There are a few online options to learn GIS for free. Take advantage of resources that provide you access to free courses from some of the world’s best universities and institutions. Learn GIS on your own or supplement your existing geospatial education with these free resources.
MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) GIS
A type of distance learning, MOOC offers free education via the Internet to ten of thousands of students simultaneously. Penn State offered the first known GIS related MOOC entitled “Maps and the Geospatial Revolution” in July of 2013 based off a four-part video series by the same name: “Geospatial Revolution“. In the almost five years since that first GIS MOOC, the amount of free GIS courses available has grown. Esri now offers a series of GIS MOOCs each year covering spatial analysis, cartography, imagery analysis, and mapping apps. UC Davis offers a five-series course on GIS that can be audited for free. You can search for other geospatial courses by browsing the listings at MOOC platforms like Coursera and EdX.
There are some options for self-guided GIS learning. Many U.S. public libraries have a subscription to Lynda.com, a subscription-based site that provides online tutorials. Check with your local library to see if they have a subscription, providing you with free access to this site’s GIS tutorials.
The Open Textbook Library provides free access to two online GIS textbooks: Essentials of Geographic Information Systems by Jonathan E. Campbell and Michael Shin, both from UCLA, and Nature of Geographic Information Systems by David DiBiase from Esri.
OpenCourseWare – Free GIS Courses from Universities
OpenCourseWare (OCW) are free courses published by universities and made publicly available on the Internet. Unlike a MOOC where all students are learning the same materials on the same schedule, OpenCourseWare materials are asynchronous and the students navigate through the materials on their own. High ranking universities such as MIT, Yale, UC Berkeley, and the University of Michigan offer OpenCourseWare. The downside is that some of these courses are dated (especially for technical classes) but the underlying principles and concepts are still valuable.
Some examples of OpenCourseWare GIS courses:
- Tufts University – Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for Urban and Environmental Analysis
- MIT – Spatial Database Management and Advanced Geographic Information Systems
- Penn State – Open Courses from the Geography Department with several for GIS
Free GIS Courses from Esri
Esri offers a substantial amount of both free and fee-based courses teaching a range of courses mostly specific to learning Esri’s suite of GIS software. There are currently over 90 free courses available from Esri (click the “free training” box to view. Examples of some of Esri’s free GIS courses are: Getting Started with GIS, Teaching with GIS: Introduction to Using GIS in the Classroom (using ArcGIS.com), and Python for Everyone. Free registration is required with Esri to take any of its courses.
Free QGIS Courses and Tutorials
GeoAcademy offers a five-course series on learning QGIS. The courses cover learning spatial analysis, managing data, cartography, and remote sensing.
The QGIS site offers a training manual for learning QGIS broken down by modules, each with a lesson.
This article was first published on April 25, 2013 and was last updated January 12, 2018