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Public Roads - July/August 2015

Date:
July/August 2015
Issue No:
Vol. 79 No. 1
Publication Number:
FHWA-HRT-15-005
Table of Contents

Ohio's Training Gets A Boost

by Victoria F. Beale and Rob Elliott

Here’s how one State used FHWA’s Federal-aid Essentials video library to build a robust eLearning program for staff at local public agencies.

 

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The Ohio Local Technical Assistance Program took advantage of existing Federal-aid Essentials videos to develop a comprehensive training program for local public agencies. The training gives agencies the knowledge they need to meet the Federal-aid requirements for local-let projects, such as this one to construct a new roadway near Dayton, OH.

 

Anyone who works in government--whether at the local, State, or Federal level--knows that the order of the day is to do more with less. In 2013, the training team at the Ohio Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) Center, already responsible for coordinating more than 200 training sessions for 4,800 participants annually, confronted the seemingly impossible task of producing a 12-module course for local public agencies (agencies that receive funding through the Federal Highway Administration) on managing Federal-aid projects in just 12 months--with no added staff and limited resources.

How did they do it? By deciding that they would use a proven training resource produced by FHWA to augment their course content: Federal-aid Essentials for Local Public Agencies. Federal-aid Essentials consists of a library of short, to-the-point videos covering various aspects of Federal-aid regulations and requirements, with topics ranging from project development and finance to civil rights and environmental considerations.

When the staff at the Ohio LTAP Center (located within the Office of Local Programs at the Ohio Department of Tranportation) integrated videos from Federal-aid Essentials with their own customized content, the end product was quick to create, low cost, and focused on their needs--results that would have been impossible if they had tried to develop the entire training program from scratch.

Federal-aid Essentials Explained

Established in 2012, the Federal-aid Essentials library now encompasses nearly 100 short, plain-language videos that each focus on a single topic. Federal-aid Essentials helps staff members at local public agencies (LPAs) gain the knowledge they need to progress more confidently and rapidly through Federal-aid projects. The video library and resources are available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/federal-aidessentials.

Bernetta Collins, director of the FHWA Resource Center and the project sponsor of Federal-aid Essentials, explains the thought process behind developing the video library: “You can go [through] volumes and volumes of the Code of Federal Regulations, you can talk to lots of your partners and contacts, and still walk away not really, truly understanding what it is you are looking for. What we’ve done with Federal-aid Essentials is simplified that process. We created one-topic scenarios so you don’t have to wade through a lot of information. You go specifically to the information you want at the time you need it.”

 

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FHWA adds new videos regularly, routinely monitors video content versus regulation changes, and updates videos when needed. They can be viewed at any time, in any order, and as many times as needed. The videos clearly explain complex subjects using examples and stories, making Federal-aid Essentials a powerful resource for building consistency in understanding the regulations. The videos are free to watch, and FHWA encourages agencies to use them in their own training initiatives, as the Ohio LTAP did. In fact, in addition to using them as the foundation for its new training program, Ohio also uses Federal-aid Essentials videos as a classroom resource, at conferences, and as a training refresher.

The Need for Training

In Ohio, LPAs regularly contract with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to deliver Federal-aid projects. These partnerships in the State are referred to as local-let projects. Local-let projects represent a total annual budget of $353 million--a number exceeding that of 14 other States’ total Federal-aid apportionments. Administering this money in accordance with Federal requirements is an important responsibility.

For LPAs to achieve and keep the threshold qualifications required to take part in the local-let process, every local agency must complete training on Federal requirements. Each LPA may designate one person as the “person in responsible charge” to complete the training modules, or have several of the agency’s staff complete the modules on behalf of the LPA.

In 2011, a national audit by the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General of Federal-aid and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act projects administered by LPAs uncovered instances in which the agencies had not met Federal requirements. In response to these findings, ODOT chose to improve its own local-let program’s compliance rate by revising the LPA qualification process. Ohio decided that training based on ODOT’s Locally Administered Transportation Projects Manual of Procedures should be an integral part of the LPA qualification process. The next step was to develop the training.

Choosing an eLearning Platform

Before it could develop an effective training program, the LTAP Center’s training team had to address three key items: (1) Which technological platform would best deliver the course and monitor its successful completion? (2)What content should the center include in the training? (3) How could the content be made relevant for program participants?

 

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The Ohio LTAP Center used content from FHWA’s Federal-aid Essentials video library to develop an online training program for transportation professionals at local public agencies. Shown here is the home page of Ohio’s eLearning program.

