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The best free AI courses (and whether AI 'micro-degrees' and certificates are worth it)

Want to become an expert in AI? We'll help you navigate through a sea of online educational options with our guide on where to get the best free AI training and certifications.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor
LinkedIn Learning | Best for certificates with professional recognition
LinkedIn Learning
Best for certificates with professional recognition
View now View at Linkedin Learning
Amazon AWS Skill Builder | Best for AWS infrastructure users
Amazon AWS Skill Builder
Best for AWS infrastructure users
View now View at Amazon
IBM SkillsBuild Learning | Best for beginners and managers who want to know what all the fuss is about
IBM SkillsBuild Learning
Best for beginners and managers who want to know what all the fuss is about
View now View at IBM SkillsBuild
DeepLearning (with OpenAI) | Best for advanced and developer classes
DeepLearning (with OpenAI)
Best for advanced and developer classes
View now View at DeepLearning
Udemy | Best for those wanting a deep and wide selection of AI topics
Best for those wanting a deep and wide selection of AI topics
View now View at Udemy
Google Generative AI for Educators | Best starting point for teachers
Google Generative AI for Educators
Best starting point for teachers
View now View at Google
Show more (1 item)

Generative AI is an astonishing technology that is not only here to stay but will impact all sectors of work and business, and it has already made unprecedented inroads into our daily lives.

We all have a lot to learn about it. Spewing out a few prompts to ChatGPT may be easy, but before you can turn all these new capabilities into productive tools, you need to grow your skills. Fortunately, there are a wide range of classes that can help.

Also: Want to work in AI? How to pivot your career in 5 steps

Many companies and schools will try to sell you on their AI education programs. But as I'll show in the following compendium of great resources, you can learn a ton about AI and even get some certifications -- all for free.

Speaking personally, I have to say that this has been really cool. I don't normally get a lot of time to hang out and watch stuff. But because I've been going hands-on with AI for you all here on ZDNET, I've had the excuse opportunity to watch a bunch of these videos. Sitting there on the couch, cup of coffee in one hand, doggo on the lap, and able to legitimately claim, "I'm working."

Also: The best AI image generators: Tested and reviewed

I have taken at least one class from each of the providers below, and they've all been pretty good. Obviously, some teachers are more compelling than others, but it's been a very helpful process. When working on AI projects for ZDNET, I've also sometimes gone back and taken other classes to shore up my knowledge and understanding.

So, I recommend you take a quick spin through my short reviews, possibly dig deeper into the linked-to articles, and bookmark all of these, because they're valuable resources. Let's get started.

  • Course selection: Huge, more than 600(!) AI courses
  • Program pricing: Free trial, then $19-39/mo

LinkedIn Learning is one of the oldest online learning platforms, established in 1995 as Lynda.com. The company offers an enormous library of courses on a broad range of topics. There is a monthly fee, but many companies and schools have accounts for all their employees and students. 

Also: Two powerful LinkedIn Premium features that make the subscription worth it

LinkedIn Learning (and Lynda.com, which is what it started) has probably been the one online education site I've used more than any other. I've used it regularly since at least the end of the 1990s. For years, I paid for a membership. Then I got a membership as an alum of my grad school, which is how I use it now. So many courses on so many topics, it's a great go-to learning resource.

I took two classes on LinkedIn Learning. Here's my testimonial on one of them. 

I also took the two-hour Machine Learning with Python: Foundations course, which had a great instructor -- Prof. Frederick Nwanganga -- who was previously unknown to me. I have to hand it to LinkedIn. They choose people who know how to teach.

I learned a lot in this course, especially about how to collect and prepare data for machine learning. I also was able to stretch my Python programming knowledge, specifically about how a machine learning model can be built in Python. In just two hours, I felt like I got a friendly and comprehensive brain dump.

You can read more here: How LinkedIn's free AI course made me a better Python developer.

Since there are so many AI courses, you're bound to find a helpful series. To get you started, I've picked three that might open some doors:

It's worth checking with your employer, agency, or school to see if you qualify for a free membership. Otherwise, you can pay by month or year (the by-year option is about half price).

  • Course selection: Quite a lot
  • Program pricing: Many free, some on a paid subscription

Amazon puts the demand in infrastructure on demand. Rather than building out their own infrastructure, many companies now rely on Amazon to provide scalable cloud infrastructure on demand. Nearly every aspect of IT technology is available for rent from Amazon's wide range of web services. This also includes a fairly large spectrum of individual AI services from computer vision to human-sounding speech to Bedrock, which "makes LLMs from Amazon and leading AI startups available through an API."

Amazon also offers a wide range of training courses for all these services. Some of them are available for free, while others are available via a paid subscription. Here are three of the free courses you can try out:

In addition to classes located on Amazon's sites, they also have quite a few classes on YouTube. I spent a fun and interesting weekend gobbling up the Generative AI Foundations series, which is an entire playlist of cool stuff to learn about AI.

If you're using or even just considering AWS-based services, these courses are well worth your time.

  • Course selection: Fairly broad IT and career building
  • Program pricing: Free

IBM, of course, is IBM. It led the AI pack for years with its Watson offerings. Its generative AI solution is called Watsonx. It focuses on enabling businesses to deploy and manage both traditional machine learning and generative AI, tailored to their unique needs.

Also: Have 10 hours? IBM will train you in AI fundamentals - for free

The company's SkillsBuild Learning classes offer a lot, providing basic training for a few key IT job descriptions -- including cybersecurity specialist, data analyst, user experience designer, and more. 

