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Learn Excel

A Comprehensive Guide to Start Learning Excel

Microsoft Excel is the most popular spreadsheet app in the world. Professionals in all fields rely on Excel to store, sort, organize, and analyze data.

Microsoft Excel is the most widely used spreadsheet application in existence. Are you ready to start learning Excel? Keep reading to learn about popular Excel features, online learning options, certifications, and professional uses of this versatile application.

What is Excel?

Microsoft Excel is an interactive spreadsheet application that Microsoft created in 1985. Excel has many uses for organizing, storing, analyzing, and visualizing data. This app is commonly used for performing basic and advanced calculations, automating tasks, and managing the information contained in large datasets. Excel is part of the Microsoft 365 suite of productivity applications and is currently available on both PCs and Macs, as a mobile app, or online via the Office 365 cloud. Excel remains the most popular spreadsheet software in the world, with approximately half-a-billion users.

What Can You Do with Excel?

Excel includes hundreds of tools and features designed for organizing, analyzing, and visualizing data:

  • Excel users can perform various tasks and calculations with the cell numbers, such as locating high, median, or low values, counting each cell that contains a number, and multiplying cells to find products.
  • The more you use Excel, the more this spreadsheet app learns your patterns to organize data quicker.
  • Excel users can share workbooks with others in real-time, which helps those collaborating on projects stay up-to-date on all changes.
  • Those working with Excel files can do so from both mobile and desktop devices, as well as from the web.
  • Data can be added to Excel from a photograph. With the help of the Excel app, you can take a picture of printed data on an Android or iPhone, then convert it to an Excel table, which can then be edited as necessary.
  • Excel users can import financial transactions, which helps them organize monetary information.
  • PivotTables provide Excel users with a powerful tool for analyzing and summarizing datasets. This app can also regroup the data into a spreadsheet so that more effective comparisons can be made. Seeing data from a different perspective can give users a better understanding of important information such as sources of revenue.

Why Learn Excel?

Regardless of the industry in which you are employed, chances are Excel is one of the tools you use. Those working in academia, statistics, finance, healthcare, accounting, and data analytics all rely on this software for daily work tasks. The more you know about Excel, the more you are likely able to contribute to your organization. Here are just a few reasons why you should learn Excel:

  • You’ll be a better collaborator. Excel allows sharing a worksheet or workbook with others within your organization so that team projects can be completed faster. Excel can also provide real-time updates on others’ progress so that everyone works with the most recent spreadsheet.
  • You will be a more efficient employee. Once you learn Excel shortcuts and learn how to create macros to automate tasks, you’ll be able to complete tasks in minutes that would take others hours to complete.
  • You’ll take some of the burdens off of the IT support team. When employees haven’t been adequately trained with Excel, it can cause a strain on the organization’s IT department, which will likely be tasked with picking up the slack. It takes valuable time to train one employee to use Excel, let alone many employees, and can make it harder for those working in IT to complete more pressing tasks, like installing hardware or upgrading systems.
  • You’ll be able to visualize the findings from data. It’s not enough to organize or analyze data; most people who work with large datasets in Excel will also need to share their findings with other stakeholders, both internal as well as external to their organization. Data visualization is a powerful tool that allows Excel users to present their data findings in an accessible, engaging, and memorable way. Creating visual elements like charts and graphs in Excel allows employees to tell a data-driven story with visual aids and to do so right where the data resides.
  • You’ll make more money. Knowing how to use Excel can open many professional doors. Not only does it expand the pool of job opportunities you can explore, but it can also lead to a higher pay rate in your current profession.

How to Learn Excel

Learning Excel has never been easier, thanks to the various in-person and online courses currently available. In-person or live online Excel courses are great learning options. They allow students to connect with expert instructors in real-time and receive guidance, feedback, and answers to questions as they arise. In-person study also allows students to connect with other learners, a benefit that extends beyond the classroom. Live online and in-person Excel classes are currently available for those new to Excel and for advanced spreadsheet users looking to learn more complex Excel functions.

