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Cognitive Informatics

Research Applications: Learning and Skill Development

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) Cognitive Informatics research and development in learning and skill development includes areas of application aimed at developing technology-based solutions to facilitate learning and cognitive skill development, creating innovative approaches to interactive assessment, and supporting the development and delivery of online training.

e-Learning for Security Inquiry Officials

ESTHER Screenshot

Because security threats continually change, security inquiry officials need to employ high-level cognitive skills and problem-solving. Traditional training approaches focus on memorizing facts and procedures, which tends to produce learners who know the right answers but who do not understand the relevance of the facts or the underlying concepts required to solve new problems. In contrast, teaching by problem-solving uses real-world contexts that require the learner to actively apply knowledge. The guided-discovery approach provides coaching and support while learners work on problems adapted from actual work settings, and then diminishes the level of coaching as the learner gains knowledge and skill. PNNL used cognitive learning and guided-discovery concepts to develop an e-Learning application to train U.S. DOE Security Incident Inquiry officials on human errors that contribute to security incidents.

OPSEC for Control Systems


The most important component of operations security is people. Up-to-date virus definitions and state-of-the-art firewalls are virtually worthless if employees are providing information they shouldn't to those without a need to know or are not using due diligence in protecting assets. This course introduces control systems employees to the basic concepts of operations security (OPSEC) and applies these concepts to the control system environment.

Course lessons let learners check their understanding of the concepts with interactive exercises in which they explore different environments to discover problems. They even have the opportunity to play the “bad guy” and try to disrupt a competitor's manufacturing process (click the image to experience the interaction). Lessons are also reinforced with animations that illustrate key concepts and lesson summaries to refresh learners' memory. The course takes 45-60 minutes for students to complete.

This course, which has been approved for North American Electric Reliabilty Corporation (NERC) continuing education credits, won the 2007 Interagency OPSEC Support Staff (IOSS) National Award for Multimedia Achievement.

OPSEC for Control Systems can be customized to meet your organization's particular needs and provide unique, secure access and tracking of your staff. This course was developed using PNNL's Pachelbel training technology for the Control Systems Security Program established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security National Cyber Security Division.

Cyber Security for Control Systems Engineers & Operators

hacker animation

The control system environment has unique challenges to applying traditional cyber security protection methods to its systems and networks. At the same time, control systems are at the heart of our critical infrastructures, which must be rigorously protected. Cyber Security for Control Systems Engineers & Operators is an innovative, self-paced course that enables control systems employees to immediately reduce the risk of cyber attacks against systems.

Course lessons include Threats & Risks to Control Systems, The Cyber Attack Process, and Risk Mitigation and are reinforced through interactive exercises, real-life examples, and lesson summaries. It takes 45-60 minutes for students to complete. This course can be customized to meet your organization's particular needs and provide unique, secure access and tracking of your staff.

This course was developed using PNNL's Pachelbel e-Learning system for the Control Systems Security Program established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Cyber Security Division. This course has been approved for North American Electric Reliabilty Corporation (NERC) continuing education credits.

Enhancing Effectiveness of Game-Based Cyber Security Training

CyberCIEGE Screenshot

Serious games use entertainment principles, creativity, and technology to meet government or corporate training objectives, but these principles alone will not guarantee that the intended learning will occur. To be effective, serious games must incorporate sound cognitive, learning, and pedagogical principles into their design and structure. In this research, we examined usability and training effectiveness of a game-based training application in the domain of cyber security education. We conducted a usability evaluation and described cognitive principles that may be used as part of a systematic process to design more effective serious games as resources in education and training. This research was conducted in collaboration with the US Naval Postgraduate School.

Pachelbel – e-Learning Content Development and Management System

Pachelbel Diagram

e-Learning is a popular, cost-effective alternative and supplement to traditional classroom instruction. Through e-Learning, travel costs for students and instructors are eliminated and the time to complete training is usually dramatically reduced. However, with many e-Learning systems, instructors are not provided the means to create and deliver the level of instruction that they would in a classroom environment. Likewise, there is often very little support for student learning styles, "hands-on" instruction, and exploration. PNNL's Pachelbel e-Learning development and delivery system remedies these shortcomings by enabling course designers to tailor training to the needs of individual students, by simplifying course content development, and by managing the course when delivered over the Internet. Pachelbel keeps track of student profile information to tailor the content to student needs: learning content and individual elements of each page of the training application can be altered on the fly to better meet the learner's needs and the course designer's instructional approach. To meet U.S. Department of Defense requirements, Pachelbel produces SCORM conformant training content and it provides a SCORM conformant Learning Management System.

