Postgraduate course

Fundamentals of Dynamic Social Systems

  • ECTS credits10
  • Teaching semesterAutumn
  • Course codeGEO-SD302
  • Number of semesters1
  • LanguageEnglish
  • Resources

Level of Study


Teaching semester


Objectives and Content

This is an introduction to the System Dynamics method, dynamic system structure and behaviour, misperceptions of dynamic systems, policy design and implementation. Students learn to recognize typical problem behaviours of dynamic systems, exemplified by global warming, overgrazing, unemployment, epidemics, price fluctuations etc. They learn how to represent hypotheses of social systems, and to simulate and understand how system structures produce problem behaviours. They learn about hypothesis testing where both structure and behaviour are compared to observations. They also learn why dynamic systems are easily misperceived and how problems can be caused by well intended but malfunctioning policies. Furthermore, the course gives training in applying the scientific method to socio-economic problems and it provides a common language for interdisciplinary research.

Learning Outcomes

Express knowledge and understanding

Students gain knowledge about the System Dynamics method and its relation to standard science, operations research, and public and private management. They also get to know the basics of dynamics systems (a stock with in- and out-flows, local feedback from stock to own flows, nonlinearities, and major loops with delays) and the use of causal loop diagrams, stock and flow diagrams, table functions, and equations to represent and illustrate cause-and-effect relationships. And they obtain knowledge about different ways to analyze and understand development over time (graphical integration, phase diagrams, simulation) as well as about misperceptions and simplified heuristics that people posses and use to manage complex dynamic systems.

Apply knowledge and understanding

Students receive training in applying knowledge with six mandatory assignments during the course. Students try out their intuitive knowledge and acquired knowledge in computer based simulations. They also learn to apply analogies to understand several important social challenges, where the most familiar situation serves as an analogy for the less transparent problems.

Make judgements

Students learn to make judgements about both structure (relationships between variables) and behaviour of systems. They learn to understand the benefits of simple analogies and their shortcomings.


Students are encouraged to and do participate actively in class. The last question in each of the six assignments is particularly directed at being able to practise and communicate the System Dynamics method. In fact, the stock and flow diagram could be seen as a tool for effective communication at an intermediate level between imprecise narratives and complex equations.

Develop learning skills

After finishing the course, students typically have a new and different view on how dynamic social systems work. This encourages them to ask new questions such as: what are the important stocks and feedback loops, is behaviour created endogenously or is it caused by external influences, do data represent causal relationships or correlations only representative for a limited time interval, will the system counteract proposed policies etc. Once these questions are asked, they motivate learning.

Required Previous Knowledge


Access to the Course

The course is open to students enrolled in the Erasmus Mundus master program and to graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Bergen.

Teaching and learning methods

The course makes use of the ┬┐flipped classroom┬┐ teaching method where students read theory and gain experience in simulators before classes, and where classes are used to answer and discuss questions related to the reading material. This is a social process where students interact intensely with each other, are active, and learn deeply. There are 36 class hours (four two-hour classes per week) and 36 hours of lab assistance (two four-hour labs per week) over a 4-week period from mid-August to mid-September.

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

4 written assignments

Forms of Assessment

4-hour written exam (100% of grade)

Grading Scale

An ECTS grade is provided to the student at the end of the course according to the A-F scale.

Subject Overlap

  • GEO-SD202 (10 ECTS)
  • GEO-SD230 (5 ECTS)
  • GEO-SD640 (5 ECTS)

Assessment Semester


Course Evaluation

GEO-SD302 will be evaluated at least every third year.


Contact Information

Department of Geography



Exam information

  • For written exams, please note that the start time may change from 09:00 to 15:00 or vice versa until 14 days prior to the exam. The exam location will be published 14 days prior to the exam. Candidates must check their room allocation on Studentweb 3 days prior to the exam.

  • Type of assessment: Written examination

    20.09.2019, 09:00
    4 hours
    Withdrawal deadline
    Examination system
    Digital exam