Introduction to Agent-Based Modeling: A Short Course

A 3-Day Livestream Seminar Taught by Paul Smaldino, Ph.D.

Check out Professor Smaldino’s post on the Code Horizons blog to learn how models can provide insight into human behavior.

Download Sample Course Slides

Understanding the behavior of complex social systems is tricky. Mathematical and computational models are used by a wide range of social and biological scientists to clarify hypotheses and test the consequences of their assumptions. Agent-based models are a class of formal models in which individual actors are instantiated as computational objects. This enables us to account for variability in agent properties (including biological and behavioral traits, physical and network locations), and allows us to explore, through simulation, how macro-level phenomena emerge from micro-level behaviors under constraints. They have been used to better understand social phenomena such as cooperation, collective problem solving, polarization, segregation, traffic flow, the spread of disease, and the emergence of social norms.

In this three-day seminar, you will learn the basics for understanding, building, and analyzing agent-based models using NetLogo, a popular, free, and easy-to-learn language designed expressly for coding and visualizing agent-based models.  We will focus on models of contagion, which are important in epidemiology and public health, but are also widely used to understand how behaviors, ideas, and innovations spread. By the end of the course, you will be able to build, visualize, and analyze your own agent-based model of contagion, and will have the resources to engage with and build models of other phenomena.

Starting January 11, we are offering this seminar as a 3-day synchronous*, livestream workshop held via the free video-conferencing software Zoom. Each day will consist of two lecture sessions which include hands-on exercises, separated by a 1-hour break. You are encouraged to join the lecture live, but will have the opportunity to view the recorded session later in the day if you are unable to attend at the scheduled time.

*We understand that finding time to participate in livestream courses can be difficult. If you prefer, you may take all or part of the course asynchronously. The video recordings will be made available within 24 hours of each session and will be accessible for four weeks after the seminar, meaning that you will get all of the class content and discussions even if you cannot participate synchronously. 

Closed captioning is available for all live and recorded sessions. Live captions can be translated to a variety of languages including Spanish, Korean, and Italian. For more information, click here.

More Details About the Course Content

This course is for those wishing to get their feet wet working with agent-based models of social systems. It is designed to be accessible to students who are relatively new to agent-based modeling, while still being useful to more experienced modelers. The course uses NetLogo, which is a software tool and programming language designed to be easy to learn but powerful enough to be used for real research. However, many of the techniques we will learn are platform-independent, and so will apply whether your future modeling work uses NetLogo or some other programming language or software library. The course focuses on models of contagion, which is of particular interest these days for some reason. However, most of the modeling techniques you will learn are applicable to models of social dynamics more generally.

You can learn about modeling by watching and listening, but you can only learn how to model by practicing. This course therefore emphasizes hands-on practice with coding and analyzing agent-based models.


To participate in the hands-on exercises, you are strongly encouraged to use a computer with the most recent version of NetLogo installed. This software is free and available for Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms. If you are new to NetLogo, you may wish to work through the tutorial included in the NetLogo User Manual. Familiarity with software that allows you to plot data (e.g., Excel, R, Python, Stata) is also useful.

Who Should Register?

This course is for anyone interested in agent-based or mathematical modeling of social systems. While we will focus on contagion models, many of the techniques you will learn are broadly applicable to other model systems, from industrial organization to communication to evolution. You do not need to be familiar with NetLogo or be an expert coder of any kind, but you should have some familiarity with basic coding elements like variables, conditionals, loops, etc.


Day 1

  • Models, agent-based and otherwise
  • How NetLogo works
  • Cellular automata models
  • A simple host-pathogen model
  • Qualitative model analysis

Day 2

  • Mobile agents
    • Random walks
    • Toroidal vs. bounded space
    • Agent interactions
  • SI and SIS models
    • Infection curves
    • Systems dynamics
  • SIR models
    • Modeling interventions
    • Flattening the curve

Day 3

  • Modeling vaccines and herd immunity
  • Batch runs
    • Using BehaviorSpace
    • Parameter Sweeps
  • Network models
    • Ring lattices
    • Random networks
    • Path length
    • Clustering
  • Small-world networks
  • Simple and complex contagions on networks
  • Building your own models

Reviews of Introduction to Agent-Based Modeling

“This is a very good introduction to the agent-based modeling (ABM) approach to analyze complex processes with simple local behaviors. The course is practical with hands-on use of Netlogo, a user-friendly coding environment for ABM development. Examples focus on social science and epidemiology problems such as urban settlement patterns, disease spread, and outcome analysis. If you are entering, or already in these fields, then I would strongly recommend this course. It will also serve as a spring-board to going deeper into agent coding and with the material provided you should be better equipped to start your agent journey.”
  Eric A. de Kemp, GSC

“This course was well worth the cost in time and money. The presenter was engaging, passionate and authoritative with extensive experience and publishing record. The material was very wide in scope and gave me the tools to pursue my own projects.”
  Rod Ling, University of Newcastle

“The course is very well-structured, comprehensive, and practical. There is good balance between lectures on theories and practices (coding). Although the seminar is primarily about contagion models, Paul made the application appealing to people with diverse backgrounds.”
  Xiao Qin, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

“The ratio of theory to practical examples was nice, and the instructor was knowledgeable and passionate.”
  Mitro Miihkinen, Helsinki University

“I appreciated the introduction to agent-based modeling as a broad type of dealing with research questions. I also appreciated the fact that Paul was open to answer questions that came up. I also really appreciated the fact that we can still access the recordings for the next month. After being there for all the sessions online, having the opportunity to go through the content again at a more leisurely pace is a gold mine!”
  Catalina Otoiu, Babes-Bolyai University

“Captivating from beginning to end. Paul has a real knack for building up complex topics from simple parts. I learned a ton in a short space of time, and most importantly, it lit a fire under me to get busy modeling!”
  Matt Neary

Seminar Information

Thursday, January 11 –
Saturday, January 13, 2024

Schedule: All sessions are held live via Zoom. All times are ET (New York time).

10:00am-12:30pm (convert to your local time)

Payment Information

The fee of $995 includes all course materials.

PayPal and all major credit cards are accepted.

Our Tax ID number is 26-4576270.