Another way to study Excel is through on-demand Excel classes. Unlike live online study, which meets at regularly scheduled times, you complete these asynchronous classes at your own pace around work and personal commitments. In addition, since they are entirely online, these classes don’t require commuting to and from campus. In fact, you can complete your Excel studies from the comfort of your own home or local coffee shop. Top educational providers, such as Noble Desktop, currently offer on-demand Excel training for beginners and advanced students. Additional courses on spreadsheet tools and techniques are also available, such as Exceljet’s Excel Shortcuts, LinkedIn Learning’s Excel: Advanced Formulas and Functions, and Coursera’s Excel Skills for Business Specialization.

Perhaps you’re interested in learning about Excel but not yet ready to commit to an online or in-person course. In that case, numerous free tutorials, YouTube videos, seminars, and blog posts are also available. Noble Desktop’s free Excel Seminar is a great starting point, which includes an hour of instruction on ten beginner tricks for Excel users. Noble also offers an Excel YouTube channel with more than 70 short video clips on popular Excel topics, such as sorting lists, working with IF functions, and applying conditional formatting. For those seeking free online Excel resources and tutorials, Noble has more than 100 posts pertaining to timely spreadsheet skills, like creating dynamic arrays and using Excel for event planning.

Read the complete guide on how to learn Excel.

Prerequisites to Learning Excel

If you are considering learning Excel but worry you may not be ready for this task, it’s a good idea to brush up on a few other related skills so that you will be ready to go once you begin working with spreadsheets. The following are some prerequisites to learning Excel:

  • Microsoft 365. Excel is one application of many in the Microsoft 365 suite. Because many Office apps can be used together to improve workflow, learning to work with PowerPoint or Word can be a great first step toward exploring Excel.
  • Programming languages. Although you don’t need to have a background in coding to be proficient with Excel, this app does use a Microsoft-specific language called Visual Basic for Applications, or VBA. VBA enables Excel users to create macros and quickly perform repetitive tasks. Most Excel users consider mastering VBA to be one of the most difficult aspects of learning Excel. If you begin with another programming language like Python or Java, you may find it easier to learn VBA.
  • Basic algebra. Having a foundation in basic algebra comes in handy when working with Excel. It’s smart to review middle-school algebra rules and formulas before learning Excel to equip you better to use this application’s functions.

How Difficult is it to Learn Excel?

The process of learning Excel varies from one individual to the next. Because this software has applications for various personal and professional tasks, such as creating basic shopping lists, performing advanced statistical analysis, and everything in between, no two Excel users are the same. Although some can learn Excel quickly, it can take others much longer to become accustomed to the interface and various features. If you are wondering how difficult it is to learn Excel, the following are a few questions to ask yourself that can contribute to the speed at which Excel is learned:

  • Do you have prior experience working with spreadsheets? If not, then it can take you longer to acclimate to Excel’s environment.
  • Do you have prior training working with data? For those who come from a technical background in which data is regularly analyzed, it may be easier to learn Excel than for those who are new to handling large datasets.
  • Are you familiar with other Microsoft 365 products, such as PowerPoint, Outlook, or Word? Basic familiarity with the Microsoft suite can help with learning Excel.
  • Are you a self-motivated learner, or do you require guided instruction? Learning options such as Bootcamps and online Excel classes are great options for those who seek educational guidance when learning Excel.

When learning Excel, it’s important to keep in mind that it is a robust application that’s capable of much more than performing basic calculations. Although most learners can become familiar with this software’s core features in just a few hours, learning more advanced functions can take much longer. Some estimate that Excel proficiency can take 18-20 hours. Others place this number at 40 hours. Excel is like any other skill; the more time you spend practicing, the better you will become.

Learning Excel Online

Many professionals use Microsoft Excel each day to complete work tasks. Not only is Excel expertise one of the most sought-after skills recruiters look for in potential employees, but it also can help improve work performance, lead to higher pay, and even land you a better job. Because knowledge of Excel is such an in-demand professional skill, more options are available for learning Excel than ever before. Unlike in the past, when Excel was only taught in the in-person environment, many online resources are now available to help with the learning process. In addition, many of these online educational resources are free, which makes learning Excel possible for everyone.

