Many people would say an education from MIT or Harvard would be priceless – but beyond actually being able to get into those esteemed universities, there is the cost involved. For those who may want to hone their artificial intelligence (AI) skills without actually having to formally attend those schools, there is good news.

MIT Open Learning is now offering online courses and resources that include much of what is presented in the classroom but are designed for those interested in the emerging AI-powered world. Developed to “empower learners” as well as professionals across a variety of industries, MIT is now offering more than a dozen free courses and resources that begin with basic information for those who have no background on the subject. The classes serve to help users understand the importance of media literacy to address the threat of misinformation in the era of deepfakes, and even the ethics of AI in a technology overview.

MIT is further offering paid classes for working professionals to further expand their AI knowledge base – and the university isn’t alone. Harvard is also offering a seven-week free course that covers a wide range of topics including AI algorithms to handwriting recognition. Designed for those who may not have the most flexible schedules, the Harvard course – taught by Professor David J. Malan – requires that students commit between 10 and 30 hours per week.

The University of California – Davis, and the University of Pennsylvania are also providing free classes respectively on big data, artificial intelligence, and ethics; and AI for business. The former self-paced course will take around 12 hours to complete, while the latter is broken down into four courses that offer the AI fundamentals for non-data scientists to AI strategy and governance.

In addition to what the centers of higher learning are providing for free, tech giants Amazon, Google, IBM, and Intel are also providing numerous courses. Amazon has more than 100 free and low-cost AI studies, while Google now provides a beginner course in AI.

Why is it Free?

Given the rising cost of tuition today, and the student debt that comes with a four-year degree, it is noteworthy that these schools are offering “free” programs – especially ones aimed at professionals. However, for these and other schools, the courses are meant to put their respective programs on the map.

“It’s about relevance and marketing. Every college, university, and technical school is going to have to offer AI education and skills training to keep up with today’s market. Free online AI classes are a way to advertise that your school understands the importance of AI and offers additional AI education,” Roger Grimes, data-driven defense evangelist at cybersecurity awareness training provider KnowBe4, told ClearanceJobs.

“The trend of universities offering online courses has been well-established, with many offering free courses on a broad range of subjects for some time now,” added Thomas Atkinson, principal security consultant at cybersecurity provider NCC Group. “All of this to say, this is a long-established trend, not a new one.”

Preparing the World For the AI Age

These programs are also designed to help prepare the world for the coming AI age. For Big Tech it will be about ensuring they remain the leaders in the space.

“The growing demand for professionals with AI skills, especially in roles like prompt engineering or generative AI expertise is due to technology becoming more prevalent in various industries. Economically, AI is anticipated to substantially affect the job market, endowing skills in the field with value for future employment,” explained James McQuiggan, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4.

“Competitively, enterprises and nations view proficiency in AI as crucial to maintaining an advantage,” McQuiggan told ClearanceJobs.

The Courses Are Still Evolving as is the Technology

As so many programs are new, just as the technology is still evolving, the courses could likely vary greatly based on the school or tech company.

“Because of AI’s expansive nature and specialized applications within various domains, different or unique approaches and methodologies will likely be instructed. Like in IT or cybersecurity, the field is much broader than initially anticipated, and the same is happening with AI,” added McQuiggan.

Roles such as prompt engineering, AI data analysts, AI deep learning experts, and generative AI modeling are also likely to evolve accordingly.

“As the area advances, emerging techniques and best practices give rise to increased courses and degrees aligning with the evolving landscape,” McQuiggan continued.

Democratize AI Knowledge

The free courses will further democratize AI knowledge, making this education accessible to a wider audience and enabling people from all backgrounds to better understand this powerful technology. But just as the schools are trying to ensure they’re known for training the next generation of experts, the companies want to make clear they are the leaders in developing the technology.

It is simply brand building and marketing.

“Free courses can serve as a way for companies and schools to showcase their expertise and attract students or customers by demonstrating their commitment to sharing knowledge,” said McQuiggan, who stressed it could foster innovation that in turn could lead to more diverse applications and advancements in the field as more focus on both its technical and ethical challenges.

“This also helps to address the skills gap by meeting the growing demand for AI professionals in the job market to ensure that an ample, diverse workforce is available to help advance this promising field responsibly,” he noted. “Offering free AI instruction can contribute to increasing awareness among their users. With the increase in deepfakes, or synthetic media, it’s crucial that organizations educate their users to spot and report any suspicious texts, emails, videos, or images with the hope of spreading disinformation or socially engineering the users in an emotional response and exposing the organization to a data breach or other type of cyberattack.”

Future Standards and Certifications

There may not be – at least now – any major certifications in AI or machine learning (ML), but that may not be the purpose behind these classes.

“The primary qualification desired for AI/ML-based roles is a doctorate in AI/ML,” Atkinson told ClearanceJobs. “As technologies become increasingly more standardized and widespread, I’m sure we’ll see companies asking for cloud AI/ML-based certification. Such certification currently exists but is in its infancy in my opinion, and not yet widely required. Certification is very much in the early days yet.”

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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.