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Best of All-Time Online Course

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


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4.9 rating, based on 137 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,...
  • 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

    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.
  • 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...
  • 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...
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    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.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great opportunity to get an overview of this rising subject in science.
    I appreciated learning about the different aspects of complex systems: some help understand our world from natural shapes (trees...) to social behavior (ants...) through emerging laws in nature.., some are relevant for my research topics (renewable energy), some are just amazing, reminding how beautiful and diverse our world is (fractals, patterns from mathematical objects...).
    Inspiring, Thank you.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Este es un curso del que nunca te cansas, porque cada vez que lo repites aprendes algo nuevo. Es un curso que sirve para aprender el mundo de otra manera, mucho más parecida a como, intuyo, es en realidad. Llevo más de 25 años trabajando de una manera u otra con sistemas complejos (adaptativos), primero en la naturaleza y luego en organizaciones. Recomiendo este curso a todo el que quiera aprender a pensar como deberíamos pensar todos en el siglo XXI.
  • Kian Azami completed this course and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    In my opinion, this online course is one of the best online courses that I have ever seen. It is very precise and step by step introduce you to the subject of the Complexity. Unfortunately, I become familiar with this course a little bit late and I cannot complete the course by the due date, however, I am going to audit the course to the end. I suggest this course to anyone who wants to learn and become familiar with the topic of complexity. It is a good push!
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I have taken this course a number of times and each time I am exposed to nuances that I passed over before. It is exceptionally well-done. The course is updated to reflect changes in understanding and emphasis. Dr. Mitchell and the complexity scientists interviewed have made a broad exposure to the concepts of complexity a priority. The Fora are monitored and questions answered. There is a reason this course is so highly rated!
  • Dong Yu completed this course.

    It's great to see the experts in the field introduce the main ideas in development. and Melanie is a great communicator both to students with clarity and simplicity, and to the interviewed experts with sharpness . this course is my best experience in MOOC courses ever . thank you so much Melanie and SANTA FE INSTITUTE ! I hope there is following-up courses I can further pursuit my interest in complexity theory down the path
  • Simon Crase completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    If I were allowed to give 6 stars out of 5 for, say, three courses, this would be one of them. Melanie gives a lively and clear explanation of enough topics to give a grounding in complexity. I regretted the course coming to an end.
    I made a voluntary donation to Complexity Explorer at the end of the course, because I wanted to help SFI bring the course to a wider audience. "Money is the sincerest form of praise".
  • Dave Hanson completed this course.

    I took this course in its live version at University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Melanie is a great teacher and has a gift for explaining complex principals in a simple and easy to understand way. The course is a great way to get a start in understanding Complex Adaptive Systems and covers the landscape of practical application areas very well.
  • Andjela T

    Andjela T completed this course.

    This was my first MOOC experience, and to date the best one. I enjoyed the lessons, and the support and the knowledge was greatly rewarding! I could see myself specializing in this at a later stage in my career; it was a great intro into the field.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Great class for anyone interested in learning about the fascinating subject of complexity. Course covers introductory concepts in dynamics, information, computation and evolution and how these ideas work together to create complex systems. Topics discussed range from fractal geometry, to network behavior, to city planning.

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