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Decision Making in a Complex and Uncertain World

This course will teach you the first principles of complexity, uncertainty, and how to make decisions in a complex world.

64,182 enrolled on this course

Complex and Uncertain
  • Duration

    7 weeks
  • Weekly study

    5 hours

To learn how complexity and uncertainty influence and constrain our decisions.

Our world seems to ever become more complex and uncertain. Future leaders must be able to act under these conditions.

This course provides you with the broad scientific background necessary to develop yourself into one of the future’s key decision-makers.

First, this course will address the core concepts of complexity and uncertainty. Next, guest lecturers will explore related sub-fields. Finally, the course will conclude by relating this all back together in case studies about financial stability and city development.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 25 seconds LEX HOOGDUIN: I would like to invite you to a free online course on how to deal with a complex and uncertain world. This course has been produced by a multidisciplinary team of guest teachers, all from Groningen University in the Netherlands. The course will help you to understand the complexity and uncertainty of the real world and provide you with basic tools to act in the real world. For example, as a business leader, policymaker, supervisor, or privately. The themes of complexity and uncertainty require an approach from many different angles, such as network theory, agent-based modelling, emergent behaviour, evolutionary dynamics, cellular automata, history, ethics, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds At the end of the course, we will have two case studies– one about the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the other about growth and development of cities. During our six-week course, you will see lectures, interviews, and debates. You will study literature, participate in discussions, take quizzes and tests, and make assignments to really comprehend the basics of complexity and uncertainty and how to deal with it. I’m convinced that this multidisciplinary course will help you to see and understand the world from a new perspective. It will help you to be an effective decision maker in whatever position or job you are or will be in and in private life.

Skip to 1 minute and 51 seconds I’m really looking forward to welcoming you to this six-week journey through the fascinating world of complexity and uncertainty.


  • Week 1

    Complexity & uncertainty

    • Introduction to decision making in a complex and uncertain world

      This activity introduces the FutureLearn course: decision making in a complex and uncertain world.

    • Complexity

      This activity introduces the notion of complexity.

    • Social complexity

      Complex systems exist in nature, but also in society. This activity focuses on the latter.

    • Characteristics of complex systems

      This activity discusses some of the shared characteristics of all complex systems.

    • Uncertainty & risk

      This activity deals with uncertainty. It explains the difference between risk and uncertainty and provides distinct methods for dealing with both uncertainty and risk.

    • Dealing with uncertainty

      This activity looks at mechanisms which enable dealing with uncertainty. It will be explained what these mechanisms are and how to use them.

    • Uncertainty in science and the economy

      You have learnt about what risk and uncertainty is and about the mechanisms to deal with it. Now, the debate continues on implications and relevance of uncertainty in science and the economy.

    • Wrapping up Week 1

      This activity wraps up Week 1

  • Week 2

    Emergence & networks

    • Introducing emergent behaviour, graph theory and networks

      This video introduces Week 2 of the course.

    • Introduction to emergence

      This activity gives you an introduction to emergence and emergent behavior.

    • Networks & graph theory

      This activity introduces the notion of networks. It then introduces graph theory as a tool to study these networks.

    • Random & scale-free networks

      This activity gives you a quick overview of the different types of networks that can exist.

    • Stability of networks

      This activity explores the stability of networks. What makes a network stable of fragile?

    • Wrapping up Week 2

      This activity wraps up Week 2

  • Week 3

    Agent based modelling

    • Introducing agent-based modelling

      This activity introduces Week 3 of the course.

    • Principles of agent-based modelling

      This activity introduces the principles of agent-based modelling. A technique that we can use to study and simulate complex systems. This allows scientists and decision makers to reduce complexity.

    • Why make an agent-based model?

      This activity explores why scientists might want to create an agent-based model.

    • Modelling social complexity

      This activity explores whether or not agent-based models can be used to model more complex social systems.

