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Business & Management Review: The Ultimate Customized Excel Learning Experience

POSTED 09/10/2013
By Brad Zomick

Learning Microsoft Excel online can be a time-consuming endeavor, but it doesn’t have to be, and proves it. Filtered is a brand new learning library that strips unessential contents from an already efficient core curriculum and provides a tailored course for each individual student’s needs, saving students countless hours reviewing content to avoid relearning stuff they already know. The library comes courtesy of  Excel With Business (EwB), an experienced course provider that has been offering online skills training since 2009. The platform has trained over 200,000 students around the world, 60% of which have enrolled in their flagship Excel course. To maintain momentum and success in providing top-notch Excel training, the team behind EwB has adapted and evolved their offering, in the process creating Filtered to expand on the strengths of EwB and address its weaknesses.

The London-based team behind Filtered cares very much about making a difference in online education and takes a contrarian approach: making the best use of their students time and teaching them only what they need to learn. According to co-founder, Marc Zao-Sanders, “We realized that our unique approach to online teaching (asking questions of the user so we can tailor the course for each user) was our main differentiator, so we went for a brand that reflected this – that brand is” 

Subjects Covered Basic Excel, Formatting, Spreadsheet Administration, Efficiency, Customization, Data Handling, Functions, Graphs & Charting, Data Analysis, Modelling, Presentation, Google Docs Integration, VBA, Macros, Pivot Tables, Power Pivot, and more. **Also includes Powerpoint and Word courses.
Total Courses 38 Units
Student Level Beginner to Experts
Format Text Instruction, Instructional Videos, Exercises in Excel Spreadsheets
Certification Valid for ITQ certification in UK
Cost For a single course (Excel, Powerpoint, Word): $15/month, $40/quarter, $120/year
All three: $30/month, $80/quarter, $240/year

The EwB flagship Excel course has been used to train professionals from large corporations, manufacturers, farmers, charities and hospitals, as well as college students and work-from-home parents. It has been very popular with finance, accounting, and management professionals. Some of their high profile customers include Shell, BP, and Belkin, and the course has also been recognized by well-regarded accounting, finance, and bookkeeping trade organizations in the UK. The upgrades in Filtered aim to better support this market and be a more professional product for use in the workplace. One of the main tenets of Filtered is simplification. Thus, focusing on quality over quantity has been the ultimate focus of the transformation from EwB to Filtered. filter learn master how it works

With Filtered, less is more.

Full Review

The “Filter” — a quick and fun self-guided assessment of your Excel acumen — is THE defining feature of Filtered. It’s a multi-step diagnostic that starts by profiling your Excel-related job activity and your ideal Excel competence level. The questions Filter’s asks help profile your ability in the following areas:

  • Foundations: Understanding the Excel interface (ribbon, tool bar, etc.), basic navigation, editing, and formatting.
  • Orientation & Efficiency: Editing, views, grouping, named ranges, cell references, and basic design/organization concerns.
  • Spreadsheet Administration: Documentation and file storage recommendations, customizing Excel, troubleshooting, linking, sharing, and protecting workbooks.
  • Data Handling: Sorting, filtering, data validation, text manipulation, date/time, logic, and logic functions.
  • Data Analysis: Summarizing data, PivotTables, PowerPivot, formula auditing, modeling, advanced VBA, and macros.
  • Presentation: Graphs, charts, page/print setup, cell, number, and conditional formatting.

The Filter stars with questions that assess your current use of Excel, confidence in your abilities,  and where you want to be at the end of the course. filter questions

The Filtered experience begins with an assessment of your abilities, also know as “The Filter.”


Once you’ve provided details about your job’s Excel requirements, you will be assigned a target Excel IQ, and the succeeding steps involve assessing your current competence level, which includes a short quiz about common Excel activities. If you’ve given yourself high competency marks, your IQ will drop when you answer questions incorrectly. Likewise, correctly answered questions will push up your IQ if you’ve conservatively assessed yourself previously. As you work, through the questions course time and IQ points are added and subtracted, which is fun to watch… or really stressful!

filtered quiz questions

A short quiz ensures you’ve been honest in your self assessment.

