Free Is Sweet ! Free Learning Sources for GIS and Geospatial Analysis


FREE“–How intriguing the word can be. Last time, we have learned FREE data sources for Geospatial/GIS data in US areas (See “8 Free Geospatial/GIS Data Sources for U.S. Areas“).  Of course, in order to process those data properly, it is definitely essential to understand basic concepts of GIS & Geospatial analysis , as well as to learn how to process and analyze particular datasets properly.

Hence, here comes a list of FREE learning sources, including GIS software training courses and tutorials, applied learning materials, workshops and webinars related to GIS and/or Geospatial analysis, etc. All of them are Free of Cost . Take advantage of these resources and learn on your own with a bonus benefit–“making your resume more colorful!

1. Free GIS Software Training Courses & Tutorials


Is it great to learn GIS software without costs? Here are sources for online training courses and/or tutorials for ArcGIS, Q-GIS, and GRASS GISPlease see the table below for more detail:

Esri Training Catalog for Free Training Quantum GIS for Newbies eCourse GRASS GIS Tutorials
Offered by Esri Learning Practical GRASS Development Team
Software Download ArcGIS for Desktop 60-Day Free Trial Free Free
Type of Learning Materials Offer more than 100 online training courses An online course video and downloadable tutorials Online tutorials available for different languages
Registration Required Yes Yes No


2. GIS / Geospatial Podcasts

When mentioning Geo- or GIS-related podcasts, many people may think about ESRI Speaker Series Podcasts. Here I will introduce two more useful sources: A Very Spatial and GIS and Location Technology on iTunes. See the table below for detail:

Name A Very Spatial Podcast GIS and Location Technology Podcast


Farallon Geographics INC.Farallon Inc
How to Subscribe Subscribe through iTunes & RSS Feed Subscribe through iTunes
  • Weekly source for information on Geography and geospatial technologies.
  • Point out how Geography and geospatial technologies is filtering into our digital lives and daily lives.
  • Explain GIS & location-based technology.
  • Provide presentations , discussions on the latest trends, and interesting applications in the GIS, Location Intelligence, and Spatial Information Management Industry.


3. Online Workshops, Webinars, & Applied Learning Materials


Several online sources offer a wide variety of topics related to GIS and Geospatial analysis via online workshops, webinars, or downloadable learning materials.   Although comprehensiveness, depth, and types of contents may vary a lot, each of them brings  more or less insights, dependent on what you are looking for.  The list below is organized based  on its major concept:

Feature Topic  Name  Offered by Contents 
General GIS  GIS Tutor  GIS Tutor Community
  • Tutorials of GIS or Geospatial Analysis for beginner, intermediate, and advanced GIS users/spatial analysts
General GIS Principles of Geographic Information Systems Texas A&M University, Department of Geography
  • Its contents cover the guiding principles behind the various facets of GIS , including spatial data types, spatial database development and management,  and spatial analysis, etc.
  • The website provide free access to parts of learning materials (e.g., lecture notes, lab exercises, examples,etc.).
Open-source GIS  BostonGIS  Boston GIS Group
  •  Provide Tutorials for GIS and Web Mapping solutions utilizing open source GIS technologies.
  • Also, demonstrate examples of mapping and spatial database , mostly using Boston, Massachusetts data.
Open-source GIS Opensource Workshops
  •  Introductory-level workshops and tutorials for open-source GIS (e..g., PostGIS)/ Geospatial analysis tools.
 Geospatial Analysis Geospatial Data Mining The Institute of Statistics and Information Management, Universidade Nova de Lisboa
  • Applied learning materials that illustrate basic concepts, techniques,  applications of data mining for geospatial databases.
Geospatial Analysis Spatial Database Course Material  Dublin Institute of Technology, School of Computing
  • Applied learning materials (e.g., lecture notes, lab exercises, & examples, etc.), dealing with spatial databases.
Geospatial Analysis A Practical Guide to Geostatistical Mapping Dr. Tomislav Hengl (Author)


