Can you teach me Excel? of course not… You can teach yourself!

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Let’s start this discourse by applying a new function, “=readif”. Based on how relevant Excel is to your job, and how much you just love to get those cells to dance to your tune, you may either continue reading or hit the close button.

Good! Now that we have applied our filter successfully, we can continue without having to apply fx(iferror).

I have been asked so many times by colleagues if I could teach them some Excel after reviewing a report I have submitted and applied a few conditional formatting tricks based on cell input. I must admit that I am an intermediate user of Excel with a modest understanding of visual basic for Excel and Excel programming. Of course I can teach some Excel and I am always open to helping others learn what I know. If for nothing at all, I owe all the knowledge I have to people I have understudied for the past 8 years and it is just enough to keep my bosses smiling. Key among such people are colleagues who studied little or no finance or computer programming in School.

I am sure a lot of readers who have stunned audiences with amazing reports have been asked if they can teach others. I believe the answer will be the same as mine. It is practically very possible to teach Excel. You may find very high end Microsoft Office certification courses in premium IT schools locally but does it not bother you to find out that you can use Microsoft word that well without having attended any school? Let’s hold on to that thought for a second. For people who do not work with a lot of data, the course content of an average IT school for Microsoft office suite is more than enough. You may visualize a beginner’s level Excel user same as those who find themselves with basic functions such as autosum, average or count being just okay for their routine reports and the reason for this is because they almost get straight to work with these basic functions as soon as they are back behind their desks. Many of such people might have already been filtered out by our “readif” formula so let’s turn our attention to those who have read this far.

Microsoft Excel can be extremely useful for every aspect of the business if the user combines the spreadsheets with internal controls. In terms of security and flexibility, anyone can design a tool used to answer very pertinent operational questions required for critical process flows. I must emphasize that to get very ambitious data integrity for your spreadsheets you may have to mix your data input validation restrictions with some level of visual basic programming.

Teaching someone how to apply Excel functions and use Excel tools is quite easy. The real challenges that comes with Excel teaching and learning revolves mainly on how often you will need the functions or tools that you have been taught. Practicing what you have been taught, like anything else that needs learning, is the key to mastering your Excel knowledge. The only difference with Excel is that, from my experience, applying your newly found functions and tools to abstract data a couple of times only will not make it stick. Rather, applying these to relevant data that has some correlation with actual data you use in your workplace can be invaluable to your quest to sharpen your Excel knowledge. Testing your skills with the usual ‘students and exam scores’ example can actually make it harder if you indeed need to apply you functions to data with more dimensions if you do not regularly work with this kind of data.I am in no way asserting that you do not need to be guided or taught. In fact we have all had some classroom tuition using these examples but in order to learn more quickly, you may need to learn some new habits;

  1. Use the F1 (help key) more often – Excel has everything you need in the help database. What makes the Microsoft suite help database very helpful is that it connects instantly to online help content.

  2. Use the fx (insert function dialogue box) frequently as it allows you to search for functions using key words, and explains the parameters or arguments required to use them correctly. For example, typing “anova” in the search box of your Insert function dialogue box will give you two functions. You may scroll to the desired formula and proceed to the arguments dialogue box and that will explain each argument when you click in the input box. See screenshots below; anova

  3. Your desire to make difficult and repetitive tasks easy. Personally, this is how I am motivated learn new functions and tools. I must state also that the desire ties in with requirements of your job and not desire without foundation. The latter will not help it stick! I am of the view that, tedious tasks that gives you stress in the work place resulting from data requests or recurrent reporting based on large data, should make you want to automate some processes. This desire to make things easy for yourself should be enough motivation to learn new functions using F1 or fx. You may start from recording a few macros to nested formula.

  4. Ask, ask ask ask! I have learned a lot of tricks from people who are beginners than more advanced users. This is mainly because I often throw my frustrations into the discussion forums either among my peers or online… what would we do without stackoverlow.com?.

NB: “readif” is not a real function for the avoidance of doubt.