The net result provides the student with his/her current Excel IQ, a target IQ, and a custom learning curriculum. At this point, students can review their syllabus and add or remove lessons. For instance, if you’d like to work more on your Excel modeling skills but was placed out of that content, you will get the chance to add those lessons back into your roster.

Overall, it is a fun and interactive experience compared to what could have been a simple timed no-frills diagnostic, much like a standardized test. Most importantly, rather than spending an hour in a testing module, the Filter gets the same result within minutes. Moving along to the course content, you can access your custom curriculum via a simple yet sleek dashboard. The dashboard tracks what Excel version you are in, how many modules you have completed, and how much time you’ve spent in the course. From the dashboard, you can also get back to your last module with ease.

the filtered dashboard

The new and improved Filtered learning experience stars with the dashboard.

Filtered supports many different learning styles with text, imagery, video, and excel workbooks with practice exercises. In most online courses, different types of content (text, video, exercise files) are digested separately. With Filtered, content is delivered in one continuous experience. It is quite similar to reading an ebook, but with tons of support to illustrate and enforce important concepts. As you read through the content, relevant videos and Excel exercises are placed exactly where they are needed. Support imagery comes in three forms: stand-alone pictures, image galleries, and videos.

The step-by-step picture galleries work great to explain multi-step activities. The picture galleries include captions, which help clarify any areas of ambiguity.

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Filtered uses high quality imagery to support its text. how-to picture galleries are a nice addition.

Video is a major component of the learning support Filtered provides. In total, there are 170+ short videos distributed throughout the course.

Filtered course video

In Filtered, videos follow relevant text.

The video comes in two formats: a short silent video to demonstrate quick actions and longer instructional videos with audio. The short silent videos are meant to be short and action oriented, re-enacting activities from the surrounding text. However, at times we found these to be too long, with too much action, and not enough textual support.

However, Themed Exercise videos at the end of each unit do provide guided instruction with a voice track. These videos also come with a downloadable Excel spreadsheet containing relevant exercises discussed within the learning module. Using the spreadsheet download, you can work along with your instructor and practice relevant concepts. In some units you will find spreadsheet exercises not only in the Themed Exercise, but in other lessons, sometimes with multiple spreadsheets in each lesson. There are over 120 downloadable Excel exercise sheets in the Filtered course.

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Excel exercise templates are also embedded where relevant in each lesson.

The downloadable exercise sheets have impeccable formatting and very explicit instructions related to the concepts discussed in the lesson.

filtered excel exercise questions

Downloadable spreadsheet exercises help reinforce new Excel concepts.

Once you think you have the right answer or if you are completely stumped, simply click on “Show Answers,” and the answer key will appear. The answer key is annotated with arrows and clear instructions, so you can be sure exactly what cell or formula needs to be adjusted to arrive at the right answer.

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The exercise answer keys contain a very high level of detail.

For some, the Filtered experience will be a straight line, following the exact curriculum that was prescribed. However, some may prefer to jump around and learn things out of order. Even those who have completed a lesson may desire to return to it for further review. Fortunately, Filtered has made course navigation simple and fun. Rather than clicking back to a table of contents page, the table of contents is built into an impressive sidebar pop-out menu which overlays the content.

filtered table of contents

From the overlay table of contents sidebar, you can get anywhere in the Filtered course quickly.

It is evident that Filtered has excelled (no pun intended) in helping students reinforce learned concepts. However, they have taken this one step further. Filtered has added a 4-question mini quiz to each of the 38 units to further reinforce newly learned topics. Once you complete this quiz, you can then move on to the next unit.

filtered end of unit quiz

Unit-end quizzes help reinforce the concepts learned in Filtered.

