Help a non-data brain learn data stuff
June 10, 2019 9:47 AM   Subscribe

How can I get my very historically non-math and data-oriented brain to learn a bunch of data fundamentals? I'm 30, don't speak or think in terms of data, suck at math, suck at stats, have severe ADD, and hugely struggle with abstract concepts like "data models", "one-to-many/many-to-one relationships", "joining tables", and even "tables" in general.

My brain literally feels like it dead-ends with visualizing and wrapping itself around these hyper logical concepts; my brain also struggles with learning new things in general. I am looking for the best tools to literally hold my hand through this stuff like a child, like "step 1, download this program - here's how to do that! step 2, look at this table, do this and that to manipulate it with SQL or excel" etc.

Are there any recommended free or cheap online courses and exercises that can help my simple-brain think more like a data-brain? Would it be a SQL intro course? What is the ideal learning path? My background: I know a little excel, know how to make a pivot table but struggle a little with WHY something would be a row or a column (I usually play around and guess until I get the pivot that I want), know a little about vlookups but struggle to wrap my head around them fully. That's sort of where my head is at.
posted by windbox to Education (7 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've been taking a free online course, "Data to Insight" from the University of Aukland, offered through Future Learn. It's really well done, and I think it would be helpful to you. It uses an R based platform that's pretty intuitive, and I think makes it easy to understand the concepts without getting hung up on learning to program.
posted by Kriesa at 10:18 AM on June 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

DataCamp has an interactive interface that struck me as pretty user friendly and intuitive with plenty of handholding when I was using it. It covers SQL and spreadsheets as well as python and R. $30/month but some of the intro courses are free.
posted by reren at 10:42 AM on June 10, 2019

Do you have problems with the language? Or do you generally not do well at sets, and groupings, and guess which thing is not like the others?

The former can be fixed by memorizing the arbitrary words.

Not sure how you would address having trouble using criteria for sorting and sifting things.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:17 AM on June 10, 2019

I loved DataCamp but their CEO is a scumbag and the company supported him in a pretty gross sexual harassment incident.
posted by forkisbetter at 11:42 AM on June 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

At a general level, Barbara Oakley’s A Mind for Numbers might be useful (I think there’s an audiobook too if that would suit you better).

I’ll admit I haven’t read the book, but I’m constantly recommending her MOOC, Learning How To Learn in here, and I’d imagine the book is as good but with more of a number-y slant.

Oakley is a former linguist, self-confessed not-a-number-person, who decided to change that, set about it with determination, and is now a professor of engineering - and also an expert in how we learn and think, and how to improve that.
posted by penguin pie at 12:02 PM on June 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

If you learn better from books than from classes, R for Data Science is a wonderful, free, and comprehensive guide to these things using the (also free) R/RStudio/tidyverse ecosystem. There's a lot more in there than what you're asking about, but in particular:

-This section walks you through getting everything you need installed and set up.
-This chapter is all about filtering, rearranging, changing, and grouping data in a single table.
-This chapter is about linking and merging data that exists in different tables.

Even if you don't actually learn the code syntax or work through the examples, the text explanations are (imo) very clear.
posted by theodolite at 1:18 PM on June 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

Michael Starbird's talks might help; he's a prof of math at Univ. Texas:
posted by at at 1:32 PM on June 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

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