Learning a Job with an Assistive System

Individualized, cognitive training helps users to better memorize processes

In a joint project between the “Neurocognition and Action – Biomechanics” working group, of the Cluster of Excellence CITEC, and the Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel, researchers have been investigating to what extent a virtual training system can help handicapped individuals learn certain work procedures. The project, which is headed by Professor Dr. Thomas Schack, has now been completed.

A virtual training system helps to learn certain work proceduresIt is not always easy to structure oneself on the job: sometimes, everything seems to happen at the same time. One might lose sight of what needed to be done urgently because something else suddenly came up. This is also an issue for people with mental or emotional disabilities, for whom it is often particularly difficult to remember all the steps or to carry out a procedure in the right order. This is also true for the normal tasks of daily living, especially when something is suddenly different from how it usually is.

Accordingly, it is often difficult for handicapped people to remember the various steps: how do I iron the laundry? How do I tidy up a kiosk? Which steps need to be followed to do this? “Such individuals often are not able to, or find it very difficult, to recall such procedures,” says Ludwig Vogel, from the “Neurocognition and Action” research group at CITEC. Vogel was a member of the research project, the goal of which was to develop an Adaptive Cognitive Training system for various situations. This was designed to help people be better able to perform work processes and steps – with a greater degree of independence.

The Bodelschwingh Foundation Bethel also participated in the project and was involved in developing and implementing an individually adaptable diagnostic and training system. This system was designed to empower handicapped individuals to enhance and solidify their professional skills. At the beginning of the project, the learning software was used at the Bildungszentrum Schopf (Schopf Educational Center), and later at different areas of ProWerk. The project has now been completed.

Participants had various backgrounds, as Vogel explains: “Some had a mental disability, while for others it was about bringing them back to work, for instance after drug abuse or an episode of schizophrenia.” For Vogel, the end of the project yielded a positive outcome: “We were able to gain a lot of experience in how cognitive structures are formed in work processes, as well as what kind of support is helpful for the participants.” A very practically applicable software arose out of this project, which could also be used in other workshops. Adaptive Cognitive Training has already also been put into use in other CITEC projects, including KogniHome and the ADAMAAS project.

But just what does this training look like in the day-to-day? Participants dealt with various situations from their everyday work life on a computer terminal. “The classic example here was a kiosk,” says Vogel. Their task was to tidy up the kiosk. “It was often the case that the individual steps were not even clear at first when someone was told to clean up a kiosk,” says Vogel. With the software, which has also since been made available as an app, participants learned how to, for example, wipe off tables, fill up the refrigerator, empty the coffee grounds, or refill a plate of fruit.

The app also provides training in how to deal with interruptions while working. It might be that a worker is restocking the silverware drawer at the counter when a customer comes up. “Then it’s about not going to the kitchen to carry on with the silverware, but instead learning to serve the customer first,” says Vogel.

Other scenarios are also possible. At a kiosk, it might not matter whether one first empties the coffee grounds or fills up the refrigerator. When it comes to ironing laundry, however, certain steps should be followed: it does not make sense to first fold the laundry and then iron it. “This can also be trained with the software,” says Vogel. Beyond this, the software can also be expanded to other scenarios.

According to Vogel, the software helped to improve the cognitive skills of the participants with respect to their work activities. “Their educators also confirmed this to us.” Apart from putting the processes on the screen into a meaningful sequence, the participants also worked, for instance, with self-instructional training or visualization training. “We combined a variety of different methods for the training,” says Vogel.

The app can be highly customized. “The smart approach could be applied to many applications,” says the researcher. For Vogel, it is important to carry on with the development of Adaptive Cognitive Training. “We don’t want this idea to stay filed away in a drawer. We want it to continue to be used.” For this reason, the project group wants to expand the existing cooperation and bring on new partners.

On Monday, 28 May, the findings and future prospects of the project will be presented at the Bildungszentrum Schopf (Brokstaße 72a, Bielefeld). The event will begin at 9:00am and end around 12:45pm. In addition to Adaptive Cognitive Training, other customized assistive systems from the Bethel-CITEC cooperation will also be presented, including an intelligent pair of glasses, a thinking chair, and a personal coach.

Sign up by contacting Ludwig Vogel at +49 521 106 5131 or ludwig.vogel@uni-bielefeld.de

More information is available online at:


Professor Dr. Thomas Schack
Department of Sport Science
Neurocognition and Action - Biomechanics
Telephone: 0521 106 5127
Email: thomas.schack@uni-bielefeld.de 

Ludwig Vogel
Department of Sport Science
Neurocognition and Action - Biomechanics
Telephone: 0521 106 5131
Email: ludwig.vogel@uni-bielefeld.de

Written by: Maria Berentzen