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Learn2Map Free GIS Tutorial and Shapefile Atlas

Are you new to GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and mapping? Would you like to learn what it is all about and learn how to create your own maps? Would you like to begin a new professional career? Our online Learn2Map™ Tutorial and Atlas is designed to give you a quick-start introduction to the basics of GIS. For a brief introduction to GIS, what it is, and how it is used, click here and then return to this page to learn more about how you will benefit from using this tutorial.

In just a few minutes you can begin to learn how to create sophisticated maps. The easy-to-follow step-by-step distance learning online tutorial is based on free resources. There is nothing to purchase. All you need to begin mapping today is the Learn2Map™ Tutorial and Atlas.

Learn GIS: Online GIS Degree and Distance Learning Certificate Programs

Skip ahead to begin learning GIS

Why Learn GIS?

Most of us use maps frequently. We usually use them to figure out how to get from here to there. Without simple street maps this relatively easy task would be much more difficult. We would have to read instructions, line-by-line, and sort of imagine the geography described in the instructions and superimpose that with what we see as we progress to our destination. We have probably all done this. Maps make this task so much easier. But maps are more than a navigational aid. They can show us relationships that we could never see by pouring through pages of data. Maps can provide answers to questions not found elsewhere and make you ask questions you never would have thought to ask. Maps bring raw and often boring data to life.

There are applications for maps and a need for mapmakers in nearly all fields. Some common uses for maps and GIS are to target sales and marketing areas; redraw congressional districts; find the best route between point a and point b; determine the race, ethnicity and income of folks living certain distances from a facility that pollutes the air; locate clusters of families with certain diseases. Others include environmental planning, traffic analysis and much more.

In our work we use GIS to map toxic facilities, air pollution and the like. I got my start doing environmental justice research as an undergraduate at UCSC. I "picked up" my GIS and data skills as I went along as I had no professional training in cartography or GIS and it was not supported in my department. Since then I have done more research and more mapping for on- and offline projects. I have provided more background below if you are interested.

I am sure that you will have many more ideas for maps. Maybe some that have never been applied before. It really is a limitless field and there is yet so much to do. Once you get the tutorial and work through it, drop me a line and let me know how you are doing. If you have a specific project in mind, I would love to hear about it. Once it's done you may want to list it on our Global Environmental Risk Atlas website. You are more than welcome to do so. Please read on to find out what the tutorial includes and what you will learn.

Skip ahead to begin learning GIS

What You Will Learn

Our easy-to-follow step-by-step Learn2Map™ Tutorial and Atlas will show you how to:

  • Download free map layers
  • Create a GIS project with ArcExplorer® (free)
  • Open and view the layers of GIS project
  • Navigate and query your maps
  • Change colors and attributes
  • Add additional layers and create a map project (layers include streets, highways, cities, census tracts and data, school districts, rivers and streams and much more)
  • Distribute your maps to others
  • Gain access to free maps and resources.
  • Find free GIS and GPS tutorials.
  • And more

Please note that the Learn2Map™ Tutorial and Atlas is based on free resources. You will not pay anything additional to learn how to use the program or for any maps.

What You Will Get - ESRI ArcExplorer & Shapefiles

Our Learn2Map™ Tutorial and Atlas provides access to a comprehensive library of maps. The library includes an easy-to-use mapping program (ESRI®'s free ArcExplorer®) and a full suite of map layers. No previous GIS or mapping experience is required! Layers for the entire U.S. include:

  • States
  • Counties
  • Highways
  • Railroads
  • Airports
  • And many more

We also include sample layers for an individual county (full instructions are provided that show you how to obtain these layers for any county for free). These include:

  • Census tracts and blocks
  • School districts
  • Congressional districts
  • Streets
  • Streams and rivers
  • Water bodies
  • And more

Skip ahead to begin learning GIS

GIS Skills are in High Demand

GIS and mapping professionals are in high demand and are very well paid. We'll get you started. Learn from our experience now! (Click here to see a few of the projects that we have done with GIS).

Skip ahead to begin learning GIS

GIS Background

Offering this map tutorial may seem like a simple thing, but for me it is very gratifying. It is one of the main reasons I went online with in 1995 (I think I actually got around to registering the domain name in 1996).

MapCruzin began very simply with interactive toxic maps of my county - the Santa Cruz TRI. Folks could zoom in, pan around and click on facilities and get information about current and past Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) releases and transfers. These were the first interactive U.S.- based toxic maps on the net (I was inspired by FOE UK who was the first in the world!).

My need to do this grew out of my frustration as a researcher. I found that very few people had a clue about TRI or what it could tell them about the risks posed by industrial facilities in their communities. Outreach, at the time at least, really "sucked." I hoped that my project would encourage others. It has, but not as much as I had hoped.

One "spin-off" was my being hired by Environmental Defense to do the first 2 years of the mapping interface for their Chemical Scorecard. The scorecard mapping project was based on our Santa Cruz TRI and expanded to cover the entire nation. In fact, the demo used to raise the funding for scorecard was a slightly modified version of our Santa Cruz TRI. This was all great, but it still didn't "get it" for me. Showing folks maps of toxic facilities on the web was one thing, helping them learn how to do it themselves was something else.

I began by offering free map layers. Of course, if someone didn't already have a GIS program and the expertise, the map layers wouldn't do them much good.

A key piece fell into place awhile ago. ESRI® started giving away their free GIS viewer, ArcExplorer®. It is a great tool to use to begin learning GIS and I have based my tutorial and atlas on it.

This does not mean that you then have to get their ArcView® program to do 'real' GIS. In most cases, you'll get quite a ways with ArcExplorer® and if you need to move up, there are alternatives. (In my work, I've always used Maptitude because it's faster, cheaper and has more free data than all the rest). But then again, ArcView®, though expensive is often provided to nonprofits free of charge. You will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages to determine what is best for you.

Free Instant Access

The tutorial is FREE.
Click here for the Learn2Map GIS Tutorial and Atlas.

Accuracy and Suitability

The data, software and other items made available with this tutorial may come from a variety of U.S. government and non-governmental sources. While we try to assure the accuracy of this material, we cannot promise that it is absolutely accurate. We do promise that using this tutorial, associated programs and data may be fun, entertaining, educational and even very frustrating at times. Beyond this, we make no guarantee as to its suitability for any purpose. We assume no liability or responsibility for errors or inaccuracies. Please understand that you use this tutorial, map layers and data at your own risk.

Learn GIS: Online GIS Degree and Distance Learning Certificate Programs


Didn't find what you are looking for? We've been online since 1996 and have created 1000's of pages. Search below and you may find just what you are looking for.

Michael R. Meuser
Data Research & GIS Specialist is an independent firm specializing in GIS project development and data research. We created the first U.S. based interactive toxic chemical facility maps on the internet in 1996 and we have been online ever since. Learn more about us and our services.

Have a project in mind? If you have data, GIS project or custom shapefile needs contact Mike.

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