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.
Read the case study below — written from my perspective as the organization’s product design leader — to learn 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 COVID-19.
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.
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.
We realized early on that the need for a formal discovery phase was essential to the success of the project.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The training app was developed to complement the online experience. It was designed to provide additional features for on-the-go learning, including the ability to download coursework and exams for offline access, the syncing of course progress and exam completion once back online, and a download manager for managing downloaded files and device storage.
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.
The complexity of the task brought with it some interesting challenges:
The impact from the launch of the new learning experience was vast:
“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