How to Get Educated About Analytics

Analytics education is anything but static. It's so hot now that lots of education-focused organizations are offering traditional degree programs, online degree programs, certifications and courses.

As we well know, analytics capabilities and best practices are evolving, as is the application of analytics to business problems. In addition, there's still a shortage of data-savvy people. All of that is creating demand for analytics-oriented education which is and has paved the way for so many new offerings. The question is, which option is best for you?

There are a number of ways to answer that question, some of which are more productive than others.

If you go online, you may find yourself overwhelmed by the choices. If you contact someone from any one of those organizations and ask their advice, they'll probably tell you their program is the best.

In my view, there is no one best option. The answer depends on several factors which include the amount of time you have to dedicate to the program, the focus of the program and the cost (assuming your employer won't cover the cost).

Probably the most frustrating approach is to look at the growing haystack using a Google search and start clicking on the endless stream of links. If you do that, you'll probably be more confused than when you started your search. Lists of "top schools" may help narrow the focus as may a few suggestions below.

(Image: Gundam Ai/Shutterstock)

(Image: Gundam Ai/Shutterstock)

Degree or Certificate?

Data analytics degree programs didn't exist until recently. So, if you lack an analytics degree, you're in good company. Many universities offer formal BA/BS and/or MA/MS programs now, and they may have online degrees or certifications as well. For example, the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University offers MA and BA degrees in Analytics which can be earned online or as a full-time student. MIT Sloane School of Management offers a one-year Master's degree program, an undergraduate degree, and a certification program, albeit for graduate students. However, MITx (an online MIT entity) has an online data science certificate program, which I can vouch for personally.

Degrees and certificates don't carry the same weight, especially if you lack prior relevant work experience. A degree represents a level of mastery and years of dedication. However, employers are also well-aware that analytics degrees are new. Even if the degrees weren't new, deep experience and a certificate or no certificate might be more valuable, depending on the candidate and position. A certificate also suggests a level of mastery, albeit the kind that can be earned in weeks or months versus years. If you have a some kind of degree, such as a business or information systems degree, analytics-related certification tends to indicate a dedication to continuous learning, which is a good thing.

There are a few other points to consider such as the school's pedigree, how long they've had programs, what students and former students think of them, the companies that work with them, and the companies that hire from them. If you're using education as a means to a promotion, find out what matters most to your employer.

Also realize that two programs with the same title can differ greatly in terms or course material, focus, faculty competency and how well faculty members communicate. Some professors or instructors are very articulate and easy to understand, even when they're presenting highly technical material. Some are not.

In addition, understand your limitations because certification courses tend not to list prerequisites, like degree programs. For example, (and not surprisingly), a course may require students to use Microsoft Excel Professional Edition at a minimum. That's may not a problem if you have access to the program at work, but if you don't already have the software, be prepared to invest more than you anticipated in your certification. Similarly, some courses require a deeper background in math than others.


Online courses tend to emphasize that the coursework can be accomplished on a "flexible" schedule but you may be required to repeat the course in a particular time frame to earn the certificate. You may think that's not a problem because you're psyched! Then life happens. If you suspend your study of such a program, you may be required to start from the beginning when the next class begins.

Part of the reason some self-study programs work within a given time frame is that it gives the "class" the ability to interact with the faculty and other students. EdX has many such programs, some from top universities, including MIT.

One of the cool things about EdX is you can take courses for free and only pay if you want the certificate associated with the class. The class may still start and stop at particular dates, but hey, the classes are free so you can get the syllabus, go through a module or two and see whether the course is suited to you. Right now, EdX has 122 online courses available that focus on analytics. Some of them are broad, such as the ColumbiaX Statistical Thinking for Data Science and Analytics. Others are narrow including the UC BerkeleyX course in Marketing Analytics.

It's Your Choice

If you ask 10 people about which degree, certificate or course you should pursue, you'll probably get 10 different answers. Ultimately, your path should align with your interests and career goals.

That said, if your choice requires a heavy investment in time, money or both, don't make the decision in a vacuum. Consider some of the points above, talk to people and do some research so you have a better idea of what's really right for you.

Do you have a degree or certification experience you want to share? Do you have questions you'd like to ask others? This is the perfect to community with whom to share your thoughts, in the comments section of this article.

