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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 639 reviews

Start your review of Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics

  • good way to start with clinical statistic life. The course could help your life easier and change your attitude about research.
  • 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.

    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...
  • A must-take course for anyone, regardless of background, interested in having a good grasp of the medical literature.
  • 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

    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....
  • Anonymous
    I think it is a great introductory course for medical students or professionals alike just getting in touch with clinical research or wanted to critically appraised scientific papers. It is also good as a refresher for people like me who had worked in...
  • There is a lot of work that goes into every study with contributions from people from different walks of life. During my pharmacy student days, whenever I came to the statistical analysis part of the studies, I always skipped and consoled myself that...
  • 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

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This was an exitting experience and even a very busy person and can take it. It useful because it introduces the understanding of a lot words common in articles, what makes a article reading more clear. Also gives bases in how to start a research intrducing...
  • Anonymous
    Understanding clinical research -behind the statistics is a great course for those who want to learn more about analyzing journal articles, those who want to conduct a study and people who are working in the medical and related fields. The lectures are easy to understand, well organized and the step wise practice quiz will help you to stay on track. The keynotes will help you to learn well and can revise the topic again and again. The article reviewing assignments are really good and will help you to excel in this field. Being a beginner level course , its really worth doing it. Those who are more interested in statistics will really enjoy it.
  • Profile image for Darwin H. Firayner
    Darwin H. Firayner

    Darwin H. Firayner is taking this course right now, spending 5 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    This course has been very helpful to me. I was lost trying to conduct a research in order to apply for my title of MD. Dr Koppler and his team have managed to turn a hard topics as are statistics and research into very easy, accessible and even fun subjects. This course has made see clinical research differently. I feel that I've got the basic knowledge to conduct more complex clinical researches with a better quality. Furthermore, English isn't my native language; nonetheless, I've understood almost all the videos and lectures. With nothing more to add, I deeply thank Dr Koppler and his team for this piece of valuable information and I urge people interested in learning about clinical research and statistics to enrol in this course.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Perfect course four clinicians that want better understand the logic under a clinical study and the use of statistic in standard data analysis.
    I will suggest this course to all clinical researcher that need a basic but complete understanding of statistics applied to daily clinical problems.
    It will help you better understand papers (an allow you to read them more critically) and better chose between different approaches, designing a clinical trial or doing statistic for it.

    This course is explained in a simply way and the supports are very well prepared.
  • Anonymous
    This course was very helpful in understanding and interpreting basic biostatistics applied to clinical trial documents or journal articles. The instructor was very generous with allowing time for students to learn each concept in baby steps/minute amounts - I thought that was very strategic so as not to overwhelm especially those who do not have a Statistics background. I truly appreciate Dr. Klopper and his efforts and patience with presenting sample published journal articles to show how biostatistical concepts are applied and interpreted. Thank you!
  • Anonymous
    The course was awesome. being a clinician and a teacher it was very helpful for me in understanding the basic concepts of research and its fundamentals. The statistics have always have been a nightmare for me, this course has broken my phobia and provided insight into the understanding of what goes behind clinical research and its importance.

    It is suggested that certain CME points be provided for completing these courses which are mandatory for a medical practitioner but will also function as a great motivator for one to undertake more such cases.
  • 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

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I really recommend this course. I am a recently graduated medical student with an interest in clinical research, and this helps a lot in understanding published papers, as well as with my own future research. It's a must if you want to better understand the statistics in a very friendly way.

    The quizzes are very helpful to reinforce what was taught throughout the videos and key notes.
    You can decide if you finish each week in one or more days. It has a flexible schedule, which is very helpful when you don't have all the time in the world to sit in a class.

    When I began the course, I wasn't going to pay for the diploma, but I believe it is worth it, definitely including it on my CV.
  • Anonymous
    I have completed this course very recently and I really found it informative, concise, and to the point. If you want to comprehend the research papers and criticize them the first thing to know is statistics, and this course covered all the basics. Also, if you want to start learning statistics for doing research this would be a prologue to better understand further concepts. The instructor dominates the topics, the course did not deeply discuss the concepts though and it could have involved more practical exercises.
  • 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.

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