May 19, 2023

What’s the best way to learn Microsoft Power BI?

There are lots of great reasons to learn Microsoft Power BI. Adding Power BI to your resume can be a powerful – no pun intended – level up.

But once you’ve decided you want to learn Power BI, what’s the best way to actually do it? If you do some research online, you’ll quickly discover that there are a wide variety of options, and a wide variety of price tags!

How to learn Power BI - the options

In general, the available options boil down to various forms of these approaches:

  • Learning in a traditional classroom setting
  • Learning online with a video-based online course
  • Learning on your own
  • Learning online with an interactive, project-based platform

Let’s take a look at each of these options to assess the pros and cons, and what types of learners each approach might be best for.

Learning Power BI in a traditional classroom

One way to learn Power BI is to embrace traditional education: head to a local university or training center that offers a class in Power BI and sign up. Generally, these courses take the form of single- or multi-day workshops where you bring your laptop and a teacher walks you through the fundamentals, and perhaps a project or two, as you attempt to follow along.

This approach does have one significant advantage over the others, at least if you get a good teacher: you have an expert on hand who you can ask questions and get an immediate response.

However, it also frequently comes with some major downsides.

The first is cost. While costs can vary, in-person training tends to be one of the most expensive learning options. A three-day course in Power BI at ONLC training centers across the US, for example, costs \$1,795 –- and that’s the “early bird” price! Even shorter, more affordable options tend to start at over $500.

Another downside is convenience. With in-person classes you have to adhere to a fixed schedule. You have to commute to a specific location (which also costs money). This can be quite a hassle to arrange, particularly if you’re already a working professional looking to change careers or simply add skills to your resume – you’ll have to somehow juggle your work and personal schedules with the course’s schedule. And if you get sick, or simply have an “off” day, there’s no going back and retrying – you’ll simply have to find some other way to learn any material you may have missed.

Still, in-person learning may be a good option for learners who aren’t worried about how much they’re spending, and who strongly value being able to speak directly with a teacher in an in-person environment.

If you choose to go this route, be sure you’ve checked out reviews of the course and the instructor beforehand!

Learning Power BI in an online course

A more common approach to learning Microsoft Power BI is to sign up for an online course, possibly on a site like EdX that uses lecture recordings from university courses to make higher education more broadly accessible.

This approach can certainly be effective, and one advantage of going this route is that, assuming you choose a course that was recorded at a respected institution, you can be reasonably sure you’re getting information that is accurate.

However, it also has a few disadvantages.

First, it’s generally not very efficient. While some folks can watch a video of someone using software and absorb most of the content on the first try, most of us can’t. We’ll watch a video lecture, then open up Power BI to try things for ourselves and discover we have to go back to the video, skipping around to find this or that section to be able to perform the right steps on our own machine.

Similarly, many online courses test your knowledge between videos with fill-in-the-blank and multiple-choice quizzes. These can mislead learners into thinking they’ve grasped the video content. But getting a 100% of a multiple choice quiz about data cleaning in Power BI isn’t the same thing as actually doing data cleaning in Power BI, and sooner or later, that difference is likely to become apparent.

Second, while online courses tend to be more affordable than in-person courses, they can still get fairly expensive. Often, they’re sold on the strength of the university brand that’ll be on the certificate you get for completing the course, which can be misleading. Employers don’t care about those sorts of certificates. When it comes to Microsoft Power BI, Microsoft’s own PL-300 certification is the only one that really carries any weight.

Online courses also sometimes come with the same scheduling headaches as in-person courses, requiring you to wait to begin the course at a certain date, or to be online at certain times. That’s certainly still easier than commuting, but it can be a hassle – and frustrating if you’d like to start making progress now, but your course session is still a month away.

Online courses can be a good option for learners who tend to feel highly engaged by lectures, or who aren’t particularly concerned with learning in the fastest or most efficient way.

Learning Power BI on your own

Another approach is learning Power BI on your own, essentially constructing your own curriculum via the variety of free learning materials (blog posts, youtube videos, etc.) that exist on the internet. Or, you can try learning on your own by simply jumping into Power Bi and messing around, trying to build projects and Googling what you need to learn as you go.

This approach has some obvious advantages. The first is cost: if you find the right materials and work through them in the right order, you can end up learning Power BI quite effectively without paying a dime.

This approach also engages you in the learning process by forcing you to create your own curriculum. And assuming you’re applying everything in the software as you learn, it gets you engaged in hands-on learning, which is always a good thing.

However, the downside to that is that it can be far less efficient than learning from the curated materials found in courses. If you’re not already a Power BI expert, constructing a curriculum that covers everything, and covers everything in the right order, is likely to be difficult. In all likelihood, you’ll discover there are gaps in your knowledge you’ll have to go back and fill in.

This approach is generally not going to be the fastest or simplest way to learn Power BI, but it can be a good choice for learners who simply cannot afford to pay for a course, or for learners who aren’t in any kind of rush to add Power BI to their skillset.

Learning Power BI interactively, by doing projects

Our final option for learning Power BI is to use an online course platform that’s not video-based. Platforms like Dataquest use a split-screen interface to introduce and demonstrace concepts on one side of the screen, embedding a fully functional version of Power BI on the other side of the screen. This way, you can apply what you’re learning as you’re learning it – right in your browser!

At least in the case of Dataquest, these courses are also punctuated with more open-ended guided projects that challenge you to apply what you’ve learned to build real projects that can ultimately be part of your portfolio for job applications.

The biggest advantage of this approach is its efficiency. There’s no rewatching videos or scanning around required, and applying concepts in the software immediately as you’re learning them helps the lessons “stick” much faster than they otherwise might.

Similarly, the projects force you to synthesize and reinforce what you’ve learned in ways that an multiple-choice quiz simply cannot. There’s no substitute for learning by doing, and that’s what these platforms aim to capitalize on.

In a way, it’s a bit of the best of both worlds: you get course content that’s been curated and arranged by experts so you don’t have to build your own curriculum, but you also get immediate hands-on experience with Power BI, and build projects that you can polish up and use when it’s time to start applying for jobs.

These platforms also typically allow you to work at your own pace. It’s possible to start and finish Dataquest’s Power Bi skill path in a week if you’re dedicated, or you can work through it slowly over a period of months.

When you learn, and how long your sessions last, is totally up to you, which makes it easier to find this kind of course into any schedule.

The interactive approach isn’t without downsides, of course. Learners who aren’t comfortable with reading may prefer other approaches. And although platforms like Dataquest tend to be more affordable than other online courses, they’re generally not free.

However, we do feel that the interactive, learn-by-doing approach is likely to be the best and most efficient path for most learners.

How much time does it take to learn Power BI?

Of course, how you learn Power BI may depend on how much time you can commit to the process. The basics of Power BI can be learned in a few hours, but mastering all of its intricacies can take years, especially if you want to take full advantage of its ability to integrate custom Python and R scripts.

In general, however, a learner who can dedicate five hours per week to learning Power BI on Dataquest can expect to be competent enough to build complete end-to-end projects and potentially start applying for jobs within a month.

But don’t take our word for it – enroll now and try it for yourself!

Charlie Custer

About the author

Charlie Custer

Charlie is a student of data science, and also a content marketer at Dataquest. In his free time, he's learning to mountain bike and making videos about it.