Lisa Morgan, Freelance Writer

Lisa Morgan is a freelance writer who covers big data and BI for InformationWeek. She has contributed articles, reports, and other types of content to various publications and sites ranging from SD Times to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Frequent areas of coverage include big data, mobility, enterprise software, the cloud, software development, and emerging cultural issues affecting the C-suite.

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Re: Top 3 Analytics Certifications?
  • 10/16/2017 5:47:28 PM

@Maverickuv, started a lengthy response, got distracted and here I am.

I would not venture a guess as to which three are the best because I'm not aware of them, and even if I were, the answer would depend on whether it's vendor-specific or not.

I can vouch for the MITx course from personal experiencde.  I've enrolled in some other programs and dropped because they were the antithesis of what the MIT course was.  MITx is:

1.  Digestible

2.  Understandable (to a point if you don't have a heavy math background.)

3.  Pressenters are articulate and make the concepts very clear

4.  Gives you a better sense of accomplishment as you go through

Re: Time to study!
  • 10/4/2017 9:13:47 AM

A good point. Although I'm not in need of any certificates now, for those who may need it, it does appear farily easy to go back and take the courses through again to get the certification and at least it should be pretty easy to do.

Re: Top 3 Analytics Certifications?
  • 10/3/2017 1:01:28 AM

@maverick - do you have a target industry? 

I ask because the topic is a little bit like asking which mba program is the best. It depends - do you want to work in finance, or be an entrepreneur?

A Certificate in Busness Analytics is something like that. Some schools will have better relationships with finance and insurance. Others will not, but may be strong in other areas, where the problems are different, say retail and hosptitality.

Top 3 Analytics Certifications?
  • 10/1/2017 10:24:21 PM

Hi Lisa - Thanks for such a good post. Do you mind sharing some good 'Business Analytics' certifications? maybe your top 3?



Re: Time to study!
  • 9/30/2017 3:22:38 PM

"....but it's not as easy as many folks may believe and does take a great deal of time to move through the courses."


@kq4ym   Very true but at least with Edx you still have access to the material even after the course period is over and they often give the course again at a later time, so if it is a certificate one seeks they can eventually attain it.

Re: Certificate Programs
  • 9/30/2017 3:17:04 PM

Lisa  I agree.  Online degrees no longer hold the stigma they used to and I think it's one of society's greatest achievements of the past century.  Due to the Net of course, one can be anywhere and still make real progress towards their goals.


Anyone remember correspondence courses ?   I do.  We have come a long way !   Looking forward to using these options for the rest of my days.

Self Learners: There is No Better Time
  • 9/30/2017 3:08:39 PM

Thank you Lisa for the wonderfully detailed look at the options available for pursuing a certification or degree in some aspect of Analytics.  As a long standing member of A2,  I go the self-study route and constantly use the resources available from SAS and EdX.   

These are great resources to build valuable understanding and skills that are sought in the marketplace.  It is an exciting time for those who want to learn new skills and I highly recommend both SAS and EdX.

Re: Certificate Programs
  • 9/28/2017 2:38:07 PM

@Lisa - yes, please post the link to your article on LinkedIn. I'd like to see it. Thanks!

As you know, some of the online options are now excellent. But others, not so much.

For me, the challenge is to find the good ones amongst so many options. Can't afford the time to sign up and see two lessons of 30 courses to decide which is the best.

Re: Time to study!
  • 9/28/2017 12:32:51 PM

Yes, the quality and usefulness of the various online MOOCs and others will vary greatly although it does seem that over time they are getting better. I've taken several and so far haven't had any bad experience, but it's not as easy as many folks may believe and does take a great deal of time to move through the courses.

Re: Certificate Programs
  • 9/28/2017 12:07:02 PM

@Broadway0474, EdX is a MOOC.  Really, a certificate sends a message that you're probably more dedicated to learning and perhaps more qualified than someone with a similar resume that lacks certification.

These days, whether it's online or not really doesn't matter.  There are online "lab" segments in which you're given datasets and have to prove your skills.

Online courses used to be a joke.  Absolutely awful.  Hard to follow and a -1.0 version.  If you took online courses or even got an onllne degree, say from PHX. then <eye roll>.  Not so much anymore, but PHX vs. attending Harvard, well...some things don't change, or I should say haven't changed yet..

I think the fun part is the freedom to take courses from any school that offers is, Ivy League or not.  I''m sure some of our forefathers would be rolling in their graves to hear that one!

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