Filtered has a total of 16.25 hours of learning content, which does not seem like a lot. In fact, we compared this offering to, which has 6 Excel courses, running almost 26 hours – almost 40% more content than Filtered. However, we learned that less is more. Filtered provides a combination of learning mediums, whereas lynda is just video (some of which is redundant). However, the standard lynda subscription fee ($25/month) does not provide Excel practice files. In order to access those, you need to buy into the premium subscription which is $37.50/month – 2.5x the price of Filtered. Additionally, Filtered has been designed to be efficient, saving students a lot of time. However, discounting the filtering process,’s videos are substantially longer taking 3 to 10 minutes to explain tasks Filtered does in 0.5 to 2 minutes.

Filtered can take you from zero experience to the level required in finance, banking, accounting, and consulting. These are all jobs that require advanced use of Excel and intensive data analysis using the likes of PivotTables, PowerPivot, and even some VBA and macros. Ultimately, you will understand the language of spreadsheets and be able to create data models and accompanying charts to help you and your company make better informed business decisions. If you are looking for advanced VBA and DAX (used in PowerPivot) programming tutorials, Filtered can provide you with a good starting point. But if you’ve mastered that and are ready to push Excel to the max, then Excel Hero Academy maybe an option worth looking into.

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Cost of Program

Filtered proves “less is more.” It provides more content with less time consumed, which saves you time, and time equals money.


Ease of Use

Filtered sets a new benchmark for ease of use. The Filter process is an experience unto itself, and having a custom course is the most efficient way to learn. Furthermore, the new and improved dashboard, continuous learning content experience, and the smart table of contents navigation make for a smooth user experience.


Quality of Content

Filtered provides learning content in many shapes and forms. It is concise and action-oriented, with great visual support via video, images, image galleries. There is an ample amount of instructional video and Excel practice sheet downloads, as well as a substantial amount of advanced learning content. One small short coming: it has omitted content for Mac users but this makes sense as PC’s still dominate the business landscape.


Quality of Support

The content at Filtered is as thorough as it gets. However, if you have your back is against the wall, there is nowhere to go. You have to log out to find a support e-mail. That e-mail will get you technical support, not support for Excel spreadsheet-related issues.


Employment Value

With Excel, you either know it or you don’t. Filtered has the content and the practice exercises to take you from novice to Excel ninja, ready for work in consulting, finance, and accounting. There are not too many courses that can promise that.



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Filter, Learn, Master

We spoke with course co-founder, Marc Zao-Sanders, and we were particularly curious about Filtered’s stance on Excel moving into the cloud with Office 365. According to Marc, “Our experience is that people find moving between Excel versions confusing – especially if they end up straddling two different versions at home and work.  So Excel’s move to the cloud, we hope, will allow users to develop with the application, rather than having to ‘relearn’ the techniques every few years.”

Historically, however, corporations are very slow to migrate to new versions of Excel. Moreover, finance, investment, and accounting businesses are very sensitive about the safety of data, both their own and their clients’, so EwB has yet to launch an official Excel for Office365 course. However, Google —a popular cloud spreadsheet application—does have one module’s worth of coverage. Chris Littlewood, Strategy Director at Filtered elaborated, “If its usage expands, we’ll expand what we teach in the course. However, we do believe in the popularity and unique features of Microsoft Excel. They aren’t easy to replicate or replace. Working together on shared documents and accessing files anywhere, anytime are great benefits, but what you can do and achieve with Microsoft Office is still a long way ahead.”

After spending a lot of time with Filtered, it is evident that Filtered has “filtered” learning down to its essentials, and is a slick and fun experience. “We wanted the design and functionality of the site to reflect our ‘less-is-more’ philosophy.  We believe that the most effective training strips out everything that’s not essential, and we’ve tried to do the same with the website.” says founder, Marc Zao-Sanders. To sum it up, Filtered has succeeded in addition by subtraction.

[Editors Note: Filtered has recently added courses for Word and Powerpoint. Skilledup readers can now try all three courses for 7 days with no purchase or credit card required! ]

Jagged Edge Media JAcom Consultants