is gis hard to learn

Is GIS Hard to Learn? Demystifying the Learning Curve

If you are considering learning GIS, you might be wondering whether it’s a difficult skill to acquire. While GIS involves technical expertise and knowledge, it is a learnable skill for anyone with the right mindset and approach.

GIS, or Geographic Information System, is a technology that captures, stores, analyzes, and displays geographical data. It has numerous applications in various fields, such as urban planning, forestry, epidemiology, and more.

Don’t let the technical nature of GIS discourage you from pursuing this skill. In this article, we will demystify the learning curve associated with GIS and provide you with the resources and knowledge you need to get started.

Quick Answers

  • GIS is an acronym for Geographic Information System.
  • GIS involves capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographical data.
  • The technical nature of GIS does not make it an impossible skill to learn.
  • In this article, we will demystify the learning curve associated with GIS.
  • Stay tuned for tips on how to get started with GIS and what essential skills are needed to excel in this field.

Understanding GIS

If you’re new to GIS (Geographic Information System), you may wonder what it entails and how it works. Essentially, GIS is a system that allows you to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, and present geographic data. It combines maps and data to help you identify patterns, relationships, and trends, enabling you to make informed decisions.

GIS can be used in many fields, including urban planning, emergency management, environmental science, public health, transportation, and business. It can help policymakers, researchers, and analysts gain insights into complex issues and develop effective solutions.

What is GIS?

GIS is a collection of software, hardware, data, and people that work together to create a geographic information system. Data is collected from a variety of sources, including aerial surveys, satellite imagery, and field surveys. The data is then processed and organized into layers, each of which represents a different aspect of the geographic information.

GIS software allows you to manipulate these layers, overlay them, and perform spatial analysis to extract valuable insights. With GIS, you can create maps, visualize data, and communicate your findings in a compelling way.

Introduction to GIS

If you’re new to GIS, it can seem overwhelming at first. However, with a little patience and effort, you can learn the basics and gradually build your skills. A good way to start is by exploring GIS software and familiarizing yourself with its interface and tools.

You can also find online tutorials, courses, and communities that can help you learn GIS step by step. Many GIS software providers offer free, interactive tutorials and videos that can guide you through the learning process.

In addition, there are many online GIS courses that cater to different levels of expertise, from beginner to advanced. These courses cover various topics, such as GIS fundamentals, spatial data management, geospatial analysis, and web mapping. Some popular GIS learning platforms include Udemy, Coursera, and Esri Academy.

By delving into the world of GIS, you can unlock the power of location intelligence and make a meaningful impact in your field of interest.

Breaking Down the Learning Curve

GIS is a complex technology with a steep learning curve. If you’re just starting, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of software, tools, and techniques involved. However, it’s essential to remember that GIS is like any other skill – it takes time and effort to develop your proficiency.

The learning curve of GIS can be divided into three stages:

Stage 1: Getting Started with GIS

The first stage involves familiarizing yourself with the fundamental concepts and basic functionalities of GIS. This includes learning about map projections, data types, and spatial analysis techniques. You will also need to learn how to use GIS software like ArcGIS or QGIS. During this stage, it’s essential to focus on building a strong foundation for your future GIS endeavors.

Stage 2: Learning GIS Techniques

Once you have a foundation, the next stage involves learning more advanced techniques and functionalities of GIS. This includes developing skills in data acquisition, management, and analysis. You will also need to learn how to use scripting languages like Python to automate tasks and customize your GIS workflows.

Stage 3: Mastering GIS

The final stage involves mastering GIS by applying your knowledge to real-world problems. This requires you to develop a deep understanding of the data, software, and techniques involved in GIS. You will also need to hone your critical thinking and problem-solving skills to effectively address complex spatial problems.

Overcoming the learning curve of GIS requires dedication, patience, and a willingness to learn. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Start with the basics and build a strong foundation.
  • Focus on hands-on practice to reinforce concepts and skills.
  • Join GIS communities, forums, and meetups to connect with other GIS learners and professionals.
  • Take advantage of online courses and tutorials to supplement your learning.
  • Stay motivated by setting learning goals and tracking your progress.

Getting started with GIS

By following these tips and breaking down the GIS learning curve into manageable stages, you can develop the skills needed to effectively use GIS in your personal and professional pursuits.

Essential Skills for GIS

GIS requires a blend of technical and soft skills to excel in the field. The technical skills involve working with GIS software applications, data analysis, and visualization. Additionally, soft skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills are essential for success in GIS. To help you succeed in GIS, below are some of the key competencies required for GIS:

Technical Skills

Data Analysis: GIS involves dealing with large amounts of data, and the ability to analyze and interpret this data is essential. You need to be proficient in data manipulation and analysis to identify patterns, trends and gain insights.

Data Visualization: Visualizing data is vital in GIS to create maps, graphs, and other forms of data representation. Being able to use various types of software to create attractive, accurate, and informative visualizations is an essential skill.

