I’ve finished maybe the most tedious online course in existence. Getting Started with AI using IBM Watson, is quite possibly the worst online course I’ve ever taken.
This course was painful at best and a rip off at worst. It felt like one giant marketing campaign for Watson.
Bad corporate video? Check.
Terrible generic music overlaid PowerPoints? Check.
Endless praise for a product? Check.
Zero instruction? Check.
Videos can also be found on YouTube for free? Check.
The course is the second in a series for the IBM Applied AI specialization on Coursera, a certificate program I’m pursuing to help me get hands on experience with AI.
My long term goal is to work on algorithm design, so understanding the tools and platforms that data scientists and machine learning engineers use is mighty important.
I’m using a mix of YouTube videos, workshops, and online courses to understand the machine learning landscape.
That’s how I stumbled onto this course on Coursera. The promise of learning how to use an applied AI tool without having a programming background was what sealed the deal.
I don’t usually pay for the Coursera online course certificates but in this case I wanted the specialization to add to my resume and LinkedIn.
While certificates don’t guarantee jobs, they’re useful for signaling to employers that you’re engaged with and informed about a professional topic.
Are online certificates worth it?
Taking this course reminds me of all the people who ask: Is an online certificate worth it? The answer that I always give is, it depends.
It all depends on what you want out of a certificate. Some people just want the piece of digital paper to signal to employers you’ve taken a course or immersed yourself in a subject.
Others seek out a learning experience that stays with you and gives you foundational knowledge that you can build on in the future.
For this course, I wanted both the knowledge and a signal to show employers that I understand applied AI concepts and tools.
I got the latter but not the former.
This specific course was most certainly not worth it when it came to enhancing my knowledge. Worse, the fact that I paid $49 for a certificate when the videos were already on YouTube makes me feel ripped off. Here’s a video from the course that’s on YouTube:
I have a certificate now. I’m making my way through the entire specialization because I’m half way through. The other courses in the specialization aren’t great but they’re not nearly as bad as this one.
But I just took a free workshop to learn how to use Microsoft Azure (a competitor to IBM Watson) and learned far more in 3 hours than I did from the first two courses in the IBM Specialization. For free.
How do you evaluate online course certificate quality on Coursera?
Coursera has solid courses and an easy path to earning a course certificate to show employers your understanding of a topic (remember: certificates are different from certifications). I’ve had several good learning experiences on the platform, including my favorite Coursera course, Python for Everybody by the University of Michigan.
That course was foundational to helping me understand Python in a way that no other course had been able to do.
So I went into this with a favorable view of the online certificate courses offered on Coursera. (maybe this is why I’m so disappointed!?)
But this experience is a good reminder that just because an online course is on a leading educational platform like Coursera and taught by a brand name like IBM, doesn’t mean a quality learning experience is guaranteed.
The course has an overall rate of 4.5 which is quite high. But check the one star category, and it’s clear I am not the only one who felt this course was the worst. Here’s a snippet of the feedback in the one star category:
It makes me wonder if we should have a different method for evaluating the quality of online courses. Maybe a rubric instead of stars. Maybe video testimonials. Maybe something that evaluates the different aspects of the learning experience, something that captures both the answers to do you think this online certificate is worth it? to was this an effective learning experience?
That’s my half backed thought about evaluating online courses with certificates. I’d write more if I weren’t also trudging through another Coursera online course. It’s another online certificate program that I was so excited about. Instead, I am struggling to motivate myself to get through. I’m sure I’m going to write about soon.