What Is the Best Way to Learn Excel?

accounting ratiosWhenever you have any calculations or tabular work to be done, people ask, “Why don’t you use Microsoft Excel for this?” But the problem is: Though most of us have tamed Microsoft Word and know how to get our work done, Microsoft Excel is quite another beast altogether—it looks entirely different from Word. Try this Microsoft Excel course for beginners.

With this article, I hope to help you get started with some basic Excel functionality. We’ll begin with a brief introduction to Excel and then I will then point you in a direction where you can learn more about the software.

The Excel Application Window

To begin with, let’s get acquainted with Excel. When you start Excel, you are presented with the Excel application window (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Excel Application Window

Excel-figure1

As you can see, most of the space on the screen is taken up by what is known as the spreadsheet. The spreadsheet is where you record all your data, and perform all your calculations. It consists of horizontal rows (numbered 1 to 65536) and 256 vertical columns (A to IV, i.e., A–Z, AA–AZ, BA–BZ, and so on right up to IV). The intersection of a row and a column is called a cell, and this where you enter your data.

You’ll notice that one of the cells has a dark border. This cell is known as the active cell or the current cell pointer. When you type anything, it appears in the active cell. So, to type data in any cell, say cell C5, you need to first move the current cell pointer to the cell in question (cell C5 in our example) to make it the active cell and then type the data. You can either use the arrow keys to move the cell pointer or you can directly click on the cell where you wish to enter data.

Just like Word, you have the ribbon at the top of the screen. The ribbon consists of tabs that contain the various commands you can use in Excel. Related commands are grouped together to make it easier for you to find the command you wish to use.

If you go through the different tabs, you’ll see that there are a great number of commands—and many of the commands are quite different from Word’s (since Excel has a different set of features from Word). So, where exactly should someone new to Excel start? How should one go about learning Excel?

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Best Way to Learn Excel

Let’s look at the different ways you can go about learning Excel. I’ll then tell you which is, according to me, the best way to learn the spreadsheet program.

Using Excel’s Built-in Help

In the older versions, there used to be a Help menu, which you could use to learn the program. However, in the newer versions of the software, you will find the help command in the File tab. There are two options you can use:

If you want to learn the basics, click on the “Getting Started” button. This will take you to Microsoft’s Getting Started web page where you can learn the basics of the various MS Office applications. Alternatively, you can click on the Microsoft Office Help button, which will open the main Excel Help window where you can find a list of topics. Clicking on any of the topics will give you detailed information on that topic.

Learning Excel from Books

One problem many people face while trying to learn from the built-in help is they have to keep switching between the Excel window and the Help window, which can get quite confusing for beginners.

Another option is to buy some books on Excel. There are lots of beginner level books which will teach you the basics of using Excel. The most obvious examples of these are the ubiquitous …For Dummies series, and the Complete Idiot’s Guide to… series.

However, not everyone can learn from books. (If that were the case, we wouldn’t need school and colleges; everyone would learn by just reading books!) In fact, the visual aspect is very important when it comes to learning; most people find it easier to recall what they have seen than what they have read.

Learning Excel from Online Training Sites

If you ask me, this is the best option for learning Excel—or any other program, for that matter. There are many websites that offer online training, where you can actually see the software or commands in action. Many of them even have instructors or coaches explaining the concepts to you, which make it very similar to attending lectures at a regular training institute. Of course, the advantage over regular training institutes is, in the case of online training sites, you are at liberty to take the course (view the videos) whenever you want, as per your convenience.

Udemy has thousands of courses in hundreds of subjects—both technical and non-technical—in 10 different languages. They’ve got both free as well as paid courses and beginner level as well as more advanced level courses. If you already know the basics, you can enhance your knowledge by trying out an intermediate course.

Another advantage with online training is that today, with the increased popularity of smartphones, some of these online training sites offer mobile apps that allow you to receive the training content right on your cell phone or smartphone. You can learn from anywhere, whenever you have some free time.

The Best Way to Learn Excel

So, as we have seen, you have many options to learn a program like Excel—you can use Excel’s built-in help, or you can learn from books, or, what I feel is the best of all, you can register for an online course on some online training site.