Imagine being approached in the middle of the semester by a student who just found out she is about to be deployed with the military. The student needs to know what will happen with her G.I. Bill and class grades. Would you know what to tell the student?

Kognito, a free online training tool, allows faculty and staff to have simulated conversations with students regarding situations such as this one.

Most faculty and staff have not had formalized training on how to approach difficult situations. “We often hear ‘I don’t know how to approach this’ or ‘I don’t know what to say,’” said Illinois State Staff Psychologist Charles Titus Boudreaux. “There is generally a reluctance to get involved with a person in distress for fear of saying or doing the wrong thing.”

The online modules feature six interactive and research-proven simulations designed to educate faculty, staff and students on best practices for supporting students. Scenarios in Kognito include students struggling with psychological distress – including depression and suicide; student veterans facing challenges in adjusting to college life; and LGBTQ students struggling with harassment or exclusion. Each training session takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes to complete.

“The online modules are structured as a virtual practice environment where users learn by engaging in interactive role-play conversations with emotionally responsive student avatars,” said Boudreaux. Users may complete Kognito from the faculty/staff point of view or as a fellow student. “While all Kognito situations involve students potentially in distress, the skills learned through the interactive modules are applicable to anyone you know that may need help.”

Faculty and staff are using Kognito as a learning mechanism for students. Nikki Brauer, director of health promotion and wellness, has Student Wellness Ambassadors going through the modules. “Student Wellness Ambassadors serve as a resource for other students at Illinois State. This training better prepares them to recognize other students who may be experiencing distress and to also direct fellow students toward the appropriate resources,” she said.

Kognito is available for free to public and private schools in Illinois through state and federal grants and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

To access Kognito, go to and click “Create New Account.” Modules may be done individually or as a group activity.