Learn GIS for Free

Caitlin Dempsey


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“.  

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Laptop with QGIS, a desktop GIS software program

In the ten 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.  

The number of free GIS courses you can take as a MOOC has grown enormously since the first class offered by PSU. You can search for other geospatial courses by browsing the listings at MOOC platforms like Coursera and EdX.

Self-guided GIS

There are some options for self-guided GIS learning.  

Many U.S. public libraries have a subscription to LinkedIn Learning for Libraries, 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 several GIS textbooks. Some of these books like Earth, Space, and Environmental Science Explorations with ArcGIS Pro are self-guide GIS workbooks that users can follow to learn geospatial analysis and tools.

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:

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 330 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, Classifying Objects Using Deep Learning in ArcGIS Pro, and Python for Everyone.  

Free registration is required with Esri to take any of its courses.

Free QGIS Courses and Tutorials

Udemy offers a free “QGIS for beginners” course. 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.

More: Free Ways to Learn QGIS

Other GIS Tools and Software Learning

QGIS and ArcGIS aren’t the only GIS software tools out there.

This highly rated tutorial teaches “Geospatial Analysis With Python” using opens source GeoPandas.

This article was first published on April 25, 2013 and has since been updated


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.