People today are blessed by the convenience of the Internet since they can practically learn (almost) anything online, and this is especially true for artificial intelligence considering how popular the topic is in recent years. As a matter of fact, the related information you can find on the net about AI is so abundant that it’s totally possible for one to become a self-taught expert on this subject. Yet, even in such situation, paid courses on AI exist! And that brings up the question we’re addressing here: Is it worthy to pay for any of them? Or, to phrase it in a less provocative way: How to choose a paid course about AI that will not make you regret in the future?
In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of how to assess the quality of a paid AI program. In fact, we went so far as to make a checklist for you to score them! Are you ready for this? Then, let’s begin.
First of all, you should know why you’d like to learn AI!
But before we go any further, the first, and arguably the most important, thing you must figure out is that why would you like to learn artificial intelligence? I know this sounds straightforward, but I’ve found that many didn’t give enough thought to it. Generally speaking, the reasons to take an AI course can be categorized into one of the following three grand purposes, each has its own unique requirements to meet. Please do take some time to consider which one fits your condition best:
Purpose 1: You just want to know what AI is.
Sometimes, people want to know the concepts of artificial intelligence for some relatively trivial reason (like satisfying their thirst for knowledge, or simply finding something to brag about in front of their friends, etc.). They are not aiming to use the tech to solve any practical problem, nor to make progression to this field. If this sounds like you, then you’re in this category.
For people who attempt to learn AI out of this purpose, you probably shouldn’t be spending too much (both time and money) on these courses. In fact, in most situations, free online materials (including blog posts, videos on YouTube, articles shared on social media, or even papers found on Google Scholar, etc.) should be enough to fulfill your desire.
Purpose 2: You want to use AI to solve some problems.
People who learn artificial intelligence based on this purpose are typically software developers or engineers, who’re expected to possess skills to build a functional AI program on their own and use it to solve real-life problems. Because of that, before you get to the territory of AI, you should know how to code in at least one programming language first. Note that although the majority of the AI courses today use Python (because it’s succinct and supported by many powerful libraries), this is definitely not the only choice you can go with, especially considering that Python itself is actually written in C language. But you should also be aware that if you’ve already mastered one programming language, Python should not be a trouble for you at all; and by adopting this language, you can have a much wider choices when trying to pick an AI course to take.
Purpose 3: You want to make academic contributions to the field of AI.
Among the three purposes aforementioned, this is definitely the most demanding one. It requires learners to have prior knowledge in not only programming but also many rather challenging areas of mathematics such as linear algebra, statistics, and so on.
Moreover, you have to learn how to conduct a scientific research and know the way to turn your achievements or findings into an academic paper. These tasks may seem simple for you in the beginning, but they are in fact very difficult and typically take an individual a few years to master.
Due to these reasons, for people who are motivated by this purpose, you should seriously consider enrolling yourself in a university to receive proper training from academic experts. We sincerely doubt that any online courses out there will meet your requirements.
Evaluating an AI course
After realizing your own needs, you can start probing into the courses available to you and evaluate their qualities. Below, things that you should check before signing up for a paid program are discussed. Note that we’ll do so with the premise that you do not possess sufficient understanding to the topics addressed by the course in review (otherwise, you won’t need to take it) so that you can’t assess the correctness of the material taught directly. Relax! That will not disqualify you from evaluating a course if you’re looking into the right places.
About the creator(s) of the course:
The following two questions concerning the credibility of the course’s creator(s) are considered to be the most crucial questions of all. If you can’t find too much information about who is responsible for the course, or the creator(s) of the course is untrustworthy, we strongly suggested you not taking it, especially when they are not free of charge.
(1) Can you find any information about the creator(s) of the course?
(2) Is the course created by a trustworthy person / group / platform / organization?
Note that a trustworthy creator can be a well-known company or platform, a group of people that have received official certification, or individual / group / organization whose abilities on the topic has been well evidenced by his or her past achievements, etc.
