If you have ever had to input a large amount of data, chances are you have used Microsoft Excel. When you open the program, you see rows and columns that make a massive grid, ready for your data entry.
People adept at Excel can better categorize, sort, and analyze vast amounts of data. Learning the program correctly can transform you into a master of statistics.
Should you learn Excel? Let’s explore the details of this simple, yet effective program from Microsoft. Most importantly, you will see why you should have at least a beginner’s knowledge of Excel.
What Is Microsoft Excel?
If you could use one word to describe Excel, it’d be longevity. The software has been around since 1987 and it continues to be an invaluable spreadsheet program.
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Microsoft Office and Excel, in particular, are applicable for use in homes, schools, and offices. Excel’s simple layout and complex built-in functions make for surprisingly powerful data-sorting techniques.
What Is Microsoft Excel Used For?
Let’s break down the most useful functions of Excel.
- Input data. First and foremost, Microsoft Excel’s main strength is in its ability to map and hold massive amounts of data. In just one Excel file, even a beginner would be able to fill in thousands of rows and columns with data.
- Using mathematical functions. Excel is also good for solving math problems. Users can input either simple or complex formulas to compile data in new ways. For example, you can calculate the sum of individual cells by inputting a formula or selecting the cells and adding them to the entry field.
- Creating spreadsheets. After all, Excel is a spreadsheet program. It has been at the forefront of business intelligence and data science for decades. Things like payroll, polling data, and other mass categorizations are the lifeblood of Excel.
- Analyzing data. What do you do once you have a ton of raw data packed into neat Excel rows? You analyze it. Statisticians, data analysts and experts, and financial advisers analyze this data to provide important advice to businesses.
Key Excel Data and Functions
Besides plugging numbers into the columns and rows, there are a few areas in which Microsoft Excel stands out.
Rows and Columns
These horizontal (rows) and vertical (columns) data entry points comprise the look and feel of Excel. Each column is categorized by a vertical set of numbers at the far left of the screen. This keeps everything organized and makes it easy to perform functions.
For example, if you want to add cell A3 to A7, you would type in =SUM(A3:A7). This adds the cells together and gives you your answer. This function is extremely useful if you are working with large amounts of data.
Pivot tables are an excellent way to quickly and efficiently organize data types. It’s one of the most useful and varied tools in the program. You can switch columns into rows, and vice versa, and can also perform complex calculations with groupings of data. The aim is to shift the focus onto more critical data for an easy data pull.
A relatively new feature in more recent versions of Excel, Power Query is an intuitive way for the user to enhance the statistical and data analysis capabilities of Excel. With Power Query, users can compile and visualize data, perform data cleansing, and data pulls.
Visual Basic for Applications
Visual basic for applications, or VBA, is a programming language specifically for Microsoft Office. It allows skilled Excel users to program their spreadsheets and other Microsoft Office programs to perform in specific ways.
It is ideal for tasks that require a lot of repetition and automation. VBA also allows for seamless programming across the entire Office 365 program suite. Learning VBA may be a bit complicated for first-time Excel users, but it’s definitely not impossible.
Now that we know a little more about what Excel is capable of, let’s see how long it takes to learn and how you should go about doing so.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Microsoft Excel?
The process of learning Excel will take a few weeks, on average. Depending on your existing knowledge of the program, it could take just a few days but to become proficient in the newer features of the program, it may take longer. However, keep in mind that even the most complex functions are more simple to learn than you may initially think.
How to Learn Excel: Step-by-Step
Here’s a definitive step-by-step guide to how you should start learning Excel.
- Get a Microsoft 365 subscription. The first step to learning Microsoft Excel is to have a Microsoft 365 subscription. This will give you access to a suite of programs like Excel, Word, and PowerPoint.
- Familiarize yourself with the user interface. If Excel has one major strong suit, it’s the simple user interface. Laid out for each Excel user is a vast, blank spreadsheet. Columns and rows make up the user interface, with taskbars at the top for modifying settings.
- Take a course. Since Excel is widespread and is used in nearly every major financial and technological field, there are many courses you could take, most of which are online. Taking an online course will help you get more comfortable with the minutiae of Excel.
- Experiment and utilize resources. Feel free to experiment with numbers and data. One of the best ways to learn Excel is by trial and error. While learning the advanced concepts is great, getting familiar with the basic options, modes, and methods of data entry is essential.
The Best Excel Courses and Training
Compiling the best Excel Courses is no easy task, as there are many options, at varying prices and skill levels. Determine which Excel course is best suited to your schedule and financial situation.