Because of how widely used this software is for managing large datasets, Excel has applications in many professions:

  • Office Administrators use Excel regularly. This app helps them organize and store administrative data. It also has applications for storing the contact information of suppliers or clients, invoicing, and performing calculations.
  • Project Managers work with Excel to complete projects of all sizes and scopes. Many business endeavors require complex calculations and detailed planning and budgeting, which can be done on this application. Excel is also useful for monitoring a project's different moving pieces to ensure it’s completed by the deadline.
  • Data Analysts often rely on Excel to sort and analyze data. This data is then used by their organization to make more informed business decisions. Data Analysts can also use this app to monitor sales figures, supply expenses, or website traffic.
  • Managers work with Excel to organize data and information about those working at their company. Employee names, starting dates, and contact information are just some of the items Excel helps them store and access.
  • Educators use Excel in a variety of ways. It’s a helpful tool for keeping track of research sources and other professional materials. In addition, spreadsheets are often used in academia for administrative purposes, such as keeping track of students’ attendance, class rosters, grades, and other pertinent information.

Online Resources for Learning Excel

Many online resources for learning Excel are currently available to help with spreadsheet basics as well as more advanced concepts:

    • Online Excel classesare available for beginners, intermediate, and advanced Excel learners. Because these classes take place remotely, they are a great option for students who must complete coursework around other life commitments. Online courses generally give students access to a wealth of Excel resources, such as video tutorials, supplementary documents, sample data, and instructor feedback. The following are some live online Excel classes by top education providers:
      • Noble Desktop live online Excel classesare available for beginners, intermediate, and advanced Excel learners. Those who study with Noble can elect to take Excel courses in person in Manhattan or study remotely in the live online environment. Courses cover Excel topics like working with macros, splitting and joining text, and performing advanced database functions like INDEX and MATCH.
      • ONLC Training Centers live online Excel classesprepare participants to take the Microsoft Office Specialist Certification exam. Students learn how to use Excel workbooks, design charts, create macros, and use VBA for programming.
      • Career Centers live online Excel coursesare currently available for those new to Excel, as well as intermediate and advanced learners. Each class provides project training and exercises created to reinforce Excel concepts.
  • YouTube channelsare also available in Excel. These channels provide learners with many benefits. Students can learn at their own pace. They can elect to begin studies with general videos on topics like navigating the Excel interface, then progress into specific topics like creating PivotTables. Videos can be watched on an as-need basis as well for professionals seeking specific assistance on an Excel topic to complete a work task. Best of all, YouTube videos are short and are available for free. The following YouTube channels provide free Excel instruction:
    • Noble Desktop’s Excel channelhas a wealth of helpful Excel content, such as videos and live streams. In addition, more than five dozen Excel videos can be found there on topics like how to customize ribbons and edit cell ranges.
    • Exceljetis a great resource for straightforward videos and playlists on basic Excel skills. Playlists are available on timely Excel topics and skills, such as conditional formatting and data entry. In addition, advanced topics are also explored on this channel, such as how to chart the times of sunrise and sunset, as well as how to customize a PivotTable.
    • Microsoft Office’s 365 YouTube channelis another good source of online Excel instruction. This popular channel has nearly half a million subscribers. In addition to Excel-specific content, tutorials and videos on other Microsoft apps are also available, such as Teams, OneDrive, and Outlook. Their Excel channelcovers topics like data formatting and data visualization, among others.
  • Excel videos allow those interested in learning Excel to study at their own pace. Since most videos are relatively short, viewers are able to learn important Excel concepts in just minutes, then revisit the lessons as needed. In addition, many Excel videos are free online, which makes them a cost-effective learning option. The following are some resources for those interested in learning Excel through online videos:
    • Noble Desktop’s free Excel classes online are a great resource for those who are new to Excel. Their free webinar includes content on common Excel topics like navigating shortcuts, inserting screenshots, removing duplicates, and creating charts.
    • Microsoft Excel Video training provides a variety of Excel videos. Some of the topics include Power Query, PivotTables, and formatting. In addition to video content, this site also offers written notes breaking down each video, as well as training links and Excel templates.
    • Udemy offers several free Excel classes and tutorials, in addition to short video content. Each short video is between three and 11 minutes long and provides instruction on topics such as data validation, area charts, and the Quick Access toolbar.
    • Chandoo.org offers Excel learners an array of online Excel videos, classes, and tutorials. Those interested in studying this spreadsheet app can explore topics like Power Pivot, conditional formatting, Power Query, and charts.

Excel Certification

Many employers list “Excel proficiency” as a qualification, regardless of the profession. However, it’s one thing to say you’re proficient in Excel and another to show that you are. If you’re interested in demonstrating to employers that you are well-versed in Excel and know how to work with core components of this app, such as PivotTables, VBA, and macros, you may wish to consider becoming certified in Excel. Not only does certification convey that you are Excel-proficient, but it also demonstrates that you invested the time required to pass at least one exam in Excel.

