Too many training scenarios get stuck in the issue of what course of action to adopt at different decision points.  Of course, selecting a course of action is extremely important, but often the selection depends on how people read the situation, what they notice, what they infer, and these considerations don’t make it into the scenario.  And they can.  That’s what “cognitizing” a scenario is all about — creating a training scenario that taps into these kinds of behind-the-scenes mental activities. 

Instead of fixating training scenarios on what to do, we can use them to raise issues about how to think.  Instead of making scenarios more difficult by adding to the crisis and the demands — the Armageddon approach that builds in more and more challenges until the decision maker is overwhelmed — we can increase difficulty in more realistic and subtle ways by introducing ambiguity, subtle cues, and even erroneous data.  

My last essay described how a Cognitive Audit could be used to make training scenarios more cognitively demanding. I listed ten types of trainable skills: changing mindsets, exploring boundary conditions for procedures, making tradeoffs between competing goals, introducing tricks of the trade, managing uncertainty and ambiguity, detecting and diagnosing problems, managing attention, making perceptual discriminations, and gaining coordination through repairing common ground.

But there is more to cognitizing a scenario than identifying the cognitive training requirements.  In my team’s work with ShadowBox, here are some of the ideas we have formulated. (My ShadowBox team consists of Joseph Borders, Emily Newsome, Helen Klein, Laura Militello and me.) These are ways of modifying existing scenarios — they are the kinds of injects that would make a routine scenario more mentally demanding.

Ambiguity. Find ways to introduce ambiguity about what is going on.

Misleading information. Toss in some erroneous data to see if the trainee catches how these data don’t fit the rest of the picture.

Missing information. In an age of information-on-demand, stress the trainee by leaving some blanks.

Information overload. In an age of information-on-demand, provide excessive amounts of information, more information than can be examined in order to make a timely decision, so that the trainee how to decide what not to examine.

Violated expectancies. Set the trainee up with certain expectations and see how long it takes, how much contrary evidence, before the trainee re-frames the situation. (A number of trainees may never re-think the situation, and will remain stuck until you end the session.)

Outdated orders. Give the trainee a clear set of marching orders — a clear Commander’s Intent — but have it be overtaken by events to see whether the trainees adapt their goals.

Time pressure. Put the trainee under time stress to make critical decisions under uncertainty.

Competing goals. There is never just one goal and anytime you have more than one goal you have the potential for goal conflicts. See how the trainees handle these goal conflicts.

Problem detection. Introduce the first signs of trouble in a very subtle way, perhaps obscured by more dramatic events, to see if the trainee picks up the problem when it is still minor enough to be easily managed.

These suggestions for cognitizing scenarios can be used to spice up conventional training scenarios and make them more difficult, more compelling, and more useful for preparing trainees to handle complex and uncertain situations.

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