Right now, there's only one free AI credential, but it's one that excited a lot of our readers. That's the AI Fundamentals learning credential, which offers six courses. You need to be logged in to follow the link. But registration is easy and free. When you're done, you get an official credential, which you can list on LinkedIn. After I took the course, I did just that -- and, of course, I documented it for you:

See: How to add a new credential to your LinkedIn profile, and why you should

My favorite was the AI Ethics class, which is an hour and 45 minutes. Through real-world examples you'll learn about AI ethics, how they are implemented, and why AI ethics are so important in building trustworthy AI systems.

  • Course selection: More than 30 AI-focused courses
  • Program pricing: Free

DeepLearning is an education-focused company specializing in AI training. The company is constantly adding new courses that provide training, mostly for developers, in many different facets of AI technology. It partnered with OpenAI (the makers of ChatGPT) to create a number of pretty great courses.

I took the ChatGPT Prompt Engineering for Developers course below, which was my first detailed introduction to the ChatGPT API. If you're at all interested in how coders can use LLMs like ChatGPT, this course is worth your time. Just the interspersing of traditional code with detailed prompts that look more like comments than commands can help you get your head around integrating these two very different styles of coding.

Read more: I took this free AI course for developers in one weekend and highly recommend it

Three courses I recommend you check out are:

With AI such a hot growth area, I never cease to be amazed at the vast quantity of high-value courseware available for free. Definitely bookmark DeepLearning and keep checking back as it adds more courses.

  • Course selection: Thousands of courses on AI alone
  • Program pricing: Free trial, then $20/mo. Courses also sold individually.

Udemy is a courseware aggregator that publishes courses produced by individual trainers. That makes course style and quality a little inconsistent, but the rating system does help the more outstanding trainers rise to the top. Udemy has a free trial, which is why it's on this list. 

Read more: I'm a ChatGPT pro but this quick course taught me new tricks, and you can take it for free

I spent some time in Steve Ballinger's Complete ChatGPT Course For Work 2023 (Ethically)! and found it quite helpful. Clocking in at a little over two hours, it helps you understand how to balance ChatGPT with your work processes, while keeping in mind the ethics and issues that arise from using AI at work.

It also sells a $20/mo all-you-can-eat plan, as well as its courses individually. I honestly can't see why anyone would buy the courses individually, since most of them cost more for one course than the entire library does on a subscription.

Also: I'm taking AI image courses for free on Udemy with this little trick - and you can too

Here are three courses you might want to check out:

One of the more interesting aspects of Udemy is that you may find courses on very niche applications of AI, which might not suit vendors offering a more limited selection of mainstream courses. If you have a unique application need, don't hesitate to spend some extra time searching for just the right course.

  • Course selection: One AI course
  • Program pricing: Free

Google's Grow With Google program offers a fairly wide range of certificate programs, which are normally run through Coursera. Earning one of those certificates often requires paying a subscription fee. But we're specifically interested in one Grow With Google program, which is aimed at teachers, and does not involve any fees.

The Generative AI for Educators class, developed in concert with MIT's Responsible AI for Social Empowerment and Education, is a 2-hour program designed to help teachers learn about generative AI, and how to use it in the classroom. 

Also: Google and MIT launch a free generative AI course for teachers

Generative AI is a big challenge in education because it can provide amazing support for students and teachers and, unfortunately, provide an easy way out for students to cheat on their assignments. So a course that can help teachers come up to speed on all the issues can be very powerful.

The course provides a professional development certificate on completion, and this one is free.

Why should you trust me?

I've been working with AI for a very long time. I conducted one of the first-ever academic studies of AI ethics as a thesis project way back in the day. I created and launched an expert system development environment before the first link was connected on the World Wide Web. I did some of the first research of AI on RISC-based computing architectures (the chips in your phone) when RISC processors were the size of refrigerators. 

Also: Six skills you need to become an AI prompt engineer

When it comes to the courses and programs I'm spotlighting here, there's no way I could take all of them. But I have taken at least one course from each vendor, in order to test them out and report back to you. And, given my long background in the world of AI, this is a topic that has fascinated and enthralled me for most of my academic and professional career.

With all that, I will say that the absolute high point was when I could get an AI to talk like a pirate.

Some companies are promoting micro-degrees. They seem expensive, but fast, but are they any good?

Let's be clear: A micro-degree is not a degree. It's a set of courses with a marketing name attached. Degrees are granted by accredited academic institutions, accredited by regional accrediting bodies. I'm not saying you won't learn anything in those programs. But they're not degrees and they may cost more than just-as-good courses that don't have a fancy marketing name attached.

So, do certificates have any value?

Yes, but how much value they have depends on your prospective employer's perspective. A certificate says you completed some course of study successfully. That might be something of value to you, as well. You can set a goal to learn a topic, and if you get a credential, you can be fairly confident you achieved some learning. Accredited degrees, by contrast, are an assurance that you not only learned the material, but did so according to some level of standard and rigor common to other accredited institutions.

Also: How to write better ChatGPT prompts in 5 steps

My advice: If you can get a certificate, and the price for getting it doesn't overly stretch your budget, go ahead and get it. It still is a resume point. But don't fork over bucks on the scale of a college tuition for some promise that you'll get qualified for a job faster and easier than, you know, going to college.

Other learning resources you'll probably love

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