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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


4.8 rating, based on 711 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 2884 ratings

Start your review of Understanding Clinical Research: Behind the Statistics

  • Stefka Behova
    I really enjoyed this course. It is very well organised with clear objectives and a level of simplicity allowing a beginner to understand and acquire a very grasp on the subject. The information is presented in short easy to digest sections with regular...
  • Profile image for Mustapha Mubarak Jolayemi
    Mustapha Mubarak Jolayemi
    It was a great course and a very explanatory one, the tasks given assisted really well in applying what was thought, I also love the structure of the course.
  • 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.
  • 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
    As Statistician by Degree but without much experience in the filed until 3-4 years ago, I wanted to refresh some statistical concepts to better understand clinical research. This course at University of Cape Town was just brilliant. Organized in six weeks,...
  • Anonymous
    The course is designed to be an introduction to statistics that are commonly used in clinical trials. The instructor describes the various types of clinical trials. In addition, he describes the variables, the statistics and interpretations behind the studies. A few of the assignments are geared toward reading trials (of your choice) to emphasize the key points. Don't worry though, the requirements are very well defined and can be accomplished pretty easily. I found the course interesting and thought-provoking especially in considering the nuances of interpretation of the statistics. The assignments support your understanding of the literature while you examine what is being studied and how it is being reported.
  • Anonymous
    It is really an adequate course for beginner in biostatistics. I finally can understable what "Method" section is about in clinical research after this course and made me start to be interested in the statistics behind every research paper. As a medical doctor in the near future, it is really important to interpret the research article correctly, especially in the era of evidence based medicine. I sincerely recommend to participant in this course for people who are the beginner in research field or just want to understand the clinical study .
  • 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
    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....
  • Anonymous
    I really enjoyed the course! A very informative introductory course to medical statistics, really helped me understand better what's going on in clinical research. The videos are short and followed by reading sections, which makes it easier to digest the information. I especially liked the assignments, they were really fun to do! and help one implement what was learnt! Thanks for the course! Looking forward to continue learning more about the subject!
  • Anonymous
    A must for anybody who wants to gain an intuitive and in depth understanding of statistics. It was well structured and thoroughly enjoyed doing the assignments! I am so glad my friends and I found this course. I only wish I had learnt this when I was in school doing my masters. If you are currently a graduate student who is taking this course your timing could not have been more perfect !!
  • Anonymous
    I completed this course just few minutes ago (March 21, 2022). Dr. Juan Klopper is a phenomenal teacher who presents topics that are otherwise complex, in a step-by-step simple manner. I think every medicine student, health care personnels and just anyone with some interest in Research should go for this course. It's a journey of acquisition that is absolutely worthwhile!
  • Anonymous
    The course is quite interesting, i want to believe i have learnt and acquired so much knowledge and skill. A better and clear understanding of different tests and their interpretations. Further interest in statistics as a whole, and would probably become a clinical statistician one of the good days. A big thank you to UCT and Coursera for such an opportunity
  • Anonymous
    I found the course both challenging and rewarding. I looked forward to my classes each week, and have a much better understanding of biostatistics that I can definitely carry forward into my career. The professor presented the material in a clear manner, but I can tell that this is a high-level overview, and there still much more to learn.
    Thanks so much!
    It's a wonderful and learning course for those who wants to learn more about clinical research with statistics involved in it .You can learn and grasp a knowledge and other clinical aspects related to clinical research so that you can do wonders in the field of clinical research for the betterment of society and health integrity.

  • 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
    I graduated from University of California at Berkeley with famous lecture halls and professors. YET, this course has been the most clear and straight forward biostatistics course I have ever had. Dr. Klopper is a great lecturer with the art of simplifying hard-to-understand statistical concepts.

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