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Online GIS classes can be a great way to expand your knowledge of geographic information systems. GIS skills are important for many different types of environmental, mapping, and land-use planning jobs, and many employers in these fields require them of potential employees. If you are going to spend the time and money to take online GIS classes, however, you want to make sure they are useful for you. It is important to consider the source; a college or university, or a large nonprofit organization, is likely the best choice to take an online GIS course. Also, consider the methods of instruction, as GIS is virtually impossible to learn through lectures or notes alone, without any sort of hands-on experience.
There are a number of universities that offer online GIS classes at the undergraduate and even graduate level. These can be quite pricey, but they are often very comprehensive, and may last anywhere from a few weeks to the length of the semester, depending on the course. If the university is properly accredited, these credits may be able to be transferred to a degree program at another university, in a field such as geography, natural resource management or environmental sciences. Be sure to verify this with your college or university in advance, if this is important to you.
Larger, environmental nonprofits will also sometimes offer online GIS courses to members at a free or reduced rate. These may not offer college credit, but some offer a certificate, and potential employers might be satisfied with this type of experience. For personal enrichment, these types of online GIS classes can be very beneficial as well. The next thing to consider when selecting online classes is the type of GIS taught. General GIS skills are important, but it can be most beneficial to learn a particular software program. Certain environmental fields will typically use a certain type of software; finding out what it is, and then taking a class that teaches GIS specific to that software, can be most effective.
In online GIS classes, the method of instruction is important. Lectures and examples, as well as readings, are common in nearly all online classes, but it is important to be able to ask questions of the professor or even the other classmates. In an online GIS class, especially one where a fee is paid, you should absolutely be getting daily, hands-on experience using GIS software. If the course does not offer this type of experience, look elsewhere, because it will be incredibly difficult to learn these skills without it.
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