Benefit from GIS E-Learning Opportunities
In recent years there has been a large movement towards e-learning in many industries, and GIS is no exception. Although computers will never completely eliminate the need and desire for human interaction between instructor and student, the many benefits it offers far outweigh the limitations of the medium. In this post we will examine the benefits, drawbacks, availability, and types of e-learning currently available to GIS professionals.
Features Unique to E-Learning
Knowing a little bit about learning styles can help you determine if e-learning is for you. The interaction and delivery methods used in online classes are dramatically different from traditional classes, so understanding how you learn is a good part of the decision-making process. The three predominant learning styles are visual, auditory, and tactile/kinesthetic. Visual and auditory learning styles fall into the category of passive learning modes while the tactile/kinesthetic learning style is an active learning mode. An active learning mode implies that learning is accomplished by doing or practicing a task and/or speaking about what we learn. Most people tend to fall into this category. However, some people learn best through a passive learning mode which is done through seeing and reading.
Like no other training form, e-learning promises to provide a single experience that accommodates the three distinct learning styles of auditory learners, visual learners, and kinesthetic learners. Other advantages created by the advent and development of e-learning are more efficient training of a globally dispersed audience; reduced publishing and distribution costs as Web-based training becomes a standard; and decreased costs of training from a travel and training materials standpoint.
E-learning also offers individualized instruction, which print media cannot provide, and instructor-led courses allow clumsily and at great cost. In conjunction with assessing needs, e-learning can target specific needs. And by using learning style tests, e-learning can locate and target individual learning preferences.
Additionally, synchronous e-learning is self-paced. Advanced learners are allowed to speed through or bypass instruction that is redundant while novices slow their own progress through content, eliminating frustration with themselves, their fellow learners, and the course.
In these ways, e-learning is inclusive of a maximum number of participants with a maximum range of learning styles, preferences, and needs.
Some of the advantages to the learner include:
- Reduced cost
This is the single most influential factor in adopting e-learning. The elimination of costs associated with student travel, lodging, and meals are directly quantifiable. With the cost of gasoline now reaching over $4.00/gallon and airfare costs increasing weekly this adds up to big savings. The reduction of time spent away from the job by employees may be the most positive offshoot.
- Learning times reduced
An average of 40 to 60 percent, as found by Brandon Hall (Web-based Training Cookbook, 1997, p. 108).
- Increased retention
Retention averages an increase of 25 percent over traditional methods, according to an independent study by J.D. Fletcher (Multimedia Review, Spring 1991, pp.33-42).
- On-demand availability
Enables students to complete training conveniently at off-hours or from home.
For slow or quick learners reduces stress and increases satisfaction.
Engages users, pushing them rather than pulling them through training.
Responsibility of mastery is reduced since materials are available as a refresher or quick reference materials.
The ways in which e-learning may not excel over other training include:
- Technology issues
Some learners are fearful or intimidated by technology or the technology is unavailable for use.
E-Learning is not as portable as printed workbooks or reference material, but the limitations of portability have been greatly reduced through wireless connections, network links, notebook computers, PDAs and mobile phones.
- Reduced interaction
Social and cultural interaction can be a drawback. The impersonality, suppression of communication mechanisms such as body language, and elimination of peer-to-peer learning that are part of this potential disadvantage are lessening with advances in communications technologies.
Types of E-Learning and Delivery Methods
E-learning takes many forms including the following:
- Web based (Blackboard, Moodle, WebCT)
- Computer-based (CD-ROM)
- Blended learning – combination of online and face to face
- Blogs, Chat, and Discussion Forums
- Hard-copy Workbooks
- Videoconferencing and/or Teleconferencing
It is not uncommon for more than one of these delivery formats to be used in the same course of study to supplement the learning experience.
Availability of GIS E-Learning Opportunities
A number of GIS e-learning opportunities exist from commercial and academic institutions. We don’t have room in this article to highlight all the available distance learning programs offered by colleges and universities so we have highlighted a few of the better known options.
- GeoSpatial Training Services
Our company, GeoSpatial Training Services, provides both web-based and computer-based e-learning opportunities focusing primarily on Google Earth, Google Maps, and ESRI technologies.
- ESRI Virtual Campus
The ESRI Virtual Campus hosts a number of self study courses through their virtual campus.
- New Urban Research
New Urban Research offers twelve advanced topic ArcGIS Tele-Classes.
University Distance Learning Programs
- UNIGIS International
UNIGIS is a worldwide network of educational institutions which offer distance learning courses in GIS. Institutions within the UNIGIS network offer internationally recognized qualifications for GIS professionals and those seeking to enter the field.
- Penn State University
Penn State offers a Masters Degree in GIS through their World Campus program.
- Institute for Advanced Education in Geospatial Sciences
IAEGS was established as a collaborative course development center, based at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi and hosts a number of courses on topics such as remote sensing, photogrammetry and digital image processing, and other geospatial technology topics.
- University of Southern California
USC offers both a Master of Science + Technology degree along with a GIST certificate program.
- Elmhurst College
- University of Denver
GeoSpatial Training Services: Our Approach to GIS E-Learning
At GeoSpatial Training Services, we focus on the development of Internet based and computer based (CD-ROM) courses for the geospatial industry and we focus heavily on Google Earth, Google Maps, and ESRI technologies. Through our Virtual GIS Classroom we offer Internet based courses such as “GIS Programming 101: Mastering Python for Geoprocessing in ArcGIS” and will soon have additional offerings. In addition, we offer a wide array of computer based GIS training options available by e-delivery (download) or traditional via traditional CD-ROM. Furthermore, we develop custom training solutions for geospatial custom off-the shelf products (COTS) and organizations and conversion of instructor led training materials to various e-learning formats.