 

With its training staff of five having responsibility for coordinating hundreds of training sessions annually, Ohio’s LTAP Center would be stretched thin trying to develop, coordinate, and maintain a new training program without adding new staff. In addition, the LTAP Center’s training team suspected that LPAs would not have the resources to cover training costs and associated travel. With these challenges in mind, the team set out to eliminate as many obstacles to completing the training as possible. The LTAP Center addressed both concerns and lowered its own direct and indirect training costs by making the local-let program its first course offered online.

With no previous experience producing online, self-paced training, Ohio’s LTAP Center committed to delivering 12 hours of instruction in 12 months.

The team’s decision to embrace eLearning ultimately led to several significant benefits. First, the eLearning platform reduces both the learning curve for LTAP’s content authors and the troubleshooting demands on their information technology and customer service personnel. Second, the content of the program not only addresses the needs of LPAs, but also engages students with media-rich content. Third, the eLearning approach now can be expanded into other program areas or shared with LTAP centers in other States.

Once the Ohio LTAP Center committed to an eLearning program, it applied for and received a $15,000 technology transfer grant from FHWA to buy the Web-based system necessary to develop the content and to run the training program. The center’s training team selected an application that is easy to use and does not require participants (the end users) to have specialty plug-ins--a source of problems for agency employees in the past. The Sharable Content Object Reference Model-compliant application produces content in a format that is accessible by other platforms. In fact, ODOT’s information technology department and the LTAP Center expanded the username and password process employed for authenticating users of other ODOT systems to include the new eLearning system.

Developing Course Content

Next, the training professionals at the LTAP Center needed to find valid sources of content with which to build the 12-module course. In its July 2011 audit report, Federal Highway Administration’s Oversight of Federal-aid and Recovery Act Projects Administered by Local Public Agencies Needs Strengthening, the Office of Inspector General compiled a list of errors found in Federal-aid projects administered by LPAs nationally. The team used this list, as well as findings from regular reviews of local-let projects that ODOT conducts, to identify common LPA errors and establish a curriculum outline. For example, ODOT discovered that some LPAs were not adequately documenting all efforts charged to Federal-aid projects. Thus, the course developers created appropriate instructions to address this issue.

Quality assurance for the course was a joint effort between the FHWA Ohio Division and ODOT’s LPA managers in the districts. One of the measures of training quality is whether the information in the course is current. The LTAP Center’s training professionals knew that ongoing maintenance of the course would be essential to keep the content up to date.

Although course maintenance can be a significant issue for eLearning developers, the LTAP Center’s team made several decisions that have greatly reduced maintenance. For one, ODOT topic area experts will remain involved to ensure accuracy and completeness of the content after each module’s launch. The training team also selected an authoring tool that was simple enough for any staff member to change the static content easily. In addition, the LTAP Center’s training team made it effortless for the team to keep the most current Federal-aid Essentials videos in the program. They accomplished this by using versions of the videos that are stored on the FHWA servers and maintained by FHWA personnel rather than storing the videos at the LTAP Center. This means that when FHWA updates a video, it is automatically updated in the local-let training program.

Adding Federal-aid Essentials to the Mix

When the LTAP Center’s team learned about the Federal-aid Essentials video library, the members immediately saw how they could enhance the local-let training program. The team incorporated the videos throughout the lessons by including each Federal-aid Essentials video that overlapped with the curriculum outline and then filled the gaps with static content.

The LTAP Center’s training professionals understood from the beginning that for learning to occur, the content of the training must be relevant. Because the Federal-aid Essentials videos target the LPA professionals who administer Federal-aid projects, the videos were an ideal source of material for the training program. The Federal-aid Essentials videos do not ask the LPA participants to fill in the blanks or generalize information. Rather, the videos present critical requirements in plain language and, in many cases, illustrate their application in situations that an LPA official is likely to encounter. The format fit well into the course and helps to hold participants’ attention with interesting examples.

Including the videos not only improved the quality of the local-let training program, it also reduced the time and money needed to develop the program. One oft-quoted rule of thumb in the training industry states that, on average, it takes 100 hours of effort to develop a single hour of self-paced eLearning. Given that level of effort, developing the 12 modules of the local-let training program might have required as many as 30 weeks of work on top of the LTAP training staff’s regular duties--resources that the LTAP Center simply did not have.

