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Postgraduate course

Fundamentals of Dynamic Social Systems

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

Main content

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Teaching semester


Place of Instruction


Objectives and Content

This course teaches the basics of the System Dynamics method. System Dynamics helps explain how change takes place, why people misunderstand change, and why so many policies fail to solve problems. The method builds on a systems perspective where things influence each other and where knowledge from different fields of study may be needed. Students learn to recognize typical problem behaviours of dynamic systems, exemplified by global warming, over-utilization of natural resources, unemployment, epidemics, price fluctuations, all problems of importance for the sustainable development goals. Students learn to formulate hypotheses for why problems develop, and they learn to represent their hypotheses in simulation models and use the models to test their hypotheses. For models that give likely explanations of problem developments, students learn to formulate and test alternative policies in the very same models. At a more general level, the course gives training in applying the scientific method to socio-economic problems, it provides a common language for interdisciplinary research, and it gives training in project formulations and reporting.

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 (systems consisting of instantaneous and accumulating cause and effect relationships, feedback loops, nonlinearities, and delays) and the use of causal loop diagrams, stock and flow diagrams, graph 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, structure diagrams, and simulation) as well as about misperceptions and simplified rules of thumb that people use to manage complex dynamic systems.

Apply knowledge and understanding

To practice the new knowledge is very important and the course offers several types of training. The reading material is presented in a MOOC where students are challenged while reading, in quizzes, and in interactive learning environments. Class sessions make use of the flipped classroom format where students answer questions, discuss with each other and engage with the instructor. There are four mandatory assignments, with guidance by the student assistant before the deadlines and debriefings after the deadlines. Students also learn to apply analogies to understand several important social challenges, where the most familiar situations serve as analogies for less transparent problems.

Make judgements

Students develop systems thinking skills and an intuitive understanding of the scientific method. This changes the perspective the students have on how problems develop and on how problems can be reduced. It also makes the students more deeply interested in analysis, and a high fraction of the master students end up in academia, in consulting, or in large organizations that set aside time for formal analysis.


The diagramming techniques that the students learn can be seen as tools for effective communication at an intermediate level between imprecise narratives and complex mathematical equations. Students learn a short recipe, P'HAPI, for project design and for effective reporting from projects. Students practice their skills both in classroom discussions and in assignments.

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, will the system counteract proposed policies etc. Once these questions are asked, they motivate learning.

Required Previous Knowledge


Recommended Previous Knowledge

Prospective students should check that they understand what a mathematical function is and how it can be exposed in a graph. Students do not need knowledge of complex mathematical methods of analysis.

Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap

Access to the Course

The course is open to all students at the graduate and the undergraduate level at the University of Bergen.

Teaching and learning methods

The course material is readily available online in a MOOC. The MOOC contains reading material, videos, quizzes, interactive learning environments, downloadable models and additional reading material. The course is of the flipped classroom type where students prepare before classes, and where classes are used to answer and discuss questions related to the pre-class preparations. This is a social process where students interact intensely with each other and the instructor, and where this activity leads to deep learning. There are 36 class hours (four two-hour classes per week) and 32 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

Passed quizzes during the course. Approved quizzes will be valid in the following three semesters.

Forms of Assessment

8 hour take home exam.

Grading Scale

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

Assessment Semester

Assessment in teaching semester and the following semester.

Reading List

The reading list will be ready before 1 June for the autumn semester and 1 Decemeber for the spring semester.

Course Evaluation

All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education.

Programme Committee

The Programme Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study programme and courses

Course Coordinator

Course coordinator and administrative contact person can be found on Mitt UiB.

Course Administrator

The Department of Geography at the Faculty of Social Sciences has the administrative responsibility for the course and the study programme. 

Exam information

  • Type of assessment: Take-home examination

    Assignment handed out
    26.01.2021, 09:00
    Submission deadline
    26.01.2021, 14:00
    Examination system
    Digital exam