Programming: Knowing how to program using languages such as Python, R, or SQL is also valuable in GIS as it helps automate tasks, work with large datasets, and develop customized workflows.

Soft Skills

Critical Thinking: GIS often involves analyzing complex data sets and identifying patterns or trends. It requires you to think logically, constructively question your assumptions, and extract insights from data.

Problem-Solving: GIS requires the ability to solve complex problems and develop solutions to challenges. You should be able to identify issues and devise strategies to overcome them.

Communication: The ability to communicate effectively with stakeholders, clients, and team members is essential in GIS. You need to convey complex information in simple terms, facilitate discussions and collaborations, and persuade stakeholders to take action based on your findings.

By mastering these essential skills, you will be better equipped to handle GIS projects with confidence and deliver results that will make a difference.

Learning Resources for GIS

If you are just starting with GIS, there are many resources available to support your learning journey. Some of the most useful ones include:

  • ESRI Training: ESRI is the leading GIS software provider and offers a variety of online courses for beginners, intermediate users, and experts. Their courses cover everything from the basics of GIS to advanced topics like spatial analysis and programming. Check out their training website for more information.
  • Coursera: Coursera is a popular online learning platform that offers several GIS courses, including Getting Started with GIS and Fundamentals of GIS. These courses are taught by experts in the field and cover a range of topics. Check out their GIS course catalog for more information.
  • Udemy: Udemy is another online learning platform that offers several introductory and advanced GIS courses. Some popular courses include GIS for Beginners and GIS Programming with Python. Check out their GIS course catalog for more information.
  • QGIS Tutorials: QGIS is a free and open-source GIS software that is widely used by beginners and experts alike. The QGIS website offers a variety of tutorials that cover the basics of using QGIS, as well as more advanced topics like geoprocessing and data analysis. Check out their tutorial website for more information.
  • GIS Stack Exchange: GIS Stack Exchange is an online forum where GIS professionals and enthusiasts can ask and answer questions related to GIS. It’s a great resource for getting help with specific problems or learning more about GIS best practices. Check out their website for more information.

These resources are just a starting point; there are many other online courses, tutorials, and discussion forums available to support your GIS learning journey. Do some research to find the resources that best meet your needs and learning style.

Overcoming Challenges in GIS Learning

Learning GIS can be challenging, but don’t let that discourage you from pursuing your goals. Here are some common challenges that learners face while studying GIS and practical tips to overcome them:

Lack of Prior GIS Knowledge

If you don’t have prior experience with GIS, the initial learning curve might feel steep. One way to overcome this challenge is to take an introductory course or watch online tutorials. This will provide you with foundational knowledge and help you get comfortable with GIS concepts and tools.

Complexity of GIS Software

Most GIS software can be overwhelming to new users. To avoid feeling lost, start with basic functions and settings and gradually move to more advanced features as you gain proficiency. Don’t hesitate to seek help from online forums or the software’s official support channels.

Data Management Issues

Data management is an essential aspect of GIS that requires attention to detail and discipline. Ensure that your data is structured, organized, and well-documented to minimize errors and improve accuracy. Use backup and restoration tools to prevent data loss.

Limited Access to GIS Tools

Access to high-quality software and hardware is essential for GIS learners, but many individuals may not have the resources to purchase them. Fortunately, there is an increasing number of open-source tools, such as QGIS, that provide a viable alternative to expensive proprietary software.

Staying Motivated

Learning GIS can be a time-consuming and challenging process, and it’s easy to feel demotivated. To avoid burnout, set achievable goals, maintain a regular study schedule, and seek inspiration from success stories of other GIS learners. Remember, persistence and focus are critical for success.

Practical Applications of GIS

If you’re curious about how GIS is used in real-life situations, you’ll be fascinated to learn that its applications are diverse and far-reaching. GIS is a powerful tool for analyzing, interpreting, and visualizing geographic information, making it a valuable asset in many fields.

GIS in Environmental Management

GIS is widely used in environmental management to monitor natural resources, track pollution patterns, identify vulnerable areas, and plan conservation efforts.

Application Description
Wildlife Conservation GIS helps to monitor animal populations and habitats, track migration patterns, and identify areas for conservation efforts.
Climate Change Analysis GIS is used to map trends in temperature, precipitation, sea level, and other climate factors to aid in climate change research and decision-making.
Disaster Risk Reduction GIS is used to identify and mitigate potential natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires.

GIS in Business Analysis

In the business world, GIS is used to analyze market trends, demographics, and customer behavior, helping companies make data-driven decisions.

Application Description
Site Selection GIS helps businesses identify the best locations for new stores, factories, and other facilities, based on factors like traffic patterns, accessibility, and the presence of competitors.
Customer Profiling GIS is used to analyze patterns in customer behavior, such as purchasing habits, interests, and demographics, helping businesses tailor their marketing strategies.
Logistics Planning GIS is used to optimize delivery routes, minimize transportation costs, and ensure timely delivery to customers.

