I am delighted to announce that I have now got over a quarter of a century’s experience in the use of Excel. It is the first analytical package I used during my university studies and I have used it ever since. I had a brief flirtation with Lotus 1-2-3 back in the mid 1990s (remember that one?) and have more recently dabbled with Apple’s Numbers but my loyalty to MS Excel is unwavering.
It permeates my work life on a near daily basis and has even found room for use in my home life. My wife refers to me as ‘the spreadsheet geek’, amongst other things, and the tool is used at home for everything, from monitoring how my football predictions are going (conclusion, not very well), budget planning for our wedding or holidays, to Xmas card lists. Yes I am proud to admit, I am a spreadsheet geek.
It seems that I am not alone – Forrester research has found that 81% of businesses use Excel. Data Science purists will tend to look down their noses at Excel and want to demonstrate how you can do a lot more with Python or R, but these are not really tools for the masses. There are a number of excellent Business Intelligence (BI) tools, such as Tableau and Power BI, to help with distribution of fancy dashboards across the whole organisation, but Excel will always be a staple tool for data collection, aggregation, visualisation and analysis.
A good analyst will have a toolkit of software applications at their disposal and their choice will depend on the amount of data analysed, the time needed to get results, and the intended output/audience for the analysis. There will always be a need for Excel.
Choose the right training for you
A year ago, we started planning our first formal training course in Excel. Excel does not tend to be taught at University, or even at School or College, and so most people gain their Excel skills from learning ‘on the job’. We had feedback from a number of our recruitment clients that Excel knowledge is rather lacking amongst graduates and saw the need to create some content for students.
It is fair to say that there are plenty of online resources (free and paid for) that provide training in Excel, which serve a purpose for some. A lot of these courses tend to focus on the volume of their content, covering a wide range of features across many hours of learning. I personally struggle to stay focused on my favourite Netflix series, never mind watching someone speak on a pre-recorded video about a range of features and functions that I will never use outside of the training class.
With most people being time poor we have decided to create a course that offers participants minimal investment of their time and maximum output for their learning. In planning the course we took a representative sample of client businesses and contacted analytically focused individuals at those companies to better understand the most commonly used Excel features and functions. This is what we cover in the course.
The Theory and the Practical
We have taken on board our learnings from other training courses and have adapted our content accordingly. Each participant on our Excel course will benefit from the following:
- 5 x 1 hour workshop sessions (via Zoom) where we run through all the required features and functions (with plenty of breaks in between).
- A deliberately restricted number of delegates to ensure that learning is optimised.
- A set of clear and concise slides that outline the capability and syntax of each feature and function.
- An opportunity in the session for participants to try out each function using some training data.
- Further live demonstrations from the tutors on how to implement each function if required to re-inforce understanding.
- A detailed session into Excel best practice and hints and tips to make your workflows more efficient.
- A formal document (Spreadsheet) that covers each function and also provides examples of the uses/outputs.
- A self-study ‘real world’ exercise (typically taking between 2-4 hours) which tests each participants’ understanding of the workshop learnings and applies them to a test that closely mimics the type of request that an analyst may get in the workplace.
- For this exercise the tutors are available for support (via email, phone or Zoom) and, following submission of the answers, will provide each participant with a grade (pass or distinction) and constructive feedback.
From Face to Face to Remote Training
Our technical training courses have traditionally been delivered face-to-face in a training suite or lab. We have re-purposed this course to be able to deliver it via live video conferencing (Zoom) and in doing so have been able to offer additional benefits to participants:
- Value for money – additional overheads, such as travel, room hire, lunch and refreshments are eliminated allowing us to offer the course at a very competitive price.
- Available to all – face-to-face courses will always restrict access for some due to travel practicalities. In today’s ‘new age’, where travel will likely need extra justification (particularly on public transport), this means that participants are able to do the course in the comfort of their preferred location (be it home, office or co-working space).
- Scale of tutors – We tend to operate with 2 tutors per session. One will be delivering the training whilst the other will be responsible for workshop management tasks: admitting participants, helping with any technical issues and monitoring the chat. Whilst we do deliberately restrict the number of participants, it also means that we could get extra help on board to teach if required.
- Recording of sessions – All the workshops are recorded and shared with participants immediately after the session. This means that those participants who are unable to attend a session (it sometimes happens) will be able to catch up, and those who are wanting to go over learnings again in their own time and at their own pace are able to do so. It also negates the need for much in the way of participant note taking which means more time to dedication to understanding and application.
- Flexibility of courses dates and times – We are able to offer courses to suit participants’ availability, be it a full daytime course or over a series of evenings.
Different Base, Different Pace
The pre-requisites for the Excel course (aside from a Mac/PC running a recent version of Excel, plus the ability to use Zoom) focus on a basic to intermediate knowledge of Excel. In any course it is rare for all participants to have exactly the same knowledge from the outset and we also recognise that pace of learning does differ from person to person. We structure the course so that the very basic Excel training is done in the very first session and this isn’t compulsory for those who are at an intermediate level. The course deliberately builds in complexity through the 5 workshops at which point all participants will have a renewed confidence in their own Excel skills.
Whilst it would be unfair to adjust the pace of the content to the quickest or the slowest participant we deliberately plan the content to allow for extra time for further explanation and questions – so the sessions don’t tend to be rushed or overburdened with learnings.
Those who are naturally slower, I would argue, prefer the online course as it is easier to discreetly take it at your own pace. Face-to-face courses make that much harder. They have the fallback of the recording and slides and we are also available for one-to-one support on the very rare occasions when specific concepts don’t really seem to be sticking.
Learn and Adapt
Each course is delivered live, with no pre-recordings, meaning that we can take comments and learnings from participants and implement changes for next time. For example, the ‘real world’ exercise is supported with a set of instructions that start off very structured and gradually become less structured as the participant progresses through the answers. We have now created a specific set of instructions for those intermediate participants, or those who would like to test their knowledge with a slightly harder task. These instructions are consistently less structured, but participants can be safe in the knowledge that they can refer to the easier instructions if required.
Excel for the Masses
It is our view that most people deserve to have a reasonable level of understanding in Excel. Our course focuses on the key features and functions that are most useful for analysis. It arms participants with a range of support materials which will be useful for refresher training as well as ongoing application in their work, home or studies.
It is our mission to deliver the content of this course to a variety of participants, regardless of location, age, academic status and stage of their career. With over 100 participants successfully completing this course to date we are confident that all will increase their confidence in Excel.
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