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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-09-005    Date:  Jul/Aug 2009
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-09-005
Issue No: Vol. 73 No. 1
Date: Jul/Aug 2009


The National Highway Institute (NHI)

by Alicia Sindlinger

NHI Training Adopts Blended-Learning Approach

Because of organizational and personal budget constraints, the world of adult learning is evolving to help accommodate training needs. Traditional instructor-led training offers the benefit of face-to-face interaction, but it often involves costly travel and time away from the office. Also, from the individual learner's perspective, this approach tends to disregard the specific needs of each learner and follows a pace set by the instructor. Training that follows a self-study approach reduces travel time and costs, and enables the learner to proceed at his or her own pace. Yet self-study has drawbacks too, such as a lack of active feedback and guidance, and the possibility of the participant losing interest.

The National Highway Institute (NHI) is exploring options to mitigate the shortfalls of both traditional instructor-led training and courses that are entirely self-study. Specifically, NHI is modifying some courses to follow a blended-learning approach that combines the best attributes from instructor-led and self-study methodologies. Blended learning entails offering training that consists of instructor-led portions as well as self-paced online study.

"A well-designed blended-learning event should provide enough flexibility and control for the participant to shape and craft the direction of his or her own learning," says Thomas Elliott, NHI training program manager. "In this way, each participant, including the instructor, gets exactly what he or she wants out of the learning event."

Blended Learning at NHI

One example of a blended-learning offering at NHI is the course Principles and Practices for Enhanced Maintenance Management Systems (FHWA-NHI-131107). The course is an introduction to the methods used in enhanced management to maintain and operate a highway network. The training combines three online sessions with an instructor, self-study lessons, and workshop activities.

The target audience includes individuals who are responsible for managing maintenance operations and budgets, selecting maintenance projects and treatments, and monitoring systems conditions. Throughout the course, activities and assignments require participants to use the enhanced management system. One activity is a workshop that provides participants the opportunity to simulate decisions that must be made when determining the assets to include in transportation investments. Participants learn the process of prioritizing various asset types.

A Fresh Perspective

Overall, feedback on blended-format courses has been positive, Elliot says. Katie Zimmerman, president of Applied Pavement Technology, Inc., who instructed a pilot course in the blended format, agrees. "This was a great experience. I loved the blended format because the online instructor-led portions enforce key points from the self-study material, and the activities really engaged the participants."

Because blended-learning approaches generally involve online course materials, one of the biggest challenges in adapting existing content from a classroom setting to a Web-based environment is recreating materials that can stand alone, without the direction of an instructor. According to Elliott, "a blended approach should take a fresh look at the course's learning outcomes and then design the materials in a format and manner most appropriate to allowing the participants to achieve those outcomes."

NHI is working on converting several traditional courses into blended-learning formats. For example, two courses in the safety programs area, Low-Cost Safety Improvements, Blended Approach (FHWA-NHI-380083) and Interactive Highway Safety Design Model (FHWA-NHI-380071), should be available in the new format by late 2009.

For more information on blended learning at NHI, contact Thomas Elliott at 703-235-0319 or thomas.elliott@dot.gov. A full description of NHI courses can be found at www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov.

NHI aims to make training available to more transportation professionals by offering courses in flexible, blended-learning formats. Here, a training participant is typing on a computer and listening through headphones.
NHI aims to make training available to more transportation professionals by offering courses in flexible, blended-learning formats that include self-study portions coupled with instructor-led and group activities.

Alicia Sindlinger is a contributing editor for Public Roads.



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