Introduction to Cognitive Systems Engineering

a seminar/workshop presented over one day

Presented by Dr. Gavan Lintern


Cognitive systems engineering is a design discipline that addresses the way we interact with technology and the way we use technologies to interact with each other. Drawing on contemporary insights from cognitive, social and organisational psychology, cognitive systems engineers seek to design systems that are more effective and more robust. The focus is on amplifying the human capability to perform cognitive work by integrating technical functions with the human cognitive processes they need to support and on making that cognitive work more reliable.

Cognitive systems engineers assist with the design of human interfaces, communication systems, training systems, management systems and teams. They employ principles and methods that bear on the design of procedures, processes, training and technology.

Examples of systems that will benefit are military command and control, civil air traffic control, transportation, communication, process control, power generation. power distribution, health care, management, and large-scale project infrastructure.

Seminar Availability

This seminar is available worldwide for public and on-site delivery (i.e. at client-provided facilities).

Seminar Objective

This one-day seminar introduces the fundamental concepts of cognitive systems engineering and offers an in-depth treatment of the rationale, strategies and benefits of cognitive systems engineering.

Having completed this seminar, delegates will understand how to address many of the more puzzling individual, team and organisational issues that disrupt system performance and will have acquired insight into the types of systemic problems that pervade our society; problems such as:

  • Why seemingly well-designed systems under-perform
  • Why seemingly impervious safety systems fail
  • Why seemingly well-conceived large-scale infrastructure projects encounter widespread public resistance.

Delegates who wish to develop skill in application of the important cognitive systems engineering analysis and design methods will gain a good appreciation of whether PPI's 5-day world-leading course on this topic will satisfy their need.

Who Should Attend This Course?

Anyone directly involved with analysis and design of human-systems functionality or who develops sub-systems with which humans must interact will benefit from this seminar as will program managers who hire and task human-systems analysts and designers or who must assess the overall potential of envisioned or existing human-centric systems.

More generally, managers in all technical and non-technical areas will develop profound insights about human individual, team and organisational behaviour that impacts the successful operation of any large-scale enterprise.

Training Methods and Materials

The seminar is delivered primarily in an interactive presentation format with brief participatory exercises. An experiential information-management exercise undertaken early in the day provides a basis for delegates to develop a situational appreciation of the central ideas. The experiences gained by delegates during that exercise, together with documented narratives of counter insurgency operations by US Marines, are used throughout the day as source material for collaborative analysis and design activities.

Flash Presentation

View a Flash movie, delivered by Dr. Lintern, on the relationship between Cognitive Systems Engineering and Systems Engineering. This movie is a 25-minute summary of the 5-day course.

Learning Objective

Having completed the seminar, delegates will appreciate many of the key behavioural patterns that disrupt individual, team and organizational performance and will understand how to intervene to transform the motivational energy that drives those disruptive patterns into a productive force. Delegates will also understand the need for state-of-the-art methods of cognitive analysis and cognitive design in development of safe and effective human-centric engineering solutions and will understand, in general outline, the analysis and design strategies that can be used to develop human interfaces and human collaborative systems. Delegates who wish to develop skill with important cognitive systems engineering analysis and design strategies will gain a good appreciation of whether PPI's 5-day course on this topic will satisfy their needs.

Key Questions

Why does it matter? If we do the engineering right, humans will adapt.

Humans are, indeed, adaptable. The more resourceful members of our species can make anything work for them. However, it takes effort. When the human operators have to struggle with a system to get it to work for them, they have less time and energy for productive work. Furthermore, any system that is difficult to use demands more extensive training, which is an additional cost. Most troubling, clumsy systems induce human error, which can result in huge costs in time, material, and human life.

Humans are the problem. Can't we avoid all this by automating everything and getting rid of the human?

Those who think this ignore the fact that human errors are typically induced by poor design. Additionally, this sort of attitude assumes implicitly that systems are always well-designed and well maintained and that design engineers can anticipate all contingencies. The extensive record on industrial disasters shows otherwise. Indeed, human adaptability and resourcefulness are strengths, without which, complex modern systems could not work.

