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Trafficking excellence: A best practice approach to continuing professional development for transportation engineers

Vicki Angliss
DeakinPrime, Deakin University
This paper describes the instructional design approach and initial outcomes of an initiative involving the US professional association, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and DeakinPrime, the B2B (business to business) division of Deakin University. The key objective was to provide task-centred continuing professional development for transportation professionals worldwide.

As instructor-led training becomes less popular in the US due to travel and associated costs, individuals and employers are seeking more efficient ways to address their development needs. It was apparent that the field of traffic engineering could lend itself to effective online teaching and learning particularly if the technology could be used to stimulate worthwhile learner interactions.

Four courses are delivered online through a learning management system with an e-commerce front end and worldwide availability 24x7. Both parties view this partnership as a long term one and the project is ongoing. Additional courses will be released over the coming years, subject to funding availability.


Institute of Transportation Engineers
The Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) is an educational and scientific individual member association, based in Washington DC, with over 15,000 members practising in over 80 countries.

DeakinPrime is the corporate arm of Deakin University, whose expertise delivering distance-learning programs is world-renowned. As the university's B2B division, DeakinPrime specialises in providing customer-focused training solutions for clients.

Project rationale

ITE has been gathering anecdotal evidence for some years now about the increasing skills shortage in the transportation industry at the professional level. Graduates entering this industry sector generally have a civil engineering background. Whilst there are over 20 career streams listed by the American Society for Engineering Education, most universities focus on the four main fields of chemical engineering, civil and construction, electrical and electronic or mechanical. Consequently it is not surprising that new graduates enter the transportation sector with little or no transportation knowledge. However this does not prevent employers requiring these new graduates to perform complex tasks and/or fill key functional roles immediately upon employment. In addition, as with many other industries, the impending retirement of people from the baby boomer generation is exacerbating the skills shortage.

Recognising its responsibility to respond to the challenge of promoting professional practice and lifelong learning to its members, ITE decided to implement a cost-effective and educationally sound online solution. DeakinPrime's desire to enter the US marketplace and its educational expertise complemented ITE's enthusiasm for the project and their industry knowledge-and a partnership was formed. The ITE established a program content advisory board composed of senior people within government authorities, academia and the commercial sector to guide the project.

An e-learning readiness survey of a random sample of ITE members was conducted. We had predicted that the main potential participants would be either entry-level graduates or middle managers. However the market research showed that the courses would also appeal to experienced transportation professionals seeking a refresher course in a specific area or experienced engineers new to transportation generally or to a particular sector.
ITE Online Learning Gateway

Project scope

The ITE Online Learning Gateway [] was to be established as the gateway to a range of practical courses focused on helping transportation professionals to perform key functional tasks. For example: how to follow the industry standard procedure in order to perform a capacity analysis of a signalized intersection.

A catalogue of courses around essential themes and at varying levels would be progressively developed. The initial themes would be: Traffic Capacity, Traffic Safety, Traffic Control Devices and Transportation Planning.

The courses would be delivered in a totally online format with minimal academic support. After registration on the LMS (learning management system), people could use the e-commerce option to enrol and pay by credit card for immediate access. The courses would be suitable for study in either one continuous session or multiple sessions from work and/or home. Participants who successfully complete the final multiple-choice test accompanying each course would be issued with a Certificate of Completion and be eligible to claim a specified number of engineering Professional Development Hours (PDH) units.

Instructional design philosophy

In evolving an effective instructional design approach, we were mindful of the objectives to transfer essential knowledge plus instil professional practice standards. Therefore we needed to provide both the underpinning body of knowledge and the industry best practice procedure for a particular task or function. Transportation engineering courses are typically very technical and rather dry. We wanted these online courses to be fun and engaging. Flash animations and interactive components we used to allow the learners to try steps in a non-threatening manner.

Knowing that adults are just-in-time, discovery learners, we knew they would want to be able to apply their learning to current problems or work-related goals (Beaudoin 1990). Consequently, constructivist principles were considered the most appropriate to support the creation of a learner-centred environment, as they would support experiential learning processes that could build meaning, mental models and personal mastery (Jonassen et al. 1995, Senge 1992).

A constructivist rather than a behaviourist approach would support a learning environment, which: 1) offers multiple representations of reality; 2) empahsises authentic tasks in a meaningful context and real world setting; 3) encourages thoughtful reflection on experience and 4) would foster context- and content dependent knowledge construction (Jonassen 1994).

A guided case study approach was chosen as an effective way to teach the judgement skills necessary to deal with complex, contradictory situations common in real life (Horton 2000). In this way we hoped our courses would seem like 'serious play'-a concept described by Rieber, which offers a means for developing meaning and motivation in a holistic way.

The actual steps required to perform a specific task were identified and they formed the flow sequence for each course. Leading subject matter experts would guide participants through the key steps involved in the workplace tasks. The parallel streams of content were colour-coded: Green for Knowledge and Red for Practice and written in passive and active voice respectively so that participants could readily navigate and select their preferred learning pathway. See Figure 1.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Screen grab from TP01 case study introduction

The American Society of Training and Development's criteria for good e-learning state that it should: 1) fit the learner's needs, style and pace; 2) engage the learner actively; 3) transfer knowledge; 4) permit practice; 5) allow for interactivity; and 6) provide follow-up. Our approach would address the first five of these criteria. It was beyond our control that the client chose not to offer tutor support in the initial phase.

