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Postgraduate course

Introduction to System Dynamics Modelling

  • ECTS credits10
  • Teaching semesterAutumn
  • Course codeGEO-SD662
  • Number of semesters1
  • Resources

Main content

Level of Study


Teaching semester


Objectives and Content

This course teaches the basics of the System Dynamics method. System Dynamics helps explain problematic changes over time (dynamics), why people misunderstand change, and why so many policies fail to solve problems. The method builds on a systems perspective where different 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, and price fluctuations. These are all problems of importance for the sustainable development goals (SDG). 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 useful 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 formulation and reporting.

Learning Outcomes

Express knowledge and understanding

Students gain knowledge about the System Dynamics method and its relation to standard science, operations research, business management, and public administration. They get to know the basics of dynamic 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 analyse and understand development over time (graphical integration, the tangent method, structure graphs, and simulation). They also learn about misperceptions and simplified feedback strategies that people use to manage complex dynamic systems.

Apply knowledge and understanding

To practice the new knowledge is very important. The course offers several types of training. By themselves, students develop simulation models, make decisions in interactive learning environments, and answer quizzes and assignments. Together, they discuss assignments, before they watch video debriefings. Students also learn to apply analogies to understand important social challenges, where 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 handled. It also makes the students more deeply interested in analysing real world problems.


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

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 by the system itself 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 both investigation and learning.

Required Previous Knowledge

There are no formal requirements. However, some knowledge of basic linear and nonlinear mathematical functions is recommended as well as an ability to interpret such functions in graphs.

Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap

GEO-SD302 (10 ECTS)

Access to the Course

The course is open worldwide as a MOOC. To get access to the exam, applicants must meet the minimum entrance requirements for higher education in Norway or they must be older than 25 years of age.

Teaching and learning methods

The course is organized as a MOOC. It provides online reading material, quizzes with immediate answers, Stella simulations, simulators, interactive learning environments, videos, and student interactions. Each of the 5 modelling chapters have three main parts. They start with a challenge to experience what the chapter is about. Then there is reading material, quizzes, and videos to learn the necessary techniques, tools, and methods. Finally, there are assignments to practice what has been learnt. Students engage in discussions of assignments, and the assignments end with video debriefings. Students have free access to the simulation software Stella Online. Students can choose to follow the suggested time line with discussions in suggested time intervals. Or they may form groups that follow time schedules that are more convenient for themselves.

Compulsory Assignments and Attendance

Students must go through all the reading material and all the activities to get access to the exam.

Forms of Assessment

The exam has two components. First, there is an online exam at the end of the course. Questions are varied randomly among students to unable collaboration in the allotted 4 hours of the exam. Second, students may be selected for an oral examination using Skype, where they must present a valid photo identification card. The probability of being selected is high if there is a big discrepancy between how well students have performed in the course assignments and in the exam. The grade is based on the online exam, however to pass the course, selected students must receive a passing grade on the oral examination. When the course is taken as part of study programs at other universities, these universities may organize proctored exams.

Grading Scale

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

Assessment Semester


Course Evaluation

Students receive an Internet based evaluation form at the end of the course.