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Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics

University of Cape Town via Coursera


If you’ve ever skipped over`the results section of a medical paper because terms like “confidence interval” or “p-value” go over your head, then you’re in the right place. You may be a clinical practitioner reading research articles to keep up-to-date with developments in your field or a medical student wondering how to approach your own research. Greater confidence in understanding statistical analysis and the results can benefit both working professionals and those undertaking research themselves.

If you are simply interested in properly understanding the published literature or if you are embarking on conducting your own research, this course is your first step. It offers an easy entry into interpreting common statistical concepts without getting into nitty-gritty mathematical formulae. To be able to interpret and understand these concepts is the best way to start your journey into the world of clinical literature. That’s where this course comes in - so let’s get started!

The course is free to enroll and take. You will be offered the option of purchasing a certificate of completion which you become eligible for, if you successfully complete the course requirements. This can be an excellent way of staying motivated! Financial Aid is also available.


  • Getting things started by defining study types
    • Welcome to the first week. Here we’ll provide an intuitive understanding of clinical research results. So this isn’t a comprehensive statistics course - rather it offers a practical orientation to the field of medical research and commonly used statistical analysis. The first topics we will look at are research methods and data collection with a specific focus on study types. By the end, you should be able to identify which study types are being used and why the researchers selected them, when you are later reading a published paper.
  • Describing your data
    • We finally get started with the statistics. Have you ever looked at the methods and results section of any healthcare research publication and noted the variety of statistical tests used? You would have come across terms like t-test, Mann-Whitney-U test, Wilcoxon test, Fisher’s exact test, and the ubiquitous chi-squared test. Why so many tests you might wonder? It’s all about types of data. This week I am going to tackle the differences in data that determine what type of statistical test we can use in making sense of our data.
  • Building an intuitive understanding of statistical analysis
    • There is hardly any healthcare professional who is unfamiliar with the p-value. It is usually understood to have a watershed value of 0.05. If a research question is evaluated through the collection of data points and statistical analysis reveals a value less that 0.05, we accept this a proof that some significant difference was found, at least statistically.In reality things are a bit more complicated than that. The literature is currently full of questions about the ubiquitous p-vale and why it is not the panacea many of us have used it as. During this week you will develop an intuitive understanding of concept of a p-value. From there, I'll move on to the heart of probability theory, the Central Limit Theorem and data distribution.
  • The important first steps: Hypothesis testing and confidence levels
    • In general, a researcher has a question in mind that he or she needs to answer. Everyone might have an opinion on this question (or answer), but a researcher looks for the answer by designing an experiment and investigating the outcome. First, we will look at hypotheses and how they relate to ethical and unbiased research and reporting. We'll also tackle confidence intervals which I believe are one of the least understood and often misrepresented values in healthcare research. The most common tests used in the literature to compare numerical data point values are t-tests, analysis of variance, and linear regression. In the last lesson we take a closer look at these tests, but perhaps more importantly, their strict assumptions.
  • Which test should you use?
    • The most common statistical test that you might come across in the literature is the t-test. There are, in actual fact, a few t-tests, but the one most are familiar with, is of course, Student’s t-test and its ubiquitous p-value. Not everyone, though, knows that the name Student was actually a pseudonym, used by William Gosset (1876 - 1937). Parametric tests have very strict assumptions that must be met before their use is justified. In this lesson we take a closer look at these tests, but perhaps more importantly, their strict assumptions. Once you know these, you will be able to identify when these tests are used inappropriately.
  • Categorical data and analyzing accuracy of results
    • Congratulations! You've reached the final week of the course Understanding Clinical Research. In this lesson we will take a look at how good tests are at picking up the presence or absence of disease, helping us choose appropriate tests, and how to interpret positive and negative results. We’ll decipher sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values. You'll end of this course with a final exam, to test the knowledge and application you've learned in this course. I hope you've enjoyed this course and it helps your understanding of clinical research.

Taught by

Dr Juan H Klopper

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4.8 rating, based on 670 reviews

Start your review of Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    As a surgeon I had some knowledge about statistics before undergoing the course. But really not very much. For a dummy, facing a statistics course might be challenging. But not this particular course. And basically for three important reasons: 1. The...
  • good way to start with clinical statistic life. The course could help your life easier and change your attitude about research.
  • A must-take course for anyone, regardless of background, interested in having a good grasp of the medical literature.
  • Anonymous
    I found this course very interesting for my current role as a Data Manager. I have just taken over as Data Manager of a renowned research institution. I needed to learn real time and make impact on the job and this course is in right direction for me.

    I will recommend this course to my peers and colleagues who are in similar positions which will be a great help to them. Thank for the designed of the problem.

    My only concern was it was more of reading than a little statistical applications. I will recommend that you try to add some statistical practical sections where learners can create a demo for real life situation. It was a wonderful course. Thank a millions

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    After having dealt with evidence-based reading I had hit repeatedly a hard wall when interpreting results from databases I have developed. I had been to one semester of epidemiology in university a few years ago and statistics was part of the curriculum....
  • Bhavna Krishnan completed this course.