CAISI – e-Learning Application for U.S. Army Combat Service Support Automated Information Systems Interface (CAISI)

CAISI Screenshot

The U.S. Army has been developing more advanced communications capabilities that will allow various Army systems to communicate across the battlefield through their classified tactical packet network. PNNL has developed an interactive, multimedia based e-Learning application for the Army's CAISI equipment, which provides a wireless communications capability that allows various logistics systems to communicate across the battlefield. The CAISI Project Office at Ft. Belvoir developed classroom training content as part of the CAISI fielding activities. Concurrently, PNNL developed the CAISI e-Learning application for CAISI operators and maintainers. Implemented using our Pachelbel learning content development and delivery system, the training approach first conveys simpler concepts and then builds up to more complex problems. Frequent checks on learning, exercises, and optional quizzes reinforce the concepts using real-life examples and scenarios. This web-based CAISI training system is SCORM conformant, and is also distributed on CD media for use on individual computers. Material developed for the e-learning course has been incorporated in the classroom instruction to enhance the ability to demonstrate functionality and instruct students using interactive troubleshooting scenarios.

Cyber Security Awareness Training

Cyber Security Training Screenshot

We have developed two innovative and engaging online cyber security awareness courses for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Cyber Security. The first course, Computer Forensics Awareness, includes a basic overview of computer forensics, the preservation of evidence, and DOE incident reporting procedures. This 1-hour online course replaces four hours of classroom instruction. The second course, Computer Sanitization Awareness, covers security concerns resulting from data remnants and policies and procedures for the clearing, sanitization, and destruction of storage media in both the classified and unclassified environments. Developed using PNNL's Pachelbel training technology, both courses make use of Pachelbel's role-based training delivery capabilities that dynamically customize the training content to meet the learning objectives corresponding to different student profiles/roles selected at the time of course registration. These dynamic content delivery features and the use of interactive multimedia elements to supplement the content help to make these courses much more engaging and educationally sound than the classroom versions. These two courses represent the beginning of a suite of cyber security awareness courses hosted by PNNL and delivered to DOE staff and contractors around the country—reducing the costs of delivering training and reaching a much larger audience than the previous classroom instruction.

educationLink – Training for Internship Orientation

educationLink Screenshot

educationLink was created for U.S. DOE laboratories to better prepare incoming interns for their appointments by familiarizing them with DOE's missions and programs, laboratory and contractor interrelationships, and the expectation of safe practices in a research environment. Awareness in this regard increases the students' contributions to the work of the laboratories, enhances the value of the internships to the students, and helps build a culture of safety in the students' home academic institutions.

Developed and delivered using PNNL's Pachelbel e-Learning system, educationLink makes use of Pachelbel's ability to customize content for each user. Interns see content specific to the lab or organization they are visiting. Interactive tools, such as a bulletin board, are also provided through Pachelbel, to enable students who are geographically dispersed around the country to communicate and interact with each other. The interns also use this site to complete required surveys and submit their program requirements (i.e., abstracts, papers/presentations, and education modules).

Development of Interactive Assessment Techniques

Interaction Elements

Most job placement and performance assessment testing use conventional approaches that represent largely passive, objective testing instruments, such as multiple choice questions or other form of objective tests. While relatively easy to implement, this approach works against the student's natural learning patterns and does not necessarily provide an indication of the individual's ability to apply knowledge and skills that are required for effective job performance. In the course of developing interactive, e-learning applications, the PNNL has created a varied set of cognitive-based, interactive assessment techniques that may be used in both standalone and distributed environments. This innovative assessment approach exploits multimedia technology to develop realistic scenario-based examples that compel the learner to become actively engaged in solving problems that both promote learning and demonstrate critical knowledge and skills. Performance-based assessments are implemented as "interaction elements" that are tied to key learning/performance objectives. These elements are created and combined to form interactive exercises varying in difficulty that require students to apply and demonstrate their knowledge. PNNL's performance-oriented interactive assessment methods can be applied to create more effective, engaging, and innovative ways to assess mastery of material.

Learning and Skill Development


Multimedia Showcase