GIS in Urban Planning

GIS is used extensively in urban planning to manage land use, transportation, and infrastructure, and to create smart, sustainable cities.

Application Description
Zoning and Land Use GIS helps to manage zoning regulations, assess the value of land parcels, and plan for future development.
Transportation Planning GIS helps to analyze traffic patterns, optimize public transportation routes, and plan for future transportation needs.
Sustainability Planning GIS is used to identify areas of high energy consumption, assess water resources, and plan for sustainable growth.

These are just a few examples of how GIS is used in different industries. As you can see, GIS is a versatile tool that has many useful applications that can make a real difference in the world.

Career Opportunities in GIS

The demand for GIS professionals has increased in recent years, with a promising job market and competitive salaries. As more industries continue to adopt GIS technology, the need for skilled professionals who can manage, analyze, and visualize geospatial data has risen.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for cartographers and photogrammetrists, which includes GIS professionals, was $67,340 in May 2020. The employment of cartographers and photogrammetrists is projected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Some of the top industries that utilize GIS technology include government agencies, environmental organizations, urban planning departments, and private companies in areas such as logistics and transportation.

GIS Job Titles

There are several job titles available in the GIS field, including:

  • GIS Analyst
  • GIS Developer
  • GIS Coordinator
  • GIS Technician
  • Geospatial Analyst
  • Remote Sensing Analyst

As a GIS professional, you could work in a variety of positions with varying levels of responsibility. GIS analysts, for example, are responsible for managing and analyzing geospatial data, while GIS developers are responsible for designing and implementing GIS applications.

GIS Career Paths

There are numerous career paths available to GIS professionals, with many opportunities for advancement and growth. Some examples of career paths in GIS include:

  • GIS Analyst → Senior GIS Analyst → GIS Manager
  • GIS Developer → Senior GIS Developer → GIS Architect
  • Geospatial Analyst → Remote Sensing Analyst → GIS Scientist
  • GIS Technician → GIS Specialist → GIS Coordinator

Depending on your interests and skills, you can pursue a career in GIS that aligns with your strengths and goals. Whether you choose to specialize in a specific industry or focus on technical skills like data analysis and programming, the opportunities for growth and development in GIS are numerous.

Inspiring GIS Learners: Success Stories

Learning GIS can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that it’s achievable with perseverance and dedication. To inspire you on your learning journey, we’ve gathered success stories of individuals who have mastered GIS and achieved their career goals.

John, Environmental Analyst

John had no prior experience in GIS, but he was attracted to the field’s potential to solve complex environmental problems. He took an online GIS course and dedicated his weekends to practice and experimentation. Within a year, John landed an environmental analyst position in a government agency where he used GIS to monitor air and water pollution. John credits his success to his passion for the environment and his willingness to learn.

Kate, Urban Planner

Kate’s love for maps and cities led her to pursue a career in urban planning. She enrolled in a graduate program that included GIS courses, and she quickly discovered how GIS could aid in planning and designing cities. Kate spent countless hours working on GIS projects, and her hard work paid off when she secured a position as a GIS specialist in a major city’s planning department. Today, Kate uses her GIS expertise to create interactive maps and models that inform city planning decisions.

David, Business Analyst

David was working in finance when he realized that his company’s data analysis methods were outdated. He decided to learn GIS to bring his company’s analysis up to date and gain a competitive edge. David took a combination of online courses and tutorials until he felt confident in his GIS skills. With his newfound knowledge, David was able to streamline his company’s data analysis processes and improve decision-making. His successful implementation of GIS earned him a promotion to lead business analyst.

These inspiring success stories show that anyone can learn GIS with the right mindset and approach. So, don’t be afraid to take the first step in your GIS learning journey. Who knows where it may take you?


Congratulations on reaching the end of this article on learning GIS! We hope that you have gained a comprehensive understanding of GIS and how you can approach learning it. Remember, GIS is not easy, but it is also not impossible to learn.

Start by understanding what GIS entails and the basic functionalities of GIS. From there, break down the learning curve into smaller, manageable parts. Identify the essential technical and soft skills needed to excel in GIS and leverage the right learning resources to support your journey.

While learning GIS, it is normal to face challenges. Stay motivated and overcome them by utilizing the tips and strategies we have provided. Remember, there is a wide range of practical applications for GIS across different industries, and promising career opportunities are available for GIS professionals like you.

Your GIS adventure starts now!

Start by setting a clear goal for what you want to achieve and then create a plan to achieve it. Remember to stay disciplined and dedicated to your learning journey. You may encounter hurdles, but with perseverance and the right mindset, you will succeed.

We hope this article has inspired and motivated you to start your GIS adventure. Good luck!

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