Affordable online GIS classes/certificate programs?
October 24, 2013 3:01 PM   Subscribe

I have a master's degree in urban planning but I've been out of the field for a few years and want to come back with really strong skills. I'm not very good at self-guided learning, since I need the discipline of having assignments and deadlines. I struggle with ADHD, so just staring at an iTunes video will not work. I'm also low on cash right now. Please tell me about the online courses and/or certificate programs out there that are easy on the wallet.

I'm in L.A., and I'm also looking into the classroom-based certificate programs at Cal State L.A. and Pierce College -- anyone know about those? USC's program seems great (I've taken an intro GIS class through their Geography department before) but is way more than I can afford right now.
posted by mirepoix to Education (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I've come to realize that "urban planning" is huge, and has space for people who are up on the cutting edge, and people from the outside who can think critically about planning, or are willing to put in time writing staff reports and reviewing the current regulations. Also, I've seen that GIS is generally left to planners who focus on GIS, unless you want to work for a small agency where everyone does everything.

What did you do while you were out of the field?
posted by filthy light thief at 3:07 PM on October 24, 2013

ESRI offers both classroom and instructor-led online ArcGIS courses.
posted by Snazzy67 at 3:13 PM on October 24, 2013

Response by poster: What did you do while you were out of the field?

I couldn't find a planning job after the economy went downhill, so I tried culinary school and temp gigs for a culinary staffing agency. I don't think I have the right temperament for that kind of career, and the pay's really low for the amount of work it takes.

I would like to focus on developing my technical skills, since it seems easier to get jobs in the planning/geography/urban design fields that way. It's harder to actually be a "planner" in an environment where everyone and his grandma has a planning degree.
posted by mirepoix at 3:14 PM on October 24, 2013

Hey, I'm in the same boat you are. Graduated with a BA in urban planning in 2009, did mostly other work and now I am back to planning, working with ArcGIS in a technical capacity. Can you program? Python is easy to learn, particularly in conjunction with ArcGIS.

Penn State has their material for ArcGIS courses online.

I would also look at and, I am pretty sure questions just like this one have been posted before.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 3:42 PM on October 24, 2013 [5 favorites]

Do you still live near where you went to school, or near a university? My university library holds GIS workshops that are free to students, faculty, and staff. They also offer other programs free of charge to the local community. Check your local resources for workshops!
posted by DoubleLune at 5:01 PM on October 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

ESRI offers both classroom and instructor-led online ArcGIS courses.

And there are a TON of free courses in Esri's online training catalog. (Yes, they changed their name from an acronym of Environmental Systems Research Institute to Esri sometime in the recent past.)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:46 AM on October 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am well late to the party, but since I found your question, I wanted to chime in for the benefit of anyone searching for programs that comes across this thread.

I'm currently taking a one year GIS certification course with the University of West Florida.

Compared to other online courses, it's a lot cheaper, although it's not cheap-cheap. The undergrad certificate course (which I'm taking) is $6000. The graduate course is closer to $9000, but honestly, I could not find any reason to go with the graduate course. It seems like you cover the same ground.

I ultimately went with UWF after casting about for a structured program both online and off. Where I'm Living now (Rhode Island), there doesn't seem to be any GIS offerings at the local unis and colleges and I was not going to go further afield than that. I also did what vetting I could for UWF's course, which did not turn up a lot, but I did find some former students talking about the course who were quite happy with it, so I decided to take the plunge.

I've been extremely pleased with the course so far. I'm in the final third of my first semester and have found the rigor and clarity of the course materials to be right in my sweet spot. I have an archaeology masters and had some exposure to GIS for very specific tasks and what I've learned in the course of 10 weeks has utterly eclipsed the halting and half-assed processes I'd either been 'taught' or clumsily developed myself for specific projects.

I know that online teaching is not for everyone though, so you should be quite sure that you can keep yourself working and motivated, especially since this course does not stop for long. I'll be busy with it for pretty much the entire year. My experience is that I can understand everything as its taught and do the labs without any trouble with my skills or understanding, but doing so is time consuming. I'm busy at least three nights of the week, and it's more like four plus a good chunk of my weekends.

The instructors are responsive and supportive, and make the best of a crazy ass online teaching environment. Also, the IT folks at UWF really seem to be ON it, because there are wheels within wheels they have to keep turning, but they do. I don't really like the UI at all, but I've gotten used to it.

All in all, they're providing a really good course at a really good price.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:38 AM on March 18, 2014

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