About how the course is promoted:
Studying about how the course is promoted can sometimes help us to spot scams since many of their advertisements include hyperbolic marketing language, empty promises and misleading messages. Some also fail to provide (or deliberately hide) important info such as curriculum, schedule, background about the instructor(s) and so on.
(1) Does the promotion contain any hyperbolic description?
The following are some examples of hyperbolic descriptions: "This is the only course you will ever have to take." Or "The best course in the word. Enroll now!"
(2) Is the promotion full of empty promises with no sign of evidence at all?
The following are some examples of empty promises: "The course will make you become an AI expert!" Or "Learn how to build an artificial neural network like pro in 1 minute."
(3) Does the ad provide sufficient information about the course?
About the course’s arrangement:
(1) Does the course offer any demo or free trial?
As we’ve said before, most information about AI can be found online nowadays. So, there is actually no reason for one to be overprotective about the contents inside a course. Of course, we’re not suggesting that all educators should openly share all of his or her materials online and expecting people will pay after going through everything, but allowing students to have one or two free lesson(s) shouldn’t cause too much trouble. On the contrary, that should help students gaining confidence in the instructor(s).
(2) Does the course have a curriculum or roadmap?
(3) Does the course have a schedule?
An instructor of a paid AI course should not only possess knowledge about artificial intelligence but also how to present them so that they can be easily understood by his or her students. A reasonable curriculum with a well-designed schedule can help showing that the instructor knows what he or she is doing or should be doing in the course.
(4) Does the course allow you to ask questions or demand assistance after class?
We believe that the worth of an instructor today is no longer about simply presenting knowledge to the students. Instead, it should be about being able to provide customized instruction or suggestions to each individual learner, helping them to solve the problems they are currently having. And usually, this is made possible through allowing students to interact with the instructor(s) after class.
(5) Does the course provide effective certification of any kind?
(6) Does the course provide job opportunities directly?
Some educational platforms have been cooperated with a variety of companies, which gives them ability to provide direct opportunities for job interview to their learners. This is especially valuable for who are learning AI for seeking a better job (they usually belong to purpose 2).
About the instructor(s) & student(s):
(1) What is the ratio between the number of instructor(s) and student(s)?
By calculating the ratio: number of instructor(s) / number of student(s), you can have a rough expectation about how many personal tuitions you may receive. If the ratio is smaller than 1, meaning one teacher must deal with more than one learner, you will anticipate to receive less or slower personal instruction. If the ratio is equal to 1, meaning it’s a one-on-one tutorial, then you should expect to have high quality personal tuition from the instructor. And if the ratio is bigger than 1, meaning educators outnumbers learners, then you should expect a personal tuition that is not only fast and in high quality but also covering a wide range of topics.
(2) What is the background of the instructor(s)?
Usually, an instructor of an AI course can be one of the following three: (1) a person working in the industry, (2) a person coming from academia, and (3) a self-taught expert.
Note that none of them is conclusively better than the other two, but we do expect to gain different things from them. For a person who is currently working in AI industry, he or she should be very familiar with how AI is typically used in a business, how AI can potentially help providing values to customers, what are the traditions or rules that everybody in the industry follow, etc.
For a person from academia, he or she should know the cutting-edge research topics, the state-of-the-art techniques that haven’t been used in the industry yet, how to conduct a research on AI and turn it into papers, etc.
As for a self-taught expert, we’ll be expecting them to know some tips or tricks that only a few people or even no one else know. Also, they may at times solve a traditional problem in a very untraditional way, and that may give us some unique inspirations.
Before you pick a course, you should always look for the background of the instructor(s), and accordingly having a correct anticipation about what they can offer.
(3) Does the instructor(s) have good reputation?
(4) Do you have a chance to meet your classmates or at least interact with them?
Some people are not searching for knowledge when taking a course. Instead, they are looking for connections (e.g., knowing other engineers or researchers, building business relationships with others, etc.). For those individuals, whether you have a chance to meet and / or interact with your classmates will be crucial. Note that you won’t be able to do that in some online courses.