4. Free Online GIS/Geospatial Courses from Universities

Name Platform Offered by Contents
 Introduction to GIS from Harvard Map Collection  Harvard Map Collection online workshops  Harvard College Library
  • It consists of a three-part movie accompanied by hands-on exercises using ArcGIS.
Geo-information Technology for Crisis Management OpenCourseWare* (OCW) Delft University of Technology
  • It contains 7 lectures  that deliver knowledge on risk and disaster management , demonstrate implications of geo-information technologies in emergency response, and motivate learners to seek practical solutions for real-life problems.
  • Each lecture contains slides, additional lecture notes and readings.
  Spatial Database Management and Advanced Geographic Information Systems  OCW* MIT – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Offer in-depth materials on spatial database management, including materials on the tools needed to work in spatial database management, &  the applications of that data to real-life problem solving.
  • Also provide exercise examples and tools for working with SQL, as well as sample database sets.
 A Workshop on Geographic Information Systems;  OCW*  MIT
  • Contain lab exercises and a workshop setting learning materials that develop a solid understanding of the planning &  public management uses of GIS.
GIS Courses Offered by Department of Geography  Open Educational Resources Platform Penn State University
  •  A wide variety of courses are provided. Please refer to the link for further detail.
GIS/Maps/Satellite Tools  OCW* Utah State University
  • Provide tutorials, definitions and resources for GIS/Maps/ Satellite tools.

* OpenCourseWare(OCW) is an online learning platform widely used by higher education institutes (e.g., MIT, Penn State University, UC Berkeley,etc.) and often made course materials publicly available via Internet. However, there are catches for learning from them right now– Parts of contents may be dated (especially for advanced technical approaches and practical examples), while the underlying principles and concepts are still valuable.




MOOC (/muːk/), abbreviation of “Massive Open Online Course“, recently is the hottest term for online learning. It represents online course that are made available to a very large number of people via the Internet without charge. In other words,  thousands of users can access courses at the same time freely. You might be surprised that how fast GIS/Geospatial educators catch this trend–Quite a few GIS/Geospatial analysis courses have been (or have planned to) offered periodically through different MOOC platforms. Here comes my pocket list:

Name Platform Offered by Registration Required Contents
Introduction to Geographical Information Systems  Canvas Network   University of West Florida  Yes
  • Introduce students to GIS, principles of spatial data in their personal life & various industrial applications of GIS.
  • Major components include computer representation of geographic information, the basics of GIS databases, spatial analysis , & practical application of GIS.
  • Students are expected to gain understanding of elementary GIS theory and learn examples of GIS-based solutions in the world around them

Introduction to Geospatial Technology Using QGIS

Canvas Network Del Mar College Yes
  • Provide a rich introduction to the booming technology field of GIS.
  • Students will learn the fundamentals of GIS and how to build digital maps using open source software that allows free unlimited use for private or commercial applications.
  • All data and software required is included .

Maps and the Geospatial Revolution

Coursera Penn State University Yes
  • Learn how advances in geospatial technology and analytical methods have changed how we do everything,
  • Discover how to make maps and analyze geographic patterns using the latest tools.

Geospatial Intelligence & the Geospatial Revolution

Coursera Penn State University Yes
  • Learn how the revolution in geospatial technology combined with the trade-craft of Geospatial Intelligence (GEOINT).
  • Also, discover the power of GEOINT (e.g., how we develop insights about how humans use geography).

The free MOOC cycle “gvSIG for Users”



gvSIG Association in Collaboration with GISMAP No
  • Contain 3 modules for gvSIG users, including: (1)Module 1: “Introduction to GIS”; (2) Module 2: Layer Editing;(3) Module 3: Raster Analysis.
 Skills for the Digital Earth: The Use of Location Technologies for All

Desire2Learn (D2L) Open Courses

Elmhurst College,

School of Professional Studies

  • Introduce what location technologies are used for, how the discipline developed and learn by doing via a series of scaffolded practical exercises.
  • Online spatial software will be employed for any device using a browser which takes users through exercises and real world examples.


Bonus–More Gems to Be Collected


Following sources are bonus, which I find them useful regarding my expertise . However, some contents could be quite focus on particular fields. Thus, explore them by yourself and see whether any more “GIS / Geospatial” gem you can collect.

Data Science Specification on Coursera 
  • It is a combined list of 10 courses. You can tell that the curriculum design is for a “data scientist,” not a “GIS or Geospatial” analyst. However, some contents are quite useful if you are interested in collaborative development of GIS databases/projects via Github or perform hard-core spatial statistical analysis using R.
Remote Sensing




8 Free Geospatial/GIS Data Sources for U.S. Areas


What Is Geospatial Data?

  • Definition of “Geospatial” by–“pertaining to the geographic location and characteristics of natural or constructed features and boundaries on, above, or below the earth’s surface; esp. referring to data that is geographic and spatial in nature.” [1] 
  • Definition of “Geospatial data” by US. EPA.–“Data contains information that identifies the geographic location and characteristics of natural or constructed features and boundaries on the earth, typically represented by points, lines, polygons, and/or complex geographic features. This includes original and interpreted geospatial data, such as those derived through remote sensing including, but not limited to, images and raster data sets, aerial photographs, and other forms of geospatial data or data sets in both digitized and non-digitized forms.” [2]

Where to Find/download Free Geospatial/GIS Data for Locations in the United States?