While Excel proficiency is useful in most professions, not all require certification. However, there are some fields that consider Excel training to be an essential requirement for job applicants:

  • Digital marketing
  • Business intelligence
  • Financial analytics
  • Auditing
  • Accounting
  • Market research

Microsoft Office (MOS) Certification is offered in Excel and other core Microsoft apps such as Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word. To achieve certification, learners must pass an exam in which they complete a series of tasks in the application being tested and do so within a specified time limit. Students can only use a certain number of keyboard clicks when performing these tasks. This ensures that those being tested in Excel understand the software well enough so as to avoid having to scroll through menus or search on toolbars to complete actions. No standard academic or professional requirements are required for MOS Certification beyond passing the exam.

Three tiers of certification are currently available: Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Associate Certification, Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Expert Certification, and Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Master Certification:

  • Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Associate Certification requires that test-takers demonstrate they can work with Excel’s core functions and capabilities, such as creating worksheets and workbooks, managing cells, rows, and columns, and performing basic formatting-related tasks. Students seeking Associate certification will also be asked to create objects, ranges, tables, and charts to pass.
  • Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Expert Certification requires learners to demonstrate spreadsheet skills that extend beyond the ones required to pass the Associate Certification exam. Some of the skills this exam covers are creating, manipulating, and sharing professional-level spreadsheets intended for various purposes and audiences, working with a variety of workbook settings and options, formatting datasets, creating macros and formulas, and working with advanced tables and charts.
  • Microsoft Office Specialist: Excel Master Certification is the highest level of certification offered in Microsoft Office. If you achieve this certification level, you’ve demonstrated that you have mastered not just one but four Office apps. Test-takers are required to pass both Excel and Word Expert-level exams and a test in PowerPoint and one other app, such as Outlook or Access.

Free Introductory Excel Course Online

If you aren’t ready to dive into an entire Excel course but are instead looking for an overview of how to work with this spreadsheet app, you can get started learning Excel for free online. Noble Desktop, a top education provider, currently offers this free introductory Excel course. It provides an hour of instruction on practical Excel skills, such as splitting and joining text, navigating shortcuts, inserting screenshots, and removing duplicates.

Read more about free Excel videos and online tutorials.

Level of Difficulty, Prerequisites, & Cost

The time it takes to learn Excel depends on many factors. Although most consider Excel a reasonably straightforward, easy-to-learn application, the process can be a bit more challenging for beginners who don’t have prior experience working with spreadsheets or data. For those looking to perform basic Excel tasks and become familiar with the interface, it likely will take several hours to acclimate to this app. If you are interested in becoming proficient with more advanced Excel functions for work tasks, you will likely need to devote upwards of 20 hours to master this software fully. Enrolling in an online or in-person Excel class can help to reduce the time it will take to become Excel-proficient.

Before learning Excel, it is helpful to review rudimentary mathematical concepts, such as basic algebra. A solid foundation in math can help you quickly learn and retain Excel formulas and shortcuts, leading to more effective spreadsheet use. In addition, you may also wish to familiarize yourself with the Microsoft 365 suite of productivity applications before working with Excel. Since Excel integrates with other Microsoft apps like PowerPoint and Access, the more you know about the Microsoft family of apps, the better prepared you will be to work with Excel.

Excel is currently available from Microsoft for $160 a year, or $6.99/month if you purchase it as part of the Microsoft 365 suite of applications (which also includes access to Word, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneDrive). Excel can be downloaded directly from Microsoft via a digital download.

Read about how difficult it is to learn Excel.

How Does Learning Excel Compare to Other Applications/Languages/Fields?

Those interested in studying Excel may wonder how learning this app compares to learning other similar applications. Google Sheets is an online spreadsheet program included in the free Google Docs Editors Suite. Google Sheets has many similarities to Excel with regard to features, calculations, and formulas. However, unlike Excel, Google Sheets offers the owner links they can share with other users to grant them permission to read or edit the sheet simultaneously. Excel, on the other hand, only allows one person to edit at any given time. Because both Excel and Google Sheets rely on many of the same formulas and features, they take about the same amount of time to learn: just a few hours for basics and up to 20 hours to master more advanced features.

