plus the fact that this isn’t an easy way to teach. 
You have to have eyes everywhere!

But with practice, your awareness will grow, and it will seem much more natural than teaching diving by kneeling, and waiting. 

Many instructors have now changed the way that they’re allowing people to learn, and they’re seeing massive results. 

People are learning quicker, having more fun, and much more efficiently.
They’re incorporating experience with learning. 

Sign up for the course below, and you’ll find lots more teaching ideas, and how they all fit together. 

See you on the other side!

How can you be a better PADI Professional?

Sign up now for my online PADI IDC Preparation Course. 
It’s full of new ideas about how to TEACH both theory and skills. 
Lots more information here: 

Last modified: 10th January 2023
Author: Steve Prior