Best Online Excel Courses
This is where Excel shines. Below are some great paid Excel courses that are available to you online.
- Provider: Udemy
- Time: 18 hours
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: $150
This may be one of the best paid Excel courses available online, but it is also not cheap. However, if you will be using Excel every day, it may very well be worth the money. Udemy also frequently offers discounts on classes.
In this online Excel course, learners will study everything from basic commands to advanced features and formulas, like IF, VLOOKUP, INDEX, and MATCH. The course also covers VBA, which can help you take the last step to master Excel.
This Excel course has a ton of supplemental materials including articles and video resources. The course structure is as follows:
- Microsoft Excel 101 – An Introduction to Excel
- Microsoft Excel 102 – Intermediate Level Excel
- Microsoft Excel 103 – Advanced Level Excel
- Master Microsoft Excel Macros and VBA in 6 Simple Projects
This bestselling course will teach you everything you need to know, including hands-on learning projects involving real data entry.
- Provider: Coursera, Macquarie University
- Time: Six months
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: Varies
This class is for those specializing in business. Taught by Excel consultant Nicky Bull, the skills for business specialization course hones in on what you need to know about Excel to succeed in a data-driven career.
You do not need to have any credentials for this course, since this course is meant only for expanding your Excel knowledge.
In the end, students will participate in an applied learning project to put their new skills to the test. You can also earn a shareable certificate to beef up your portfolio.
- Provider: Purna ‘Chandoo’ Duggirala
- Time: 13 weeks
- Prerequisites: none
- Price: $97 to $347
Chandoo’s objective is to make his students “awesome at Excel.” He accomplishes this through extremely detailed courses in the spreadsheet program, including VBA. Along with a few other instructors, Chandoo provides a flexible, self-paced course that gives an inside look at the power of the software.
You will also get access to examples and workbooks, and six months of free access to all class material.
Best Free Excel Courses
Free courses are a great way for those without extra money to learn Excel. With free courses, the power of raw data is at everyone’s fingertips.
- Provider: Ben Currier
- Time: Self-paced
- Prerequisites: None
- Price: Free
This course is an absolute steal. At no cost, users can access hundreds of video tutorials and articles all on one site.
With Excel Exposure, instructor Ben Currier has something for every level, giving even the most advanced users hidden and useful tools to dominate the spreadsheet program. It is by far the best free course, especially for visual learners. Through video lessons, students will get familiar with pivot tables, error checking and modeling, and more.
Currier also offers paid courses.
- Provider: edX, Rochester Institute of Technology
- Time: Four weeks
- Prerequisites: Some knowledge of Excel
- Price: Free
This is a great Excel course for those looking to master the software on a budget. Offered through the Rochester Institute of Technology and edX, this is an intermediate course ideal for anyone working in a job that deals with data.
Beth Prince-Bradbury brings her data science expertise to teach this course. The class spans four weeks and is entirely self-paced so you can learn the spreadsheet program on your own schedule.
Excel certification courses are broken down to show which specific aspect of the program you are skilled in. This is the most notable Excel certificate you can earn.
In this certification course, offered by Duke University, you will earn a shareable certificate.
In this specialization program, students will also learn a lot about SQL, also known as Structured Query Language. SQL is the programming language used for data entry and analysis.
This certification course, including a capstone project, gives learners the chance to formulate their own questions regarding data, analysis, and strategic decisions for business intelligence.
Best Online Excel Resources
Anyone curious about harnessing the power of Microsoft Excel can take their pick of the various tutorials and resources online to enhance their knowledge of Excel.
What better way to learn one of Microsoft’s flagship programs than from the creators themselves? This Excel resource has informative videos to help you get you started using the spreadsheet program.
Start by clicking on the basic videos, then take your knowledge to the next level.
This is a great blog and resource page dedicated to Microsoft software. It offers tips, tricks, and shortcuts that make learning Excel a breeze. The site provides templates showing ways to use the program.
The Spreadsheet Page allows you to plan out your household expenses, do your taxes, or keep track of sports statistics.
The authors of the site go into great detail on each subject, showing users how to harness the power of Excel.
Should You Study Excel?
Studying even the basics of Microsoft Excel can be very beneficial, whether you are using the built-in functions like pivot tables and mathematical formulas, or just entering and categorizing data.
If you are interested in gaining a solid background in Excel, check out any of the Excel classes, online courses, and other resources listed above. If you stick with it, you can earn valuable skills to put on your resume that will impress hiring managers and employers.
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