System Dynamics Modelling and Analysis

Postgraduate course

Course description

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 system parts influence each other and where knowledge from different fields of study are needed. Students learn to recognize typical problem behaviors of dynamic systems, exemplified by global warming, over-utilization of natural resources, epidemics, and price fluctuations. These are all problems of importance for the UN's 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 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, public administration and private management. They get to know the basics of dynamics systems (systems consisting of instantaneous and accumulating cause and effect relationships, feedback loops, nonlinearities, and delays). They learn tools for analysis such as causal loop diagrams, stock and flow diagrams, structure, graphs, equations and the simulation program Stella Online. This program is freely available. Students obtain knowledge about different ways to analyze and understand how cause and effect create development over time. In this respect system dynamics provides an important supplement to systems thinking. Finally students know about misperceptions and misguided rules of thumb that people typically use to manage complex dynamic systems.

Apply knowledge and understanding

To practice the new knowledge is very important and the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) offers several types of training. Students are challenged to apply the tools and methods in quizzes, assignments, and in interactive learning environments (ILEs). Students also learn to apply structurally similar analogies to understand several important social challenges, where the most familiar situations serve as analogies for less transparent problems. At the end of the course students are able to construct and analyze dynamic simulation models.

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. As a consequence, a high fraction of our 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 models. Students learn a short recipe, P'HAPI, for project design and for effective reporting from projects. Students practice their skills both in 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 behavior caused by external influences or is it created within the system (endogenously), do data indicate causal relationships or correlations, will the system counteract proposed policies etc. Once these questions are asked, they motivate analysis and learning.

ECTS Credits


Level of Study


Semester of Instruction

Spring and autumn

Click on this link for information about how to sign up for the MOOC

Place of Instruction

Required Previous Knowledge
Recommended Previous Knowledge

Prospective students should check that they understand what a mathematical function is and how it can be illustrated in a graph.

Students do not need knowledge of complex mathematical methods of analysis.

Credit Reduction due to Course Overlap
GEO-SD302 (10 ECTS)
Access to the Course
Click here to register and start working. The MOOC is available for anybody. However, to register for the exam, applicants must meet the minimum entrance requirements for higher education in Norway or they must be older than 25 years of age. To get access to the exam, students must have finished 100% of the material before the exam starts.
Teaching and learning methods
The MOOC utilizes a number of new online teaching tools to help students develop deep understanding. The MOOC contains reading material, animations, videos, quizzes, interactive learning environments, and downloadable models. Study at your own speed, answer questions, solve problems, and watch videos. To build deep knowledge and to develop skills, students have to finish each and every task to make progress. Immediate feedback helps to correct your understanding step by step and is an important part of the teaching material. This reduces the chance that students become overconfident in material that is misperceived.
Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
Students must go through the entire course and finish all tasks in order to get access to the exam, see details above.
Forms of Assessment
From 2024 spring: no 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
From spring 2024 there will be no credit giving assessment.
Reading List
The MOOC contains all the information needed to do well at the exam. The textbook by John Sterman called "Business Dynamics, Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World" is recommended but not required for the course.
Course Evaluation
All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education.
Programme Committee
The Program Committee is responsible for the content, structure and quality of the study program and courses.
Course Coordinator
Course coordinator and administrative contact person can be found under People in the Canvas course
Course Administrator
The System Dynamic Group at the Department of Geography at the Faculty of Social Sciences has the administrative responsibility for the course.