Learning to work with relational databases

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Access is a relational database management system, and there is a wide range of learning material available to help you learn to use it. Our databases teacher suggests pathways to lead you through the resources you need.

If you are embarking on database work, there are a few concepts you really need to get clear about, before you start. Save yourself time and frustration by careful design, rather than throwing something together by trial & error.

Databases in the IT Learning Centre

For many of these titles, you can attend a taught course at the IT Learning Centre, or download the course pack (workbook + exercise files) and work at your own pace. Courses are currently taught using Access, and the materials for earlier versions are available for download.

Access is the database software that often comes with Microsoft Office (for Windows). It is easy to learn and widely used for modestly-sized projects. Even if you are likely to use other software for your project, Access is a good environment for learning about how databases work.

Getting Started

If you need to build basic skills to work on a database that has already been built, using forms and queries and adding data to tables that are in place, then the online course Access 2016: Essential Training is for you.

Essential Design Concepts

If you are building a new database from scratch, then the course for you is “Databases: Concepts of database design”, which discusses the concepts of good database design, without reference to any particular software. Here you learn to analyse your project and design the tables, fields, properties and relationships that will make up your database structure. If the structure is not properly thought-through, you are likely to have problems later with analysing your data and querying your results.

This database design course is essential if your database is to be well-behaved and usable – we cover key concepts that will be built on later.

Databases: Building a database” takes you through the steps of building the database that you have designed, using the easy tools provided in Access.

Making the Database Usable and Efficient

When you have settled your database design, you must create a user interface, where people can work safely on the data: entering and editing the facts & figures that make up your data collection.

Forms will enable you and colleagues to enter and examine the data accurately and conveniently. Reports are used to present results from your database.

In “Databases: User-friendly database design”, you learn to create these effectively using wizards. Once you have your basic database in working order, you may want to take some time to populate it with a reasonable quantity of real (or plausible invented) data. After that, choose between the two remaining courses, depending on your priorities.

Further Design and Analysis

The videos in “Databases: Reports for databases” take your design further, so you can learn to select and arrange data from your database, and present it using reports. Manage and format the detailed elements as well as the overall layout of your reports, to create reports that are clearly laid out and useful for interpreting your results.

You will soon want to create your own queries, to interrogate the collected information and begin to draw conclusions. “Databases: Queries and data analysis” looks at this, and shows how to build calculations into your database, and how action queries can automate the flow of data for your project.

Extra Practice With Building Databases

You may want to try some additional activities, as a practice exercise. These are scenarios where you can practice designing a database, importing and re-organising data and making queries forms and reports. Each downloadable course pack includes an instruction booklet and the sample files you will need to try the activities.

More Help

People often contact the IT Learning Centre teachers with enquiries about specific aspects of building and using a database. Some of these questions, with suggested answers, are given in the IT Learning Portfolio.