“It would have been nearly impossible to meet our 1-year timeline without including the Federal-aid Essentials videos,” says Mike Fitch, LTAP program manager in ODOT’s Office of Local Programs. “But by using the videos, we met our deadline, created a robust training program, and saved a lot of valuable agency resources.”

The local-let training program’s current format includes 22 videos, or about 2 hours of Federal-aid Essentials videos, with plans to include more. The videos make up about 25 percent of the course’s content and represent a significant savings in production effort.

 

Federal-aid Essentials Videos
Used in the Ohio Local-Let Training

  • Acquisition and Negotiation
  • Change Orders
  • Compliance and Enforcement
  • Documentation and the Environmental Process
  • Endangered Species Act
  • Form FHWA-1273
  • Highway Traffic Noise
  • Implementation Plans
  • Introduction to Project Construction and Contract Administration
  • Introduction to Right-of-Way Requirements and the Uniform Act
  • Nondiscrimination Assurances
  • Overview of NEPA as Applied to Transportation Projects
  • Project Advertisement, Bid Review, and Request for Concurrence in Award
  • Property Management
  • Public Involvement
  • Purpose & Need, and Alternatives
  • Railroad Coordination and Certification Requirements
  • Relocation Assistance
  • Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act
  • Supervising Agency Requirements (Responsible Charge)
  • Utility Coordination and Certification Requirements
  • Valuation

 

The Local-Let Training Program

Participants can find the local-let training program, known as the Local Public Agency Project Administration Training, on the Ohio LTAP Center’s eLearning page at www.dot.state.oh.us/Divisions/Planning/LocalPrograms/LTAP/Pages/Ohio_LTAP_eLearning.aspx. Participants must log on to the site using the same username and password that they use to access other ODOT online programs. Once logged in, participants can register for any course or training module.

 

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Members of the Ohio LTAP Center’s training team meet to discuss how they will use Federal-aid Essentials videos to supplement their course content in order to meet their project deadline.

 

All content in the local-let training program focuses on the LPA professional and what he or she needs to know to administer a Federal-aid project successfully. The curriculum’s 12 modules include 10 that closely follow ODOT’s Locally Administered Transportation Projects Manual of Procedures and 2 additional modules on topics of special interest.

On average, each module takes about 1 hour to complete, as participants progress sequentially through the content screens. Some screens include static text accompanied by voiceover narration, while others include videos. Course participants demonstrate successful completion of each course by taking an exam. Exam questions include content covered on both text- and video-based screens.

 

Modules of Ohio’s Local-Let Training

These 10 modules closely follow ODOT’s Locally Administered Transportation Projects Manual of Procedures:

  • Introduction
  • Locally Administered Transportation Projects in Ohio
  • Project Development & Design
  • Right-of-Way
  • Environmental
  • Advertising, Sale, and Award
  • Consultant Contract Administration
  • Construction Contract Administration
  • Railroad Coordination
  • Utility Coordination

The special interest modules are:

  • Title VI [or Nondiscrimination] for Local Public Agencies
  • Financial Responsibilities Training

 

If a participant has questions or experiences difficulty during the enrollment or course completion process, Ohio’s LTAP Center provides customer support, much as it would with its instructor-led courses. At the conclusion of each lesson, participants are invited to direct any unanswered questions to subject matter experts within ODOT.

Evaluation and Results

The local-let training program has been up and running for less than a year, so the full benefits of the training program are yet to be realized and measured. However, Ohio’s LTAP Center reports that eLearning and the Federal-aid Essentials videos are the right combination for its training program.

Initial participant feedback collected by the LTAP Center points to the program’s ease of use and quality, and the ability to complete the training from the participant’s office. A referral from a participant is perhaps the greatest testament to a training program’s quality, and some LPAs are referring their consultants to the LTAP Center’s site. Others are even making it a requirement for those working with them on Federal-aid projects.

For example, Mark Zimmerman, a county engineer in Seneca County, OH, who completed the training, has since recommended it at a meeting of the County Engineers Association of Ohio. Zimmerman says that he found the training to be a “far superior way of learning. I could do it in the comfort of my own office, on my own time, and not be rushed. The details that were included--especially in administration and law--were very helpful.”

Quality Improvement

The Ohio LTAP Center is committed to continuous quality improvement. Consequently, its next step is to fully assess the local-let training program to determine how well it is meeting the needs of program participants and stakeholders.

