Meeting society's AI learning needs

University of Alberta partners with Coursera to teach the foundations of reinforcement learning with new Specialization

Jennifer Pascoe - 25 July 2019

Building on its global dominance in artificial intelligence and machine learning research, today-in partnership with online learning platform Coursera-the University of Alberta launched a new Specialization in reinforcement learning to help learners around the world stay current with the rapidly shifting artificial intelligence (AI) landscape.

With the new Specialization, it's now not just UAlberta students who can access the expert minds behind the boundary-pushing AI research at the University of Alberta, which ranks third in the world for artificial intelligence and machine learning over the last 25 years, according to the industry standard CS Rankings.

"Reinforcement learning is the future of AI," said Martha White, Amii fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Computing Science. "More and more, it's becoming a key tool for anyone wanting to improve control strategies and create autonomous decision-making systems. But you can't just use it out of the box. By giving our learners an in-depth understanding of RL, we can help them more effectively use this powerful tool."

Enhancing human abilities

An area of machine learning, reinforcement learning research at UAlberta seeks to create new methods that remove some of the limitations on its widespread application and to develop reinforcement learning as a model of intelligence that could approach human abilities.

"From customer service to home automation, the future of numerous industries lies in the hands of experienced AI engineers," said Dil Sidhu, Chief Content Officer at Coursera. "With this new Specialization, academics, industry practitioners and computer scientists alike can gain the knowledge needed for more advanced AI education and the necessary tools to apply reinforcement learning across a variety of sectors. We're proud to partner with such a highly regarded institution like the University of Alberta to help more learners succeed in a rapidly evolving AI landscape."

Building the AI pipeline

The new Specialization further builds the AI pipeline currently surging in Alberta, most evident through the exponential growth of Amii, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute, which draws from the world-leading academic research at UAlberta and other institutions to help Alberta workers reskill and upskill for high-demand careers in AI and also guides Alberta-based businesses as they implement AI across operations to build their in-house capabilities and teams.

"We're only beginning to explore the potential of reinforcement learning with applications like online content suggestion," said Adam White, assistant professor in the Department of Computing Science, who, along with Martha White, are the instructors of record on the new Specialization. "Ultimately, our driverless cars, smart-home devices, and even industrial control systems need to make decisions, and reinforcement learning provides a natural framework for designing sequential decision-making systems and will undoubtedly only gain more influence in the future. There's so much more we can do."

The reinforcement learning Specialization is the latest in a series of industry-leading and award-winning massive open online courses developed by the minds in the Faculty of Science, including software project management, software design and architecture, problem solving, programming, and video games, as well as Astro 101, Bugs 101, Dino 101, and Mountains 101 among others.

The new Specialization will be available for free to current University of Alberta students as a complement to their credit courses. Those unaffiliated with the University of Alberta can also access the Specialization for a fee.

To learn more about the new reinforcement learning Specialization, visit