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What strategies do people use when making choices? How do people choose between cooperation and conflict? Game theory answers these questions and more with mathematical modeling. Playing chess, trading stocks, buying a used car—game theory applies to many situations. Anyone looking to improve their understanding of human behavior will find these ideas essential.
This list of online courses in game theory is organized by difficulty level, from basic to advanced. Almost all the courses are free, and some have the option to buy a certificate.
1. Games People Play: Game Theory in Life, Business, and Beyond
This online game theory course from The Great Courses is the least mathematical on this list. Making it even easier, there are no tests or assignments. Instead, students absorb concepts through a series of lectures that break down concepts into understandable chunks.
While it is a non-technical course, it covers the most important insights and applications of game theory. For students who want to skip the numbers and get to the ideas, this is perfect. Anyone who wants exposure to formal methods will have to look elsewhere.
A variety of delivery options are available at various prices: video download, audio download, DVD, and CD. This course is the most expensive on the list, costing between $130 and $255 USD. You may be able to save by subscribing to the site’s streaming service.
Cost: $130-$250 (depending on the delivery format selected).
2. Welcome to Game Theory
Created by the University of Tokyo and hosted on Coursera, this is a short, light-on-math introduction to game theory. Students without much background in economics or game theory will find it quite accessible. The interface is interactive and user-friendly, with well-produced, engaging videos.
This course takes four weeks to complete, with video lectures and quizzes every week. The only math required is basic arithmetic. Core numbers-based concepts like the Nash Equilibrium are covered, but expect to spend more time on applications and thought experiments.
Students looking to test the waters before diving into a more intense environment will find this a nice middle ground.
Exam: Yes (four graded quizzes).
Cost: Free to audit; $49 for a certificate.
3. Game Theory I – Static Games
A lesser-known MOOC, the Santa Fe Institute’s Complexity Explorer offers a short introduction to the mechanics of game theory. Anyone looking for a no-nonsense introduction to game theory will appreciate the brief videos and to-the-point assignments.
As far as online game theory courses go, this overview is rather narrow. Most of the material is focused around the Nash Equilibrium. That said, it is ideal for anyone with limited time who just wants the basics. Be prepared for an emphasis on math, though nothing too advanced.
Exam: Yes (midterm and final).
4. Game Theory 101
Developed by University of Pittsburgh professor Dr. William Spaniel, this online game theory course on Udemy is comprehensive and fun. The content is delivered in short-format lecture videos. There is optional extra content in the course’s accompanying book, with a few quiz questions online.
Minimal math is required, and most of the emphasis is on logic problems. The content can get complex, but the instructor does a great job breaking down thought processes. Dr. Spaniel’s teaching style is accessible and entertaining, and students may find themselves binge-watching the videos.
The interface and course design are a little less polished than typical Udemy courses, but the content makes up for those shortcomings.
Cost: Free (accompanying e-book $3.99 USD).
5. Game Theory
Jointly taught by Stanford and the University of British Columbia, this introductory course is stimulating and packed with information. It runs on Coursera every eight weeks, and is probably the most-taken online game theory course around.
This interactive course provides a wealth of informative videos, practice assignments, and conversation opportunities with other students. Applications and explanations appear frequently, keeping the content engaging and understandable.
As it is presented by two top universities, the material is challenging, but less so than some other courses listed here. Familiarity with logical argument structures and mathematical thinking will be a big help.
Exam: Yes (final exam).
Cost: Free to audit; $79 for a certificate.
6. ECON 159 – Game Theory
Taught by Ben Polak of Yale University, this introductory online game theory course is hosted on Open Yale Courses. The interface is less polished than other online course sites, but the material is excellent.
This course consists mostly of video lectures and downloadable assignments using the same material Yale students use. Dr. Polak provides clear explanations and plenty of examples. There is complex logic and some math, but the accessible presentation helps.
Open Yale Courses are self-paced, so these are best for independent learners who don’t need much interactivity. The syllabus recommends familiarity with introductory microeconomics and some basic calculus.
Exam: Yes (self-administered midterm and final).
Cost: Free to audit.
7. Game Theory II: Advanced Applications
The follow-up to their introductory course, this second Stanford and University of British Columbia offering goes even deeper. This is some of the most advanced material available in an online game theory course. Game Theory II is also hosted on Coursera, but runs for four weeks rather than eight.
This course focuses on advanced theories and mechanism design. While it builds on the first course, it can stand alone for those already familiar with the basics. The instructors also recommend some familiarity with mathematical thinking, logical arguments, some probability theory, and basic calculus.
Exam: Yes (final exam).
Cost: Free to audit; $79 for a certificate.
This list of seven online game theory courses covers everything from the most accessible to the most advanced available offerings. Whether you’re looking to learn in the car or study for your next exam, you can find something here.
Have you taken any of these courses or used any of these sites? What has your experience learning game theory, mathematics, or economics online been like? We’d love to hear from you!
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