Finland is challenging the entire world to understand AI by offering a completely free online course - initiative got 1 % of the Finnish population to study the basics

The University of Helsinki and Reaktor presented an open artificial intelligence challenge in May. Its first goal was to educate one per cent of Finns (about 54 000 people) not only to understand what the artificial intelligence is but also to identify the opportunities it has brought. To solve this challenge, an open and free Elements of AI online course was created. In four months, nearly 90 000 people from 80 countries have enrolled, making Elements of AI Finland's most popular online course.

Finnish technology firm Reaktor and the University of Helsinki joined forces to educate people on AI for free. The institutions combined to develop an online course to teach the basics of AI to anyone interested in the technology. Reaktor and the University also challenged organizations to train their staff in AI, so far over 200 organisations have pledged to do so – including banks, telecoms, and healthcare organizations.

Almost 90 000 students have signed up for the course since it began in May. While popular with Finns, the course is already seeing strong demand globally, attracting students from over 80 different countries. The course is also attracting high numbers of female students (37 per cent), as well as those over 45 (21 per cent). 7 500 people had already completed the course by the beginning of September.  

The Elements of Artificial Intelligence online course is for anyone interested in learning more about artificial intelligence. Comprised of six sections, the course sheds light on various aspects of AI, including definitions, neural networks, machine learning and societal implications. The completion of the course is estimated to take from 30 to 60 hours in total.

“We initially set out to help Finland stay at the forefront of AI development. Training 1 per cent of the population was a longer-term goal but it’s looking like the course will have a much bigger impact.  We’re already seeing global demand and are considering to adapt the course to meet the AI goals of other countries, starting with the US, the Netherlands and the UAE.” says Hanna Hagström, Director of AI Business at Reaktor.

Hagström adds: "Artificial Intelligence is already part of our everyday life, and it is going to have an even bigger impact on every industry and individual in the future. This is why everyone should be given a chance to understand what AI really is and how we can use it. The democratisation of information is important so that everyone has equal opportunity to shape the future".

The course is proving popular with companies and professionals, offering a way to strengthen their competitive edge. Instead of just having a few AI experts working for the company, a firm can quickly train an entire staff to be actively looking for new business opportunities using the technology.

The number of sign-ups is growing by thousands every week. As well as attracting companies and individuals in Finland, Elements of AI has sparked interest across the world, from flight officers in France to biology researchers in Italy. Outside of Finland, the course is proving most popular in the US, Germany, UK, and Brazil.

Global popularity came by surprise

While the creators expected the course to see some national interest, the massive global popularity came by surprise.

"Even though machine learning and AI courses at the university have been packed for years now, we didn't expect the course to gain global traction this fast. This course is, by far, the most popular MOOC we’ve ever made, and we’re keen on making the course even better based on the feedback people give us," says Teemu Roos, Associate Professor at the University of Helsinki and Lead Instructor of the Elements of AI course.

Roos added: "We want to demystify technology and dispel unnecessary fears through education. Last week, following the successful launch of the Elements of AI course, we announced a pilot project that makes all first-year computer science studies open and free to anyone. Anyone can gain admission by completing 60 credits in one year. It represents a big shift in the Finnish education system, as all universities have traditionally relied on admission exams. The University of Helsinki is looking to contribute greatly to open education, and help people in lifelong learning.”

This is not the first successful education initiative to come from Reaktor. Back in 2014 Reaktor began running free coding school sessions for kids under 10 and challenged all the Finnish tech companies to do the same with free materials they provided. Over 4 years the initiative taught thousands of kids, along with the Finnish President, to code - helping bring coding onto the Finnish national curriculum.

To enrol on the ‘The Elements of Artificial Intelligence’ for free, please visit the Elements of AI website.

More information:

Teemu Roos

Associate Professor, Computer Science, University of Helsinki

+358 044 523 1238, 

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