Class Central is learner-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Santa Fe Institute

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
    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 co…
  • Andreas Mayer
    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 se…
  • Idikula Mathew
    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.
  • Deepak Alse
    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.
  • Bernardo Furtado
    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.
  • Anonymous
    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.
  • David Harold Chester
    Hiving listened and watched the video on an introduction to complexity, I find that without realizing it, I have "emerged" my academic topic of macroeconomics (of our sociasl system) from what most prior economists have regarded it as being impossi…
  • Anonymous
    This course can transform the way you see the world. It breaks down the world of complexity into manageable chunks that are relatable. Playing with the modelling software gave me a feel for complex dynamics in the way theoretical explanations could not.
  • Anonymous
    This was great, I am just amazed. Covering all these challenging areas in a very understandable and enjoyable way. Loved it!
  • Profile image for Gerold Firl
    Gerold Firl
    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…
  • 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.
  • 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
  • Prof. Mitchell is excellent at explaining difficult and wide-ranging concepts.
    The programming resourse of using an easy to use, handy GUI as NetLogo for simulating is a brilliant idea.
  • 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
    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 ra…
  • Anonymous
    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 pre…
  • Anonymous
    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!!
  • 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
  • Tim Tröndle
    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.
  • Anonymous
    This course is complete and interesting. It is completely successful in its intention of giving a general approach to the broad field of Complexity science, without leaving anyone behind with maths (everyone will understand Melanie and her explanations) and leaving some sort of melancholia when finishing and obtaining your certificate. Indeed, once you finish this course, you will only think about the next one offered by the Santa Fe institute. I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone.

Never Stop Learning.

Get personalized course recommendations, track subjects and courses with reminders, and more.

Someone learning on their laptop while sitting on the floor.