When teaching database basics to non IT beginners, what is the minimum requirement in theory and technical terms?
So what is absolutely necessary to talk about DBs? What helps students grasp the basic idea of relational databases?

Especially with normal forms. NF1-2-3? Boyce-Codd? Or even NF4-5-6 makes sense?

In my trainings we don't have a lot of time, we focus on the practice, but since this is a new concept to my students, they will need to understand a few fundamental things.


I'm holding company trainings. As tasks get more and more complex at corporations, and the general IT literacy is (somewhat, slowly) raising, more and more people are looking for ways to swap out their huge and cumbersome "Excel can do it all" solutions. This either means they start learning VBA programming or they turn towards databases, namely MS Access. The trainings I do are 2-3 day intensive courses with very strong practical focus.

  • $\begingroup$ Can you share some questions that people might ask? Will be easier to answer them, right? Plus, Excel is a client side spreadsheet software that looks similar to Database tables, but not a Relational Database Management System. $\endgroup$ Commented May 24, 2017 at 11:50
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    $\begingroup$ I have had some experience teaching normalization to undergrad business students. It was a fairly painful process, and I think it would be a lot to ask a non-technical audience to do it correctly in just three days (assuming you are teaching the practical Access skills alongside?) Is the goal to enable them to do all of this entirely on their own? I would think that enabling them to get to a level where they could comprehend and use a solution delivered by someone else might be more achievable, but maybe not deliver business goals. Either way, the exact goal will inform the answer here. $\endgroup$ Commented May 25, 2017 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @DiarmuidÓMuirgheasa Thank you, you are right. My only goal is to help them understand the basic concept of a relational database better. To help them get a feel for it. The way I see it, NF1 through a few examples helps achieve this. I'll update my answer so this is clearer. $\endgroup$
    – vacip
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 10:55
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    $\begingroup$ @vacip I think you can definitely explain why we normalize in a short period of time - demonstrate the various anomalies that result if we don't. That's reasonably intuitive with good examples, I think. You could also have a good discussion of cardinality, and teach them the mechanics of Access as well. I'll have a think about a more complete answer to post below. $\endgroup$ Commented May 26, 2017 at 8:18
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    $\begingroup$ @richard You are right, but my students want to learn MS Access, not relational databases or database management. So these trainings are "MS Access for Beginners". $\endgroup$
    – vacip
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 7:32

1 Answer 1


Based on the comments, the minimum for theory and technical is how the nomenclature of MS Access relates to Excel.

If they've been doing everything in Excel anyway, they've developed habits for, or against, normalization that you're not going to break in a couple days, intensive or not.

If they haven't discovered the pitfalls of redundant data in Excel, they probably won't in MS Access either. If they have, then they've already learned the lesson, and developed their own methods of "normalization."

You can bring it up, and have resources available for them to access, online in their own time, if they develop the interest in "doing it right." Otherwise, concentrate on helping them become fluent in MS Access, an hopefully reduce the calls for help you get when they don't remember how that works in two weeks.

  • $\begingroup$ Agree. After teaching Normalization a few times, I have reduced it to a few concise and easy-to-recall sentences. They can take that as a cheat-sheet. Applying it is the real test, but at least they have it in hand. $\endgroup$
    – user737
    Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 20:48

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