Automation is the holy grail of human systems integration. However, humans are inevitably participants as designers, managers and benefactors. The idea of a fully automated system that can deal with all contingencies without human intervention is a science-fiction fantasy. Once we retreat from that ideal and allow humans some interventionist role, the interface between the machine and the human must be configured on the basis of cognitive systems engineering principles. The cognitive systems engineering course deals with this issue and offers a sensible perspective on the way that automation can be used to good effect.

What is the added value?

What is the added value for anything? If you add insulation or double-glazed windows to your home to save energy costs, you can calculate the costs and estimate the savings. That is straightforward enough. Large-scale engineering projects are not as straightforward. To assess the added value of cognitive systems engineering, we would have to track and compare projects that used no cognitive systems engineering versus those that used a minimal amount versus those that used a decent amount, and even then, we would have to assess the quality of the cognitive systems engineering that was used. Those sorts of data are not available anywhere. The course does, however, discuss a small set of selected projects in which a modest amount of cognitive systems engineering saved many times its cost. The course also covers incidents in which flawed cognitive performance has resulted in huge costs in terms of loss of productivity and loss of human life.

I am not an engineer. How could this be useful for me?

The emphasis in this one day seminar is more about how people think, plan and make decisions and how teams and organizations can work effectively than it is about how to design technology. There are a huge number of misconceptions in these areas, all of which go under the general heading of commonsense. Malcolm Gladwell is one who has made something of a career out of pointing out the flaws in commonsense thinking, but he has barely scratched the surface. This workshop provides a systematic overview of seemingly counter-intuitive ideas that can enhance cognitive performance for individuals, teams and organizations.

Cognitive Systems Engineering Course Outline

1. Introduction

  • Introducing the seminar & your instructor
  • What is Cognitive Systems Engineering?
  • Seminar Overview (15 mins)

2. Information Management Exercise

  • Team Cognition (group exercise & debrief)

3. Cognitive Task Analysis Part 1

  • Naturalistic Decision Making
  • Critical Decision Method
  • Demonstration of the Critical Decision Method
  • Macro-Cognition

4. Cognitive Task Analysis Part 2

  • Decision Centered Design
  • Cognitive Indicators
  • Team Cognition

5. Spot the cognition

  • Movie; Houston, we have a problem!
  • Debrief

6. Cognitive Systems Analysis

  • Cognitive Work Analysis
  • Risk Perception, Defense in Depth
  • Why Systems Work

7. Summary

  • Dealing with FAQs
  • Summary Review of seminar
  • Seminar Evaluation

About the Presenter - Dr. Gavan Lintern

Gavan Lintern earned his B.A. (1969) and M.A. (1971) degrees in experimental psychology from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and his Ph.D. (1978) in Engineering Psychology from the University of Illinois. He has worked in aviation-related human factors research at the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (then known as the Aeronautical Research Laboratories), Melbourne from 1971 to 1974, and in flight simulation research on a US Navy program in Orlando, Florida from 1978 to 1985. He returned to the University of Illinois in 1985 to take up a position as a faculty member at the Institute of Aviation. In 1997 he returned to the Defense Science and Technology Organisation in Melbourne. He returned to the US in 2001 to take up a position with Aptima, Inc in Boston, USA and then moved to General Dynamics Advance Information Systems in Dayton Ohio in 2003.

View Full Gavan Lintern Biography

Seminar Schedule

How to Register

There are three simple ways to register to one of our courses.

  1. Online. You may register online by clicking the "register online" link next to the course of interest.
  2. Fax. Download a registration form by clicking the link above the schedule and fax the completed form to our offices on +61 3 9876 2664 (Australia) or +1 888 772 5191 (North America).
  3. Email. Download a registration form by clicking the link next to the course of interest and email the form here.

Upon receiving a completed registration form, a course confirmation letter and invoice will be sent electronically to the email provided within 1-2 business days. Payment can made by credit card or by bank transfer.

If you need any assistance with the registration process or have any queries, please call one of our friendly team members on Australia +61 3 9876 7345, UK +44 20 3286 1995, North America +1 888 772 5174, Brazil +55 11 3230 8256 or email us.

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View full on-site course list


"Very good course - well presented and concepts easy to understand"

Cognitive Systems Engineering Course
delegate, Australia

All courses are available on-site

Benefits of on-site training for your organisation include:

  • tailored in delivery to your industry
  • savings of up to 50%
  • encourages teamwork
  • formal tailoring possible

Enquire about on-site training for your company

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