    What a great course! I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in clinical research and wants to understand how statistics is used in clinical research. I loved all aspects of the course. The lecture videos were short and crisp. Dr. Klopper is very engaging and explained even the hardest concepts really well. The quizzes let you apply what you learn. The peer review assignments are a great way of soliciting and giving feedback. Learning this course has really enriched my statistics knowledge.
  • Anonymous
    Understanding clinical research behind the statistics is a course that teaches the statistics values that are mainly seen clinical researches, in this course the statistics are well explained with details which really help to understand and interpret the results of clinical studies.

    after this course most of the statistics you see in many paper make sense and you can analyse and see if there errors in the tests used or test that could have been used. The research question, the type of study, the analysis and the results are well understood. you feel comfortable with all the statistics in clinical research. it is worth learning.
  • Jagminder Kaur Bajaj
    The course was truly very interesting and best thing about the course was logical sequential arrangement of content , examples that are easy to understand and practice quiz are very much thought provoking and relevant to the content. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and wish it could provide further application based examples. like providing data and asking to apply appropriate test, as few questions given in last assignment. Kindly suggest further reading to become competent in deciding appropriate test for type of data on hand.


    Dr Jagminder Kaur Bajaj

    Professor and Head

    Department of Pharmacology

    PIMS, Jalandhar
  • Anonymous
    I would like to encourage all those who are interested in research to take up this course.This course immensely helped me to understand the overview of basics of clinical research.The research terminologies which we encounter frequently while reading articles are clearly explained in this course.By the end of the course we will have fair knowledge on how to read and interprete the research articles.The course is divided into different small sections whereby we get enough time to read as well as understand the lectures.I really loved the course..Thanks
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Overall: The material was clear and well presented. It also covered the essentials of clinical statistics. The content seems appropriate for beginners but also those with prior experience who need a refresher or a different perspective on the topic. Altogether, it was a useful course. On a personal note: I would have liked more "exercise" with the assignments and a lengthier focus on the topics covered in the last weeks of the course (where content now accumulates and integrates more knowledge and analysis types). A big challenge remains selecting and interpreting the right analyses for a particular biological question and examples and more exercises for this topic would have been helpful.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This course is one of the most organized and systematic courses on basics of research I have ever attended, as they start from the scratch taking you to great comprehensive understanding of research papers. They start with you from the types of studies and types of data, and going in depth with understanding the P-value, confidence interval, odds ratio, types of statistical tests. etc.
    A good advantage in this course as well that it doesn't take you in the maze of mathematics of calculations that are confusing for most of us because they are focusing that you understand these items and values and not calculating them by yourself.
    I suggest this course for anyone dealing with researches as a start.
  • Anonymous
    A life saver course for me. As a fourth year medical student, I have to conduct a small research and this course absolutely provided the fundamental knowledge about research methodology and basic data analysis for me. Dr Juan explained everything in a simple yet concise manner, which does not require participants to have a lot of prerequisite knowledge. I would definitely recommend this to fellow learners who would like to kickstart a research or those who just simply interested in statistical analysis. Thank you very much Dr Juan and team!
  • Profile image for Arnab Dasgupta
    Arnab Dasgupta

    Arnab Dasgupta completed this course.

    I have attempted taking courses or reading books on medical statistics earlier, and every time, I took a few baby steps and then aborted. I was good at maths in school, but hey, twenty years in the medical profession, and the confidence sags. This time, I got a bird's eye view of the entire subject, with sufficient detail where required. This course is comprehensive, without being intimidating, and focuses on an intuitive grasp of the subject. I can say for sure that I am more motivated now than ever before, in conducting clinical research the right way. The foundation stones have been laid. I can now build on this knowledge, without fear of statistics getting in the way.
  • Anonymous
    This is a wonderful and informative course. It simplified statistics for me and now I can comfortably read and critique research papers including how different statistical tests were used and results analyzed.
  • Anonymous
    This course is very descriptive and crisp in the concepts delivered.

    The difference I found among all the courses I looked up for course details is that this course teaches concepts I have not seen mentioned in their course study materials.

    So it makes this course the best informative course and Juan has explained the concepts graciously well and has made it easy for understanding by any individual even if he/she does not have a research background.

  • Thadikamala Sathish

    Thadikamala Sathish completed this course.

    I strongly Recommend this course. Dr. John Explained very well. I learned many basics by taking this knowledge. I have good knowledge on softwares but dont have basic statistical knowledge. This helped me a lot to gain the knowledge on basics. This course is really fabulous.

    I am happy with course it is our duty to support the coursera, so I am going to buy certificate to promote/support coursera, Dr. John and his team.
  • Anonymous
    Thanks Dr.Juan and team for designing such a wonderful class.

    The biggest plus points of this course is the bite-sized lectures which make it so easy to understand the concepts.

    The assignments were really fun to work out.

    You have made clinical research so much more approachable for me.

    I recommend this course to everyone interested in reading about or actually doing research.

  • Anonymous
    Excellent course! The format of short videos followed by an objective reading of the topic makes it easy to understand and memorize. It also makes the course dynamic and triggers your curiosity for the next subject. Different from other courses wherein the quiz questions are usually obvious, many of them here do require some thinking, which is another positive point. I totally recommend it.
  • Anonymous
    Professor Juan Koppler is an excellent teacher. This course covers all the essentials of statistical analysis for clinical research and provides a clear intuitive understanding for all the test currently used in the literature. Even if you are highly versed in clinical research but want to understand when a Mann-Whitney vs. a Student's t-test should be used, this is a must see course.
  • Anonymous
    Really good course. The course exposes the learner to a plethora of different methods from setting a hypothesis to analyzing data in research papers. It gives a deeper understanding about statistics as not just math but from a clinical research point of view.

    I definitely think it is a course worth taking as it really makes statistics interesting & fun.

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