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Complexity Explorer

Introduction to Complexity

Santa Fe Institute via Complexity Explorer


In this course you'll learn about the tools used by scientists to understand complex systems. The topics you'll learn about include dynamics, chaos, fractals, information theory, self-organization, agent-based modeling, and networks. You’ll also get a sense of how these topics fit together to help explain how complexity arises and evolves in nature, society, and technology. There are no prerequisites. You don't need a science or math background to take this introductory course; it simply requires an interest in the field and the willingness to participate in a hands-on approach to the subject.


  1. What is Complexity?
  2. Dynamics and Chaos
  3. Fractals
  4. Information, Order, and Randomness
  5. Genetic Algorithms
  6. Cellular Automata
  7. Models of Biological Self-Organization
  8. Models of Cooperation in Social Systems
  9. Networks
  10. Scaling in Biology and Society
  11. Wrapping Up; Virtual Field Trip

Taught by

Melanie Mitchell



4.9 rating, based on 145 Class Central reviews

Start your review of Introduction to Complexity

  • Neelesh Marik

    Neelesh Marik completed this course.

    This course moved the needle on my understanding of this fascinating subject space, and introduced some rigour into what was earlier mostly just doe-eyed interest: fractals, the information-energy relationship, complex adaptive systems, universal computation,...
  • Davide Madrisan completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    An absolutely amazing course that introduces, in the simplest possible way, lots of aspects of the complex system theory and applications. The videos with interviews to mathematicians, physicists, and economists are very interesting too and will let you, I'm sure, a need of a deeper understanding on the subjects.
  • Andreas Mayer

    Andreas Mayer completed this course.

    This course provides a nice introduction into many exciting topics in complex systems science. Ideas from nonlinear dynamics, information theory and network science are reviewed in an engaging manner by the course instructor Melanie Mitchell in a series...
  • Idikula Mathew

    Idikula Mathew completed this course.

    I had taken the course last year and it is a very comprehensive introduction to the interesting world of complexity. The best part of the course is its variety of elements and approach taken by Melanie to simplify complex topics. Above all as a full time working person, the freedom to manage time at your own pace has been the super plus on this MOOC for me.
    Its a highly recommended introduction to the topic of complex systems if complexity, nature and its patterns, behavior etc excites you.
  • Bernardo Furtado

    Bernardo Furtado completed this course.

    The course is a gem. It works as a general overview of complexity covering from dynamic systems to genetic algorithms to basic conceptualization. Everything is intuitive and fun to learn. It does not go deep into subjects as it is not its original proposal, but it provides a good panorama so that students can move further on their own. You might enjoy it if you are a physicist, biologist or social scientist. Level of math is basic and the end of the course fieldtrip (yes!) is delicious.
  • Deepak Alse

    Deepak Alse completed this course.

    The course provides a well structured introduction to the inherently broad field of complexity. This is not a 'sit and watch' type of course - If you want to acquire the basic skills for analyzing complexity, you should engage with the content, the quizzes and the programs. It will change your perspective towards the world and you'll be surprised at how many 'miracles' you'll be able to explain after you've completed the course.
  • Anonymous
    Eye-opening would be the very least I could describe this course as. This course allowed me to look at the things that I look at everyday - in a new light. The topics it explored are quite diverse. Also, the coursework has been presented in a way that is understandable for absolute beginners. The quizzes and tests are quite interesting.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    At 76 years of age; BSc, Phd Geology, BMath, and lots of work related engineering, economics and business courses, this is undoubtedly one of the best and most interesting courses I have taken. I look forward to following this up.
  • Anonymous
    This was an excellent course, covering a large range of topics related to complexity. The papers in the supplemental materials were useful.
    Suggestion: When looking over the available courses it would be useful if there were an overview page, giving short descriptions, and suggesting a reasonable order for taking the courses.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    The course gives a great introduction into complexity! It covers several main topics in the field, does not assume prior knowledge, programming skills or math skills. It utilizes a programming language called NetLogo for modelling phenomena as networks or population dynamics. The course includes a tutorial into the language, and by providing different levels of homework leaves it to the user, whether they want to delve into programming models or not. Very interesting guest interviews with people working in the field provide an impression of research topics and applications of complexity science. All in all, defenitely one of my favourite MOOCs and I really recommend it to everybody!!
  • Profile image for Ramírez Vera Brian Israel
    Ramírez Vera Brian Israel
    Great course, I learned very much, great contents, great platform and great experience.

    I´m very grateful with Complexity Explorer and Santa Fe Institute, to post this curse totally free.
  • Profile image for Gerold Firl
    Gerold Firl

    Gerold Firl completed this course.

    Intro to complexity delivers just what it promises: an overview of Complexity Science, covering all the branches of this vital and fascinating new discipline. It walks a fine line on mathematical rigor to be accessible to those without a strong math background...
  • Matias Agelvis completed this course.

    An introduction to many topics very important for the science of this century, perfect for every one that want to know more about the world of complex systems , even people with no mathematical background
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    It is a nice course but I think it is highly overrated. The thing is, I think it is quite shallow and while it is a great introduction to the field of complex systems for amateurs and new comers, it also downgrades the field and is presented in a rather...
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I am a little confused. I am reading some authors of the supplementary materials and I dont understand why they are celebreting new discoveries. Let me explain it, If you evaluate the knowledge about complexity you can see that they arent enough predictive...
  • Anonymous
    Amazing Course, It provided a great explanation to such a sophisticated topic. I left with a clear understanding of the subject of matter.
  • Anonymous
    Muchas gracias por este curso que me motiva a seguir trabajando en áreas que en algún momento no sabía para que se podían usar, que el aprendizaje no termina y que falta muchísimo por entender y que siempre debe alguna persona que aporte algo en beneficio de otros aunque el egoísmo pudiera parecer una característica (el bien siempre es más). Gracias a las personas, Doctores y especialistas que comparten su conocimiento, en cursos, en entrevistas, etc. es muy interesante cada tema, y el interés siempre aumenta.
  • Diego Riccardi completed this course, spending 4 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Tremendous course, very well organized by Prof. Mitchell.

    I agree with the other reviewers that
    - freedom to manage time at your own pace has been the super plus on this MOOC for me.
    -Level of math is basic and the end of the course fieldtrip (yes!) is delicious.
    -NetLogo simulations are another plus
    -you'll cope with interesting interconnections within this highly interdisciplinary and (I hope) promising field.
    - great support on the course forum by Prof. Mitchell
    - there is lot of great suggested materials/further reading & practice
  • Anonymous
    Excelente curso. La verdad me sorprendió la calidad de los instrucyotres y la forma en que de manera concreta y ágil te llevan a recorrer una temática que para la mayoría de nosotros no conoce. Es muy interesante ver como estructuras relativamente simples son capaces de tener comportamiento complejos, lo que nos puede llevar apreguntarnos de que serían capaces las estructuras complejas. La verdad super recomendable.
  • Tim Tröndle

    Tim Tröndle completed this course.

    This is a lively course giving a broad overview over the field using clear words amended by videos and simulation models making the content very tangible. Due to the optional readings and homework it suits a wide range of students with varying previous knowledge and available time to be spent for the course. At least one guest spot per lecture displays the content in diverse contexts and provides insights into current work in the field. That alone is a good reason for taking the course. Can only rcommend.

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