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|Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 63· No. 1 > NHI's Instructor Certification Program|
NHI's Instructor Certification Program
by Marketta Kopinski
The National Highway Institute (NHI), the Federal Highway Administration's external training arm, has implemented a far-reaching program to upgrade the skills of its instructors and to ensure that they are able to use the most advanced instructional methods that focus on the needs of adult learners. This six-mo nth-old program is already a resounding success.
"This past year has seen dramatic changes in the development of instructional skills and the method of delivery of NHI training courses," said NHI director Dr. Moges Ayele. "Today's training participants are expected to solve problems, make decisions, and improve the overall quality of the workplace. To provide the students with the necessary skills, the instructor must adopt a new role: a learner-centered catalyst who will help the participants solve problems and make decisions on their own, rather than an information-centered lecturer who only requires trainees to listen to presentations."
Throughout its 29-year history, NHI has counted on about 400 instructors nationwide to deliver its training courses. NHI instructors have always been experts in their fields. Until recently, NHI certified its instructors based exclusively on technical knowledge; however, starting last fall, NHI began taking the certification process a step further.
Recognizing the importance of an interactive learning environment in adult training, NHI has instituted new requirements for its instructors. Within three years, all NHI instructors must demonstrate their ability to teach adult learners.
"For years, it was believed that transportation professionals learned best through slide presentations and lectures," explained NHI's training officer Patricia "Pat" Lees. "Civil engineers cited that these methods were similar to those used in colleges and universities. Yet studies show that individuals remember only a small part of what they are taught this way."
Current research indicates that adults need the opportunity to practice what they have learned in class in order for it to be truly useful. Through active participation, individuals can retain up to 90 percent of what they are taught. They benefit more when they are asked to solve problems, perform tasks, or discuss issues openly. In short, adults learn by doing.
(Source: Robert W. Pike, Creative Training Techniques Handbook,
"Adults learn faster when they can use what they already know," said Ilse van Goth, NHI's Instructor Certification Program manager. "Adult learners have already acquired plenty of information from their own experiences. They just want to 'fill the gap' and prefer learning experiences that match real-world conditions."
To ensure that participants of NHI courses receive this kind of interactive instruction, NHI has started to assess the presentations of current and potential instructors against a standard list of competencies. "Master trainers" Pat Lees, Mary Susan Sparlin, and Ilse van Goth observe instructors in a classroom setting during their regular presentations to confirm that they handle questions and solve problems with course participants and deliver the material in a way that maximizes understanding and retention by the adult learner. In all, instructors have to demonstrate their competency in six areas:
The required competencies are selected from a national set of competencies prepared by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD). If the instructor demonstrates these skills, he or she will be certified. If there are improvement opportunities, the master trainer will discuss those with the instructor, and together they will work out a development plan. When the instructor is ready to be observed again, he or she will notify NHI, and the process will continue.
The training experts can also give guidance to the instructors to make the course they teach more interactive and participant-oriented, and the master trainers offer suggestions for improving the effectiveness of printed instructional material.
The Instructor Certification Program has gained widespread support and acknowledgment among both veteran and aspiring instructors. Twenty instructors were certified during the first six months, and several more were scheduled to be observed by master trainers in the near future.
"We want to celebrate the achievements of these newly certified instructors, who have become champions of professional development," said Joseph S. Toole, director of FHWA's newly created Office of Professional Development (OPD) of which NHI is an integral part. "In FHWA, we are fortunate to have a wonderfully talented cadre of specialists and technical experts that are willing to teach. The certification program is not only a means to recognize these employees, but also a chance for them to refine those teaching skills and improve them."
The First 20 Certified NHI Instructors
The instructors participating in the program, both FHWA employees and contractors, have been almost unanimous in their praise for it although some were less than enthusiastic when the program was first introduced.
"I started as a senior professional in my field, sort of skeptical about anything that has something to do with the development and presentation of course material," stated one of the newly certified instructors, Steve Lockwood from P.B. Farradyne, expressing the doubts of many veteran instructors. "Over a period of time, the NHI staff showed me by example and also convinced me that there is much to be gained in combining the technical presentation with the 'hands-on' adult learning methods in a classroom presentation. This combined effort has proven to be a much more effective training experience for our customers. I believe the learning experience, as well as the training experience, has become much more interesting."
"From my engineering background, I had relied on lecture presentation to effect the knowledge transfer to class participants. Due to my involvement in the certification program, I have moved ahead to incorporate many of the effective learning processes, especially interactivity among the participants, to ensure a better comprehension of the principles presented, making both my time and the participants' more effective. I BELIEVE!" said Bill Fitzgerald from FHWA's Eastern Resource Center.
NHI expects to have all its instructors certified within three years. To help them gain the required skills, NHI organizes special Instructor Development Courses throughout the country. The next available courses are scheduled for Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 and for Sept. 28 to 30 in NHI's training facilities in Arlington, Va. These courses are by no means mandatory. Some instructors are ready to be certified right away, while others can acquire the necessary competencies from other sources. NHI offers the instructors an extensive list of books, videotapes, commercial classes, and other materials to help them master the necessary skills.
"I am in full support of this program, which is long overdue, and want to encourage all our technical specialists to actively participate," commented Jerry DiMaggio from the FHWA Office of Bridge Technology. "The program has been well planned and is professionally administered. Comments and suggestions were very constructive and helpful. After 23 years as an NHI instructor, I thought I wouldn't learn much from the process, but I was happily surprised."
According to NHI's Ilse van Goth, many instructors initially feel timid or uncomfortable about being observed by an outsider, but the master trainers do everything in their power to make them feel at ease.
"We want everybody to succeed," van Goth assured. Judging from the feedback, this positive attitude has brought good results.
"I completely enjoyed the certification process. Ilse made me feel so comfortable, I forgot I was being evaluated," said Brenda Armstead from FHWA's Office of Civil Rights. "I highly recommend that others who are involved in the training arena in the agency pursue this avenue. It is a very rewarding experience when you successfully complete the process."
"I found the certification process very encouraging and very simple," wrote Pamela Marston from FHWA's California Division. "It gives me a very good feeling to think that NHI and FHWA are taking the time to certify instructors in our courses. We are in front of our customers when we are teaching, and for some of them, it may be their first exposure to FHWA. It is important that we do all we can to make sure they get the best information presented in the best format. Instructor certification is the first step."
For more information on the certification process, please contact Ilse van Goth, Instructor Certification Program manager, at (703)235-0529, or visit NHI's Web site (www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov).
Marketta Kopinski is the marketing consultant at FHWA's National Highway Institute (NHI). She joined NHI as a contract employee in 1996 and has been working in the University, Industry, and International Programs Division and as special assistant for the director of NHI before assuming her present position in 1998. Prior to joining NHI, Kopinski worked as a journalist and public relations advisor for several international organizations. She has a bachelor's degree in Slavic studies from the University of Helsinki, Finland, and a master's degree in international affairs from Georgetown University.
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