How To Teach People Data Visualization

Have you ever accidentally taken one step too far down the internet rabbit hole? This has happened to me more than once when I’m trying to google the solution to why my chart isn’t working. I click into a Q & A forum that teases the answer – but the solution is some code that makes me run away screaming.

When we are trying to teach people data visualization, we don’t want them running away, screaming. And it happens FAST. One innocent step too far and BAM, folks are outta there.

The trick to getting people to stay around is something I learned back in my teaching days: Scaffolding.

Scaffolding means you meet people where they are and take them to the very next step, without overwhelming them with too much, too fast.

I think educators borrowed this idea from the construction industry, where they use scaffolding to support workers while they build from the ground up. You don’t start at the floor and build the penthouse, ya know?

So when it comes to teaching data viz, we don’t start with a Rockstar Level 10 Sankey Diagram. We meet people where they are.

Here’s how this often plays out in our Graph Guide program.

Students know they are going to blast through 50 graph tutorials in a year. After that, you are expert. Or, as one of our students said:

Many of our students use their year in the program to springboard from a software they know and love to something new and fresh.

Marianna is one of those students. She was super comfortable cracking out basic charts in Excel. But she wanted to get even better at it AND she wanted to broaden her skill set into Tableau.

My organization was signaling an interest in Tableau and I wanted to be prepared in the event that they did go through with it. I am glad I started learning to use it because they did in fact roll it out and I was given a Tableau license. I would have been completely lost without Graph Guides. Tableau is an amazing tool but after using Excel for so many years I found the switch tricky at first. Now I am hooked and feel really confident using it.

– Marianna

She’s right! Tableau IS tricky at first! So when I was creating Marianna’s custom curriculum, I didn’t drop her into the deep end. We spent the first few months maxxing out Marianna’s Excel skills. She learned new graph types to make there, rocked out some excellent visuals, and even learned a wee bit of code, with me coaching her along the way.

Then, after she already knew how to make a dot plot in Excel, we scaffolded. She watched our Orientation to Tableau video (just this lowers your blood pressure significantly), tried out a bar chart, and then created that dot plot that she already knew inside Tableau.

When we scaffold learning, we build off of existing knowledge so that the new thing we are teaching is way less intimidating. It becomes accomplishable.

Marianna eventually swam her way to the deep end, just with structured support that makes her ultimately confident and independent.

Near the end of her year in the Graph Guide program, Marianna used her increasingly impressive Tableau skills to knock out one more tutorial and show off her progress. She made this lollipop gantt chart to show how she blasted through her customized learning path. She began last May, so you can actually see her start out making quick gains in Excel (and some Word/Powerpoint related lessons). Then she jumps into Tableau and, at first, each new chart takes a long time to finish. Her pace quickens as she gains skills. Then it slows down again as she moves into more complex Tableau tutorials.

And now Marianna is bilingual. She switches to whichever program makes a certain chart easier to produce and her design skills are now so strong that no one can even tell which program she relied on. That’s amazing.

Of course, any of our Graph Guide students could have continued to rely on google searches to help them make progress with their graphing skills, playing the hit or miss game forever. It’s just that when you commit to a program with scaffolded support from people who know both education and data visualization, you go further, faster.

Skyrocket Dataviz with Graph Guides!

Graph Guides is a custom-built, year-long sprint through 50 Academy tutorials.

When you enroll, we’ll assess your current data viz skill set, build you a customized learning path, and hold your hand as you blaze your way to new talents.

Enrollment re-opens Spring 2022

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