    • Possibilities for agent-based models

      We have highlighted agent-based models that decision makers and scientists can use as a tool for understanding complex systems. In this activity, we will highlight possible real-world applications of agent-based models.

    • Wrapping up Week 3

      This activity wraps up Week 3.

  • Week 4

    Evolutionary dynamics

    • Introducing evolutionary dynamics

      This activity introduces the fourth week of the course.

    • Evolutionary dynamics

      This activity introduces evolution in a complex and uncertain world

    • Social evolution

      This activity introduces social evolution in a complex world.

    • Wrapping up Week 4

      This activity wraps up Week 4.

  • Week 5

    Self-organisation & history

    • Introducing self-organisation, cellular automata and history

      This activity introduces Week 5 of the course.

    • Cellular automata to study social self-organisation

      This activity uses cellular automata models to study social self-organisation.

    • Self-organisation of voting behaviour

      This activity expands on the concepts learned on cellular automata modelling and self-organisation. It applies these concepts to the clustering patterns in voting behaviour..

    • Complexity and uncertainty in history

      This activity shows how we can see the previously introduced concepts of complexity and uncertainty in history.

    • Wrapping up Week 5

      This activity wraps up Week 5.

  • Week 6

    Individual decision making & entrepreneurship

    • Introducing individual decision making and entrepreneurship

      This activity introduces Week 6 of the course.

    • Decisions in a complex and uncertain world

      This activity describes how people make decisions under complexity and uncertainty

    • The role of entrepreneurs in a complex and uncertain world

      This activity describes how Austrian economists view the role of entrepreneurs in our complex and uncertain world.

    • How entrepreneurs profit from uncertainty

      This activity introduces how entrepreneurship flourish in a complex and uncertain world.

    • How social entrepreneurs solve complex social problems

      This activity introduces the concept of social entrepreneurship

    • Wrapping up Week 6

      This activity wraps up Week 6

  • Week 7

    Case study: Financial crisis & city development

    • Introducing two case studies

      This activity introduces Week 7

    • Case study 1: Financial uncertainty

      Now, let us look at a specific example of a complex system, the financial system. Where there is a lot of uncertainty about its behavior, but also some patterns. Much like the US economy before 2007.

    • Case study 2: Urban complexity

      This activity explores how all of the previously learned lessons can be applied to a real world entity: the City.

    • End of course case study

      This is it. You can practice all you have learned in a concrete case study of your choice. Either write about a financial crisis or about city development.

    • Concluding the course

      This activity concludes our course on decisions in a complex and uncertain world.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain the difference between complex and complicated
  • Explain the difference between risk and uncertainty
  • Explain the following concepts: emergence, networks, evolutionary dynamics, social self-organisation and path dependence
  • Experiment with complex systems in simple agent-based models.
  • Apply the course concepts and tools to the social sciences of history, entrepreneurship, economics and spatial planning
  • Debate how complexity and uncertainty influence human decision making and how you can counter these effects

Who is the course for?

Anyone who needs to make decisions in a complex and uncertain context (e.g. managers and project coordinators). The course will be taught at undergraduate level. Basic knowledge of economic, financial institutions, mathematics and logic will be helpful.

What software or tools do you need?

In this course, we use the free Netlogo software to interact with agent-based simulation models.

What do people say about this course?

"Thank you so much for the course! Very interesting and thought provoking. I liked the two case study sections, they helped bring the concepts to life. I think some of the concepts covered will stay with me a long time."

The best MOOC I have taken so far.

"This was an amazing experience, probably the best MOOC I have taken so far. The lecturers were extremely engaging and explained their subject in a very clear and simple way. "

Who will you learn with?

I am professor at the university of Groningen (Complexity and Uncertainty). I have also a number of supervisory functions and have been advisor to the first president of the European Central Bank.

Who developed the course?

University of Groningen

The University of Groningen is a research university with a global outlook, deeply rooted in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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