In order to focus the courses on industry best practice we decided to align them with an appropriate engineering model. We adapted the popular quality improvement model-PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) to create an eight-step, task-focused engineering improvement model that aligned well with how transportation engineers approached their professional work. This model was used as the instructional design framework (see Figure 2) against which the scope and structure of each course was mapped. Depending on the scope of each course different parts of the model were covered. For example in TS02, Steps 1-5 were addressed whilst in TC02, Steps 1-6 were addressed.

Figure 3

Figure 2: Engineering and instructional design model

The design and development process

The key milestones in our design and development process were as follows.

Project challenges

The course development process provided abundant daily challenges at the individual, team and organisational levels. This was DeakinPrime's first major in-house online development project and the various project team members experienced discovery learning firsthand in their new roles. The instructional designers (IDs) and online developers were placed on fast learning curves to become competent users of the development software. Macromedia's Dreamweaver, Fireworks and Flash were the main applications used. The project manager learned that coordinating team resources, dynamics and outcomes on a multimedia project, was much more intensive and demanding than traditional courseware development.

Our client and subject matter experts were on the opposite side of the world to the project team, which meant that most work had to be done asynchronously. Production delays were unavoidable as even simple queries, which could have been resolved with a quick phone call, had to wait until at least the next day.

The design/development process required a continuous cycle of communication, discussion and feedback between the subject matter experts (SMEs), the client and the project team at DeakinPrime (DP). In truth, probably most SMEs were skeptical about their role and the relatively short timelines at the outset. DP's instructional designers had the additional challenge of mentoring these experts about the principles and practices of distance learning before scaring them entirely with the possibilities of e-learning! However the SMEs survived the process-most even enjoyed the experience enough to offer to work on subsequent courses.

Despite apparent geographical difficulties the design and development process was reasonably efficient. Email proved extremely useful and was our main communication medium. Periodic teleconferences, often at strange times of the day, were used to resolve complex issues and keep the project on track. From our experience, an initial face-to-face meeting was extremely beneficial, especially given cultural and language usage differences.

To add further complexity to the project, the courses were the first to be hosted in DeakinPrime's new learning management system (LMS). The system was being commissioned in a just-in-time manner in tandem to this project. For those familiar with the marketing promises versus operational realities of LMSs generally, you'll probably agree that the childhood proverb is most applicable - when they're good, they're very very good but when they're bad, they're horrid!

Progress to date

The four courses released in Phase 1 include: A fully customised learning management system, using Docent Enterprise, has been set up to form the ITE Online Learning Gateway []. Parallel domains and catalogues have been set up for ITE Members and Non-Members. An e-commerce front end provides an online enrolment administration function, giving participants the option to pay by credit card, cheque or purchase order. Participants who pass the final test are automatically sent a certificate of completion and an evaluation survey.

Project review

Despite the project's numerous challenges, everyone involved gained professionally from their experiences and enjoyed being part of such a cohesive team. With team spirit and an commitment, our project objectives were achieved. Our client is extremely satisfied and the results from participant evaluations have been very positive.

DeakinPrime now has a tangible e-learning presence to promote locally and in the US marketplace. The project has given DeakinPrime's online design/development/delivery capabilities a significant boost. We even feel that we have finally starting to move off the x-axis of the exponential curve. Our IDs are excited by the possibilities of using Flash to create stimulating learning interactions.

Enrolments to date have been less than initially expected-approximately 150 unit enrolments. There are probably several reasons for this disappointing result. September 11 has impacted on the psyche and confidence of many people and the economic consequences are still being felt. In addition, instructor-led, classroom training is still the dominant training paradigm. It will take several more years for e-learning in general and this specific project to become a mainstream training option.

This conclusion is supported by research by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD). The percent breakdown between classroom and e-learning around the world is shown in the following table.

CountryClassroom (%)E-learing (%)
United States79.18.9
Middle East73.713.4
Source: ASTD 2002

Their findings show that Australia is at the low end of take-up worldwide. ASTD predicts that although e-learning has been in a static period for the last few years, it is poised for large growth. They estimate e-learning will capture 21.6% of the US market by 2003.

Future work

Whilst the initial uptake has been slower than anticipated, we are increasingly seeing participants go on to enrol in further courses. Their support will hopefully drive the demand for more new courses. ITE is now more actively promoting the courses to its members and offering bulk discounts to government agencies. A major promotion is being planned for the ITE Annual Conference and Exhibit in Philadelphia in August. Several new courses are planned for release in 2003, subject to client funding. In addition, the potential to work collaboratively with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) or other similar agencies and research bodies is also being explored.

Back in Australia, project team members have reflected on their experiences in order to improve our online design and development systems and processes. DeakinPrime is seeking to transfer this knowledge to its 20+ instructional designers through a tailored in-house professional development program.


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Beaudoin, M. (1990). The instructor's changing role in distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 4(2), 21-29.

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Author: Vicki Angliss is the General Manager - Development with DeakinPrime, the B2B division of Deakin University in Australia. Her role includes fostering new partnerships and developing new educational solutions to fulfill clients' needs and expectations. Vicki taught in the tertiary education sector before concentrating on instructional design and program management. She is leading DeakinPrime's transition towards the e-learning paradigm with the development of an online learning philosophy and implementation capabilities. Vicki has a Bachelor of Applied Science and a Master of Education (Open & Distance Learning) from the University of Southern Queensland. She is a member of AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute) and ASTD (American Society of Training & Development). Email:

Please cite as: Angliss, V. (2002). Trafficking excellence: A best practice approach to continuing professional development for transportation engineers. In S. McNamara and E. Stacey (Eds), Untangling the Web: Establishing Learning Links. Proceedings ASET Conference 2002. Melbourne, 7-10 July.

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Created 8 Aug 2002. Last revision: 13 Aug 2002.
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