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Our Guide to Online Artificial Intelligence Certificate Programs

Published on: Mar 20, 2023
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Since 2017, adoption of artificial intelligence technologies in businesses worldwide has more than doubled, with 50% of organizations polled in a recent McKinsey survey responding that they have deployed AI capabilities in at least one business area. Over the same timeframe, AI investment has also grown, with 52% of respondents reporting that they spend more than 5% of their digital budgets on AI, up from 40% in 2018. Even more expect to invest in AI in the future.

The take-away? AI is here to stay. Corporations need to harness its power to stay ahead, and employees need to develop AI skill-sets to stay relevant.

No surprise, then, that more and more professionals are choosing to earn an artificial intelligence certificate online. With their mixture of flexibility and rigorous training, these certificate programs promise to provide participants with job-ready skills in artificial intelligence and machine learning and important context to be able to navigate the continuing developments in the field.

In this guide, we’ll dive deeper into these programs to give you a better idea of what to expect and help you better understand how you can leverage an AI certificate to get ahead. At the end, we’ll present our recommendations for the best programs out there for a variety of use cases.

What is artificial intelligence?

First thing’s first: what exactly is artificial intelligence, and how does it differ from that other frequently cited technological disruptor, machine learning? 

There is still disagreement among experts as to the definition of artificial intelligence, but a functional definition for our purposes is that artificial intelligence is the ability of computers to perform rationally in a given situation. AI experts Stuart Russell and Peter Norvig channel Spike Lee when they put it more plainly in their seminal textbook Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach: AI is the capacity of computers “to do the right thing.”

Machine learning is a subdiscipline of artificial intelligence in which algorithms are written to enable computers to progressively improve their capabilities — to “learn” as they encounter more data. In almost every industry, machine learning is the go-to form of artificial intelligence, with applications not just in business analytics, data analytics, and data science, but also in areas like manufacturing automation, supply-chain management, medical diagnostics, and high-frequency trading.

Increasingly when you see machine learning referenced, you encounter mentions of “deep learning,” a method of machine learning in which an “artificial neural network” (ANN) of algorithms inspired by the human brain is employed to perform analysis and other tasks that involve big data sets with extreme accuracy.

If you’re interested in learning more about artificial intelligence, machine learning, and deep learning, check out our deep dive, which has specific use cases for each.

What does an AI certificate program entail?

An AI certificate program is a short course offered online that over several months offers training in certain AI skills and concepts, with these determined by the intended use of the course. Upon completion of the course, successful participants receive a personalized certificate attesting to their participation. 

But while many educational providers offer certifications, being a “certified in artificial intelligence” simply isn’t the same as being a board-certified doctor, a bar-certified lawyer, a certified financial advisor (CFA), or a certified public accountant (CPA). 

These certifications just mentioned are administered centrally by official professional organizations and oftentimes carry legal weight. To achieve certification, applicants have to pass standard exams and other forms of peer review.

An artificial intelligence certification is decentralized, specific to the educational provider granting it, and doesn’t bring with it any affordances other than signaling to potential employers that the holder has successfully completed a course of study. Accordingly, an artificial intelligence certification is only as good as the organization granting it.

Certificate Program vs. Bootcamp?

The way we see it, all bootcamps are certificate programs — students who successfully complete one are awarded a certificate — but not all certificate programs are bootcamps. In general, you can expect non-bootcamp certificate programs to distinguish themselves from the artificial intelligence and machine learning bootcamps out there by being:

Shorter: While AI bootcamps can entail three or more months of 20+ hours of instruction per week, a non-bootcamp AI certificate program will generally be shorter, if not in the total length of the program, then at least in the amount of time devoted to learning each week.

Less intensive: As would be expected with a reduced run-time, a non-bootcamp AI certificate program will often not dive as deeply into the material as an AI or machine learning bootcamp would.

Less expensive: A non-bootcamp AI certificate program generally won’t be as costly as a bootcamp, with tuition often running in the hundreds and thousands of dollars, not the tens of thousands you would expect with a bootcamp.

Geared towards different audiences: Bootcamps are most frequently geared to aspiring artificial intelligence engineers, machine learning engineers, and data scientists, promising all the training needed to land an entry-level position. If that sounds like you, you can dive deeper with our bootcamp guide.The motivations of those attending non-bootcamp artificial intelligence certificate programs, by contrast, are more varied, largely depending on where the student is in their career.

What are some use cases for artificial intelligence certificate programs?

Exploring a career in artificial intelligence

Due to their relative affordability and low time commitment, non-bootcamp certificate programs are a great option for those who are AI-curious but not ready to take the plunge with a more expensive and time-intensive bootcamp or degree program. A certificate program might not always make you job-ready, and it almost certainly won’t let you jump into a senior artificial intelligence engineer, machine learning engineer, or data scientist role. It will, however, generally offer high-level exposure to the fundamental concepts of artificial intelligence and machine learning and might even give you a glimpse of the day-to-day existence of artificial intelligence professionals so you can prototype a potential career path in a risk-free environment. 

Adding a skill set to boost job performance

Non-bootcamp certificate programs are also great options for those already working as a product manager, a data analyst, or in information technology (IT) who aren’t able to sacrifice the time to take a bootcamp or go to graduate school, but could level up their performance in their current jobs by adding AI skills.

