Informatics and GIS Program
University of California
Informatics and GIS Program

Putting Winter Break to Good Use with Online GIS Training

For many people, the winter holidays are a good time to catch up on things that you've put off the entire year - that article you've been working on since last summer, your merit and promotion package, and taking your GIS skills to the next level! Fortunately, no matter what you want to learn, there are a number of great online resources you can turn to.

Knowing what you want to learn is often half the battle. If you're just starting out, perhaps exploring some of the basic concepts and learning how they apply in your field would be a good place to start before jumping into software tutorials. Or maybe you've been stuck for a while on a specific task, like importing data, fixing the labels on your map, or turning your paper map into an interactive web map. If you'd like to chat with a GIS consultant to clarify your goals, feel free to sign-up for the IGIS online office hours, and we'll get you pointed in the right direction.

The IGIS team put together some of our favorite "go to" online GIS training resources that we use ourselves all the time. If you don't see what you're looking for below, or have another other site you'd recommend, please leave a comment or drop us an email and we'll add it to the list.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Mapping!

Andy, Shane, Sean, Robert, and Maggi


ESRI Web Courses, Training Seminars, and Tutorials

A little known fact about the University of California's site license with ESRI (including ANR) is that it includes virtually unlimited access to their entire catalog of web courses and online training seminars. Instructor led classes still require a fee, but there are literally hundreds of high-quality recorded e-courses you can take, ranging from introductory to advanced topics, from basic concepts to specific software steps. ESRI web courses are typically 3 hours long, while training seminars are 1 hour, so you can fit them in on a slow day. Check out the course catalog, and remember to filter by "E-Learning" as the format and what you would like to learn in the "GIS Capabilities" box.

To take most of ESRI's online training, you need a UC sponsored account (note that accounts are different and won't do you any good here). If you don't already have an enterprise account and you work for ANR, IGIS can hook you up with one. Just fill in the software request form and check the box for an account. You'll also have the option to download the latest desktop GIS software, which might be a good idea if you're still using an older version of ArcGIS Desktop.

TIP: If you're brand new to GIS, consider starting with the 3-hour web course called Getting Started with ArcGIS Pro. ArcGIS Pro is relatively new, has a much more intuitive interface, and will eventually replace the venerable ArcGIS Desktop.

For additional hands-on experience, ESRI also has a number of self-paced guided exercises you can work through for most of its products.

Recorded GIS Webinars from

Connected to, a national resource network for US Cooperative Extension professionals, is a GIS training and support group called Map@Syst. They have published a number of recorded webinars on applications of GIS for cooperative extension work, including using maps to engage your audience, story maps, working with Lidar data, Landsat imagery, etc. A great resource definitely worth checking out.

ESRI Hacker Labs

If you've got a little experience with web mapping (perhaps from taking an IGIS workshop?), the exercises in the ESRI Geodev Hacker Labs library are a great way to learn / remember the basic steps. Lots of code examples and explanations take you from A to Z, and everything is on GitHub so they're completely free!
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Technical Workshops from the 2016 ESRI User Conference

ESRI holds a ginormous user conference every July, which is a great place to move your GIS skills to the next level. If you can't wait until next summer, there are recordings of over 50 technical workshops from the 2016 User Conference available on YouTube.

QGIS and ESRI Courses on

Another under-utilized resource available to all ANR staff is the virtually unlimited access to the thousands of online courses at These professionally made courses include a number of GIS subjects, including Up and Running with QGIS, ArcGIS Pro Essential Training, and GIS on the Web. Courses are generally 2-3 hours long.


If you have a little more time and would like a little stronger foundation, consider taking a MOOC (Massive Online Open Course). UC Davis sponsors a series of five GIS courses on the e-learning platform These are four-week courses requiring about 5 hours per week, so they cover a lot of territory and are generally very good. For a fee you can complete all five courses and earn a certificate, or you can audit them for free. Check out the syllabus and reviews if you're not sure.

ESRI also has a handful of MOOCs, including "Going Places with Spatial Analysis", "Do-It-Yourself Geo Apps", and "Earth Imagery at Work". They also keep a list of links to other GIS MOOCs offered by Universities. See for details.

Modeling Ecosystem Services with InVEST

While not GIS software per se, InVEST is probably the most developed multi-purpose ecosystem modeling software out there. Our friends at the Natural Capital Project have developed a 4-hour online course that introduces the main ideas behind ecosystem services and gets you started with InVEST. Both the course and the software are free. See An Introduction to the Natural Capital Approach.

Related: For a great intro on approaches to economic valuation of ecosystem services, check out the video lessons from the Conservation Strategy Fund.

There are many other great learning resources out there including a lot of tutorials on YouTube, but these are a few that we know from organizations who have put some real time and thought into it.

So there you have it - no more excuses for not knowing enough GIS to do what you want! If you don't like online training, then we'd love to see you at an IGIS workshop in 2017, or stop by our online office hours for some free tips.


Posted on Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 2:11 PM
Tags: ESRI (9), ESRI (9), GIS (6), GIS (6), IGIS (35), IGIS (35), training (6), training (6), webinars (2), webinars (2)

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