It seems to be a “sweet dream” if all Geospatial/GIS data could be found and downloaded freely in one single website. Unfortunately, life is hard, and sometimes the dream never come true.

Thus, it becomes essential know where to search for the Geospatial data and also understand what data types and information are included. Here is a list of  free, downloadable, highly reputable,  Geospatial/ GIS data sources for U.S. regions:

1. USDA NRCS Gosptateial Data Gateway (GDG)


  • Features: GDG is the One Stop Source for environmental and resources data, which allows users to explore, browse, select data based on customized needs, particularly obtained by states, by counties, by place, by Latitude/ Longitude, and even  by custom Area of Interest (AOI) with the interactive map. Selected data can be downloaded (free) or shipped on CD or DVD (may cost money).
  • Data Contents: Environmental and natural resources data, such as climate PrismRaster, Census block data, elevation, hydro-geographic map,   land cover, land use, soil survey, transportation routes, topographic image, etc.
  • Data Formats: Raster and remote sensing imagery –provided in their native format; vector layers–ESRI Shape or ESRI File GeoDataBase.

2. USGS The National Map: Viewer and Download Platform

The National Map-1

  • Features: The download platform allows to view and download the most current topographic data from the USGS and other federal, state, and local partners freely.The National Map viewer allows visualization and identification queries (but not downloads) of other featured data, such as Ecosystems, Protected Areas, Gap Analysis Program Land Cover, Wetlands,  National Park Service Boundaries, etc.
  • Data Contents: Provide data from 8 primary data themes — Elevation, Orthoimagery, Land cover, Hydrography, Geographic Names, Boundaries, Transportation, Structures, while maps include: US Topo and Historical Topo.
  • Data Types: wide variety of vector and raster data.

3. USGS EarthExplorer

USGS Earth Explorer

  • Features: USGS EarthExplore provide access not only to one of largest databases of satellite and aerial imagery but also to remote sensing data worldwide. Users can query data by enter an address or place name, coordinates or  click the map to define your search area, and/or choose a date range.
  • Data Contents: Provide satellite imagery data, aerial photography, elevation and land cover datasets, digitized maps, and USGS Image Gallery collections.
  • Date Types: Remote sensing data–e.g., DOQ, AVHRR, LiDAR, etc.

4. USGS Remote Sensing Phenology

USGS Remote Sensing Phenology

  • Features: It applies remote sensing technology to track seasonal changes in vegetation on regional, continental, and global scales.
  • Data Contents: Provide historical remote sensing phenology (RSP) image data and graphics across U.S. are made freely available from the USGS/EROS Center through this website.
  • Data Types: CONUS 1-km AVHRR RSP, Eastern CONUS 250-m eMODIS RSP, and Western CONUS 250-m eMODIS RSP.

5. USGS National Gap Analysis Program (GAP)


  • Features: GAP is an element of the U.S. Geological Survey and help implement the Department of Interior’s goals of inventory, monitoring, research, and information transfer. This program provides conservation information to the public, so that informed resource management decisions can be made; also facilitate the application of GAP data and analysis to specific resource management activities.
  • Data Contents : 4 primary data sets: land cover, protected areas, species and aquatic.
  • Data Types: Wide variety of vector and some raster data.

6. Natural Earth

Natural Earth

  • Features: Natural Earth provides a public domain map dataset available at 1:10m, 1:50 m, and 1:110 million scales, featuring tightly integrated vector and raster data. The best part is that the data is in public domain, which means users have the right to disseminate and modify the data in any matter.
  • Data Contents: Cultural vectors  (e.g., counties, states, urban areas, land use, etc.), Physical vectors (e.g., coastline, land, rivers and lake centerlines,etc.), and Raster basemap data.
  • Data Types: Natural Earth Vector comes in ESRI shapefile format. Natural Earth Raster comes in TIFF format with a TFW world file.

7. NSF Open Topography

Open Topography

  • Features:  Open Topography facilitates community access to high-resolution, Earth science-oriented, topography data (LiDAR), and related tools and resources, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).
  • Data Contents and Types: LiDAR point cloud and processing data (90% United States, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and Puerto Rico)

8.  Don’t forget “State-level” or “Local” data sources:

While download platforms above provide geospatial data across U.S., many state or local governments also provide useful data sources in the regional scale.


Summary–Quick Comparison:

Comparison Table


[1]’s 21st Century Lexicon Copyright © 2003-2010, LLC

[2] U.S. EPA’s National Geospatial Data Policy, August 2005