For the evaluation, the LTAP Center is planning a multiphase approach. The evaluation will focus on how well program participants are applying their acquired knowledge to Federal-aid projects. Are the number of errors on Federal-aid projects declining? For example, are LPAs fully documenting timesheets? Are they following the correct processes when acquiring right-of-way and when selecting and managing consultants?

 

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Training participants are using the Ohio LTAP Center’s computer lab to access the local-let training program and complete the self-paced modules.

 

To answer these questions, the LTAP Center plans to compare the types and frequency of errors found before and after the training. The results of the evaluations will help the center determine whether the content is sufficient or if it needs refinement or expansion.

The LTAP Center will also measure return on investment. Valuable LTAP Center resources were used to develop and maintain the local-let training program. In addition, LPAs invest agency time whenever an employee completes the training. By measuring improvements in performance after the training--such as an increase in the speed of project delivery, lower rates of errors on Federal-aid projects, or reduced need for supervision and oversight--the LTAP Center will be able to calculate the program’s overall value to ODOT.

“When common errors on Federal-aid projects occur, we are grateful that ODOT works with the project sponsors to remedy the errors and provide the training that will help prevent them from happening in the future,” says Michele Risko, the program manager of the county Surface Transportation Program and the local bridge program with the County Engineers Association of Ohio. “The eLearning modules should greatly help with this, and they are in the most user-friendly format available. We are very appreciative of LTAP’s hard work.”

Lessons Learned

Prior to the local-let training program, Ohio’s LTAP Center had no experience developing a self-paced, online learning program. Nonetheless, it produced a robust program that serves as a model for future eLearning development. During the process, the training team learned three important lessons that might be helpful to other State agencies developing similar training programs.

 

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The Ohio LTAP Center will evaluate its local-let training program in part by measuring improvements in performance on local projects, such as this one to improve Dogleg Road near the intersection of U.S. 40 in Dayton, OH.

 

Use Federal-aid Essentials videos. The existing videos became the foundation for Ohio’s program because the content applies to the LPA audience and is presented in a clear and interesting manner.

Do not reinvent the wheel. When possible, use existing content from other sources. For example, because Ohio’s content uses a standardized Sharable Content Object Reference Model format, any State agency can import its program and use it as a starting point.

Allow sufficient time to create the content. Producing a training program is a significant effort for LTAP Center training professionals. In Ohio’s experience, the more development time, the better.

Looking Ahead for Federal-aid Essentials

FHWA is committed to keeping Federal-aid Essentials robust. Since the program’s inception, participants have shared ideas with FHWA for additional content. These suggestions, along with the need to address any regulatory changes, mean that Federal-aid Essentials always has something new to offer.

“We did not build [Federal-aid Essentials] to just launch and leave it tomorrow,” says FHWA’s Collins. “Maintaining and growing [Federal-aid Essentials] is an ongoing process. We will be constantly monitoring the videos that are there, ensuring that they are relevant.”

Collins also has a vision of more State DOTs using Federal-aid Essentials to create training that fits their needs, just as ODOT has done with its local-let training program. As more LPAs discover its value, other agencies may find inventive ways to supplement their resources with Federal-aid Essentials.


Victoria F. Beale, Esq., is the director of the Ohio LTAP Center and the assistant administrator of ODOT’s Office of Local Programs. Beale manages the LTAP’s daily operations, including training and technical assistance for more than 2,300 LPAs in Ohio. She also oversees a $1 million annual Township Safety Signage Grant Program, focused on systemic signage improvements for Ohio’s 1,308 townships. Beale is cochair of the Transportation Research Board’s Standing Committee on Transportation Education and Training. She is a graduate of Capital University Law School and Franklin University, and she has a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification.

Rob Elliott, P.E., is manager of the Construction and Project Management Technical Service Team in the FHWA Resource Center. He is responsible for his team’s technical assistance, technology deployment, training deliveries, strategic planning, and budget. Elliott also is the program manager for Federal-aid Essentials for Local Public Agencies. He serves on the Transportation Research Board’s Project Delivery Methods Committee (AFH15) and coordinates with the Transportation Curriculum Coordination Council, the Associated General Contractors, and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association. Elliott is a graduate of Auburn University with a degree in civil engineering.

For more information, watch a video of the Ohio case study at http://youtu.be/UAbYuSWVNCI, or contact Victoria Beale at 614–466–3129 or victoria.beale@dot.state.oh.us. For more information on Federal-aid Essentials, see www.fhwa.dot.gov/federal-aidessentials, or contact Rob Elliott at 404–562–3941 or rob.elliott@dot.gov.