(5) Where do the students of the course typically come from?
As said before, some people take a course for building connections. In that case, you should understand who are enrolling in the course.
About the teaching materials:
(1) Does it have documents, books or web pages that you can refer to?
(2) You can access these materials for how long?
Today, many educators share this kind of materials through cloud drive or website, and it’s very likely that you will only have access to them within a certain amount of time (say, one year). You should always be aware of this information so that your rights will not be damaged.
(3) Are the materials plagiarized?
About the contents:
(1) Is there any free course out there providing similar contents?
You can always go online and search for some free courses. If these free courses address similar topics and they’ve received positive reviews, then there’s no reason for you to spend money on the paid one unless they offer additional benefits (e.g., opportunities for job interview, personal tutorial, and so forth).
(2) Does the course teach you how to code?
(3) What language does the course use?
For those people who are wondering about what programming language should you learn first, please refer to the following picture. Also, if you’d like to know which programming language is popular right now, this website will help.
(4) Does the course teach you how to use any AI developing tools?
TensorFlow and PyTorch are two of the most famous tools for developing an AI program based on artificial neural networks. However, do realize that they are not your only choices. Other tools such as Caffe, MXNet and so on are also available for you (you may have also heard of Theano, but it has ceased its development since 2017, and thus you shouldn’t use it).
(5) Does the course involve any in depth discussion of math?
The area of AI is related to many branches of mathematics, including but not limiting to statistics, optimization, linear algebra, sparse representation and so on. Courses that incorporates these topics is usually more challenging. But if done well, it will significantly boost your skills in AI developing.
(6) Does the course involve scientific training?
(7) Does the course include actual practices?
Actual practices are not only important for building your skills; it can also help you to accumulate work samples, which may play a critical role when applying for a job (for the later purpose, note that you shouldn’t use the samples coming directly from the course; you should modify or make improvements on them).
(8) Does the course instruct you in publishing on well-reputed scientific journals?
Note that we’re not talking about those online journals which everyone can publish papers if paying. We’re referring to those publicly admitted ones such as Science, IEEE, and so on.
About the price:
(1) Is the payment page of the online course a “https” website?
Never purchase anything from a website with a URL starting with “http” instead of “https”!
The danger about a “http” site is that all information you send to or receive from the server will not be encrypted, so that if a hacker successfully captures these info, he or she will be able to read them in plain text (you certainly don’t want other to know your credit card number). As for a “https” site, the communication between your computer and the sever will be encrypted, thus even if someone capture the message you have sent, they won’t be able to understand it since it’ll be unreadable to human.
(2) Is the course too pricy or too cheap comparing to similar ones?
You can go online and check some similar courses. That way you can spot those courses with an extremely high or low price.
But please do bear in mind that there are acceptable reasons for a course to be super expensive (it covers a topic that no other course includes) or super cheap (it’s currently having a discount). You should carefully evaluate the whole situations before placing any judgement to them.
(3) Does the course have any reasonable refund policy?
This last one is very important. You should not sign up for a course that does not have any refund policy, or ask students to provide hard-to-prepare files before you can demand a refund (e.g., “if you can prove that our course has absolutely no benefit to you, a refund may be provided”)!
In the end of this section, we’d like to emphasize that the points mentioned on the top is just a general guideline to help you reducing the chance of being scammed or feeling regret after paying. You do have to do some reasoning sometimes to see whether the values promised by the course is reasonable or not. For example, if you come across a course whose ad claims that all students’ questions will be replied within 15 minutes, yet its ratio between instructor and students is 1/7,000, then you should not believe in what the ad promised.
Feeling headache? Don’t worry, we made you a checklist!
If you’re overloaded by the information on top, we have a simple solution for you – an automatic-scoring checklist that we made to help you evaluating the quality of an AI course. You can access the it by clicking here.
Note that the checklist is rather simple due to the limitations of Google Form, but it should be enough for you to perform some basic assessment.
Finally, thank you for reading this, and we wish you the best of luck!
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