Most people consider the various core Microsoft applications straightforward and easy to learn. Those who work with one Microsoft application often decide to explore others. For example, it is common for those working with Microsoft Word or PowerPoint to branch out and study Excel. Many Microsoft users consider Word to be the easiest application to use. It’s possible to learn how to create, modify, save, share, or print a Word document in just an hour or so.

On the other hand, learning PowerPoint basics may take about four or five hours. Just like Excel, mastering more complex concepts in either of these apps may require additional training and time. Enrolling in one of Noble Desktop’s live online Office courses is a great way to study one or more of these in-demand applications.

How to Decide the Best Way to Learn Excel

Various factors will impact which learning method you choose when deciding how to learn Excel. One of the main determinants should be what you will ultimately do with your Excel skills.

Those new to using Excel may look for a basic overview of this application rather than an intensive bootcamp learning experience. Free introductory-level Excel courses are a great starting point. These classes don’t require monetary investment and are currently available online. In addition, they can be completed on your own time and revisited as necessary. Noble Desktop’s free Intro to Excel Seminar, Top 10 Beginner Excel Tricks You Need to Know, covers many introductory Excel concepts, like using charts and autofill.

If you’re interested in developing a working knowledge of Excel for your current job or to fill a skill gap in your resume, a bootcamp may be a better option. Noble Desktop’s Excel Bootcamp covers beginner, intermediate, and advanced Excel skills. Throughout this 21-hour class, students receive instruction on topics such as using Excel for business, working with PivotTables, and executing advanced functions like INDEX and MATCH. Most Excel bootcamps cost a few hundred dollars. Along with this investment comes additional perks, such as live instruction and mentoring options, which are not available from free seminars or on-demand Excel classes.

A certificate program is a great learning option for students who already have a solid Excel foundation and are used to working with spreadsheets. Certificate study can help you master Excel to pursue a new career or even switch industries. It also can teach you the skills needed to advance in your current profession. Earning a certificate in Excel is also a great way to demonstrate to employers that you have a solid grasp of Excel and its many real-world applications.

What to Learn After Excel

Once you’ve learned Excel, you may wonder what to study next. The following are some common study topics for those who are wondering what to study after Excel:

  • Other Microsoft Applications: Most professionals who work with Excel also use other programs in the Microsoft 365 suite. They rely on Word for word processing and document drafting. PowerPoint provides a way for them to create presentations or slideshows to convey important information or findings. In order to send emails, take notes, and manage tasks, many use Outlook. In addition, Access is another popular Microsoft product, which has applications for creating database applications.
  • Python: The programming language Python is a popular open-source coding language. Most consider its syntax to be very similar to English, which makes it easy to use. In addition, a variety of Python packages and libraries are available. Python’s library Pandas is commonly used to analyze datasets, perform data wrangling, and execute repetitive tasks such as data cleansing or statistical analysis. Python also can be used to visualize data. Its library, Matplotlib, is the most popular library for data visualization.
  • SQL: Structured query language (SQL) is used to find and sort through the data found on relational or multidimensional databases. This language is commonly used by those working in the business. It also helps Data Analysts locate and analyze data from large datasets to spot patterns in the numbers. Because all major database management systems integrate with SQL, this language is ubiquitous to those who hold data-related jobs.

Learn Excel with Hands-on Training at Noble Desktop

Are you interested in learning how to use Microsoft Excel, or brush up on your Excel skills? If so, Noble Desktop currently offers a variety of Excel courses in NYC and live online. Classes are available for those who are new to Excel, as well as learners who regularly work with this spreadsheet application and want to master more advanced functions. In addition, in-person and live online Excel courses are available through Noble Desktop or one of its affiliate schools in topics like Excel for Business, Excel for Data Analytics, and Advanced Excel Training.

Noble Desktop’s Excel Bootcamp provides a great option for those who want to master core Excel concepts, such as working with PivotTables and What-If Analysis. Students who enroll in this rigorous, 21-hour course can elect to study in person in Manhattan or learn in the live online environment. This small class comes with the option of a free retake and covers a variety of Excel concepts applicable to the business world.

If you’re looking for Excel study options close to home, Noble’s Classes Near Me tool is a great resource. You can browse more than 120 live online and in-person Excel courses to find the option best suited for your learning needs.

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