Managing AI operations

Some certificate programs teach C-suite level executives and other senior managers the basics of artificial intelligence and machine learning so that these leaders can more successfully oversee the implementation of AI solutions in their businesses. Often, these programs will spend time on how artificial intelligence tools can be applied in various areas of business, including operations, human resources, and marketing.

What skills and concepts are taught in AI certificate programs?

As use cases vary, so too do the skills and concepts taught in AI certificate programs. That said, participants can generally expect to cover some or all of the following topics, in greater or lesser detail:

Big data, its variants (structured, unstructured, etc.), applications, and methods of analysis

Data management, including data pipelines, data lifecycle management (DLM), data processing, data storage

Machine learning, including machine learning models using unsupervised learning, supervised learning, and reinforcement learning, as well as advanced machine learning topics like deep learning and applications of neural network models

Programming languages such as Python and R, as well associated AI and machine learning software libraries like PyTorch and TensorFlow

Key AI applications, including applications of computer vision and natural language processing in industries like healthcare, finance, and manufacturing

AI strategy, including AI governance, AI team-building, and enterprise deployment practices

What’s our approach?

Given the wide variation in target audience, use case, and curriculum, a simple ranking of AI certificate programs would mean comparing apples and oranges. Instead, below we offer our picks for the best programs for learners in particular situations.

Best for the C-suite:

BerkeleyExecEd’s Artificial Intelligence: Business Strategies and Applications

Artificial Intelligence: Business Strategies and Applications, offered through a partnership of UC Berkeley Executive Education and Emeritus, offers a comprehensive curriculum covering basics of machine learning; deep learning and neural networks; computer vision, natural language processing, and robotics; and actionable AI strategies and best practices for business. Through live online instruction, students learn from real-world case studies before applying their learnings through a capstone business challenge project. 

In addition to C-suite and other senior executives, this program can help mid-level professionals working in data science and business analytics begin building out their AI skill-sets. Alumni can take advantage of a host of benefits including local networking events and an annual conference.

Duration: 2 months, 4-6 hours per week

Modality: Online with live teaching sessions
Cost: $2,800

Wharton’s AI for Decision Making: Business Strategies and Applications

Wharton’s AI for Decision Making: Business Strategies and Applications, offered in partnership with Simplilearn, covers much of the same material as Berkeley’s AI course — machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, industry use cases — but organizes itself by business area. After addressing AI fundamentals, students take units on AI in marketing, AI in finance, and AI in HR. Though this is a novel way of structuring the curriculum, it leaves open the potential that course content will be irrelevant to some learners for long periods over the course of the program.

Duration: 3 months
Modality: Online with live masterclasses
Cost: $2,800

DeepLearning.AI’s AI for Everyone

AI for Everyone, taught by Deeplearning.AI founder Andrew Ng and offered for free on Coursera (which Ng co-founded), offers a quick, risk-free dive into the world of AI and its potential to transform companies. In 10 hours or less, students will gain an understanding of basic AI vocabulary, current and future capabilities, and basic tools for working with AI professionals within their companies.

Duration: 10 hours
Modality: Online, self-paced
Cost: Free

Best for gaining technical skills:

IBM’s Professional Certificate in Applied AI

IBM’s Professional Certificate in Applied AI offers a comprehensive introduction to key AI concepts and training in how to build machine learning models for image classification, deploy virtual assistants, and create a computer vision web application. The course also offers an introduction to using Python for data science. The only drawback to IBM’s program, in our minds, is the requirement that students learn IBM-branded tools like Watson.

Duration: 5 months, 3–6 hours per week
Modality: Online, self-paced
Cost: $524

DeepLearning.AI and Stanford University’s Machine Learning Specialization

DeepLearning.AI and Stanford University’s Machine Learning Specialization, offered on Coursera, offers an introduction to basic machine learning concepts like supervised learning, unsupervised learning, and reinforcement learning and teaches students how to build machine learning models using the Python programming language.

Duration: 3 months, 9 hours per week
Modality: Online, self-paced
Cost: Free to audit; Coursera subscription required ($49/month) required for certificate

Best for career exploration:

LinkedIn’s Getting Started with AI and Machine Learning

Those researching career paths likely already spend a lot of time on LinkedIn, which is all the more reason to take advantage of LinkedIn Learning’s Getting Started with AI and Machine Learning learning path. Perfect for those without prior technical knowledge, this set of courses introduces learners to the basics of AI, explores how it’s making a difference in businesses today, and offers rudimentary training in using the Python programming language for machine learning and natural language processing.

Duration: 20 hours
Modality: Online, self-paced
Cost: Included with LinkedIn Learning membership ($29.99)

Google AI Education

Google AI’s educational resource page offers a wide variety of resources relevant to business executives, data scientists, software engineers, and students alike. Among these are Google’s AI for Social Good Guide; an Introduction to Federated Learning, a form of machine learning model training that takes place on users’ devices; and a course on clustering. Google also offers a Machine Learning Crash Course using TensorFlow, with 15 hours of instruction featuring real-world case studies spread out over 25 lessons.