Understanding and interpreting data enables business professionals to make intelligent, informed decisions. One way to gain the skills necessary to handle and harness the power of data is by taking an online course.

Harvard Business School Online currently offers three courses in the analytics subject area: Business Analytics, Data Science Principles, and Data Science for Business. Each course is taught by a different professor and can equip you with data science or analytical skills.

To help you determine which course is best for you, here’s a primer on data science and data analytics, the characteristics all HBS Online courses share, and the content, audience, and questions answered in each course.

The Difference Between Data Analytics and Data Science

HBS Online’s analytics subject area consists of both data analytics and data science courses. These fields are related, but it’s worth noting their differences to help you decide which course is right for you.

Data science is the process of collecting, organizing, cleaning, wrangling, and visualizing data to make it easily understandable. Data analytics, on the other hand, is the process of taking easily understandable data and gleaning actionable insights from it.

Both fields require data literacy and knowledge of privacy and ethics best practices. Each works together to make data a critical tool that organizations can use to enact change.

The course you select should reflect your current skill level and priorities for growth. Which skills do you hope to gain? What is your background in data science or analytics? Take stock of these factors and explore the content, audience, and questions each course answers to find the best fit for you.

Related: What’s the Difference Between Data Analytics & Data Science?

Business Analytics

Business Analytics, taught by HBS Professor Janice Hammond, is one of HBS Online’s longest-running course offerings and provides hands-on instruction in analyzing data using statistics. Beginning with basic descriptive statistics and progressing through multiple regression analysis, Hammond leads you through the implementation of various analytical techniques using Microsoft Excel.

Business Analytics requires 40 hours of coursework over an eight-week period, and no previous experience is required. It’s offered as an individual course or as part of the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program.

This course answers questions such as:

  • How do I interpret data to inform business decisions?
  • How do I recognize trends, detect outliers, and summarize data sets?
  • How do I use Microsoft Excel to implement regression analysis and other analytical techniques?

This course is right for:

  • Hands-on learners who want to solve real business problems in Microsoft Excel
  • Aspiring data analysts
  • Pre-MBA students looking to sharpen their analytical skills
  • Business professionals who work with data and want to conduct both basic and in-depth analyses to aid their decision-making

If Business Analytics seems like a good fit for your desired skill set, read through the course syllabus and apply.

Data Science Principles

Data Science Principles, an online course taught by Harvard Professor Dustin Tingley, is a code- and math-free introduction to data science. Brought to you by Harvard Online on the HBS Online course platform, Data Science Principles consists of approximately 20 hours of coursework over four weeks.

Whether you’re looking to enter the data science field but aren’t sure where to start, or simply want to understand your organization’s data, Data Science Principles can provide a solid foundation.

This course answers questions such as:

  • How do I determine a dataset’s quality, accuracy, and reliability?
  • How can I use data to make predictions?
  • What does it mean to wrangle data, and why is it an important part of the process?
  • What are the basics of data privacy, and how do they intersect with data ethics?

This course is right for professionals who:

  • Access data or work alongside a data science team
  • Want to gain an understanding of data and how to handle it ethically
  • Aspire to work in the data science field

If this sounds like you, explore the course syllabus and apply. No prior data experience is necessary, and you can finish the course with a strong foundation in data fundamentals.

Data Science for Business

Data Science for Business is an online data science course that focuses on making decisions based on data. Taught by Professor Yael Grushka-Cockayne, this course is brought to you by Harvard Online on the HBS Online course platform. The course includes approximately 20 hours of coursework over four weeks.

With a guiding focus on the data-driven decision-making framework, Grushka-Cockayne presents data science concepts such as data curation, regression models, and prediction and analyses. She also covers the basics of coding environments, such as R, and how to use data visualization platforms to effectively communicate takeaways. No prior experience is necessary, although this course is more advanced than Data Science Principles.

The course answers questions such as:

  • How can I use data to inform critical business decisions?
  • How do I avoid common mistakes when interpreting datasets, metrics, and visualizations?
  • How do I implement smoothing techniques in time series forecasting?
  • What are the parts of a linear regression, and how do I interpret the results?
  • What is machine learning, and how do I select the right model for my business problem?

This course is right for:

  • Managers and aspiring managers who would benefit from a framework for using data to drive decision-making
  • Those looking for an introduction to machine learning, coding in R, and running statistical models
  • Professionals with a baseline understanding of data who are looking to level up their skills

If Data Science for Business sounds like a good fit for you, explore the course syllabus and apply.

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Hallmarks of an HBS Online Course

Business Analytics, Data Science Principles, and Data Science for Business share the hallmark characteristics of HBS Online courses: They provide an active, social, and case-based learning experience.

  1. Active: HBS Online courses contain interactive elements, such as problem-solving exercises, short essays, quizzes, and virtual "Cold Calls." This eliminates the stagnant lecture format and creates an engaging course experience.
  2. Social: Because you learn alongside others from around the world, HBS Online courses present an opportunity to engage with peers and gain insights from their opinions, experiences, and perspectives.
  3. Case-based: In HBS Online courses, professors present business concepts through the lens of real business problems. The courses feature interviews with industry experts and interactive elements that prompt you to consider how you would have handled the challenges they faced and what you can learn from their situations.

Whichever course you select, you can be sure these three characteristics will enhance your learning experience.

Related: How to Find the Right Business Analytics Course for You

Selecting the Right Analytics Course for You

Whether you want to learn the basics of data science, develop a solid framework for using data to drive business decisions, or hone in on the actionable skills needed to conduct analysis, HBS Online has a course for you.

No matter which course you choose, an education in data science and analytics has the potential to drive both your career and organization forward.

Are you interested in learning to speak the language of data science and analytics? Explore our online analytics courses to put data to work at your organization.

Catherine Cote

About the Author

Catherine Cote is a marketing coordinator at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to joining HBS Online, she worked at an early-stage SaaS startup where she found her passion for writing content, and at a digital consulting agency, where she specialized in SEO. Catherine holds a B.A. from Holy Cross, where she studied psychology, education, and Mandarin Chinese. When not at work, you can find her hiking, performing or watching theatre, or hunting for the best burger in Boston.