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Monday, April 13, 2015

New Options in Online Geospatial Learning: Discover Spatial

There are far more choices for those who want to learn about geospatial technology than ever before. One of the newer options is Discover Spatial, a brand of Australia’s GIS People. I asked Tom Egan, Co-Founder to explain how the platform works and what makes it different from other options.

Ignite Education (IE): What makes Discover Spatial’s offerings different from other online GIS classes, like those at Lynda.com (just acquired by LinkedIn) or those from vendors like Esri?
Tom Egan (TE): As you may already be aware, the geospatial industry has an estimated US$270 billion value worldwide and has been around for 40+ years. So it should come as no surprise that there is a lot of interest in learning about geospatial science and technology. That’s the good news. The bad news is that geospatial training and education is very fragmented at the moment and can be quite expensive. If students want to learn about GIS for example and keep their skills up to date, they will likely have to learn about Esri ArcGIS, Pitney Bowes MapInfo, Google Maps, Hexagon Geospatial, MS SQL Server, Oracle Spatial, FME, CartoDB, etc… So spare a thought for all these students that up until now have had to enrol into courses across many different vendor and eLearning websites.
Enter discoverspatial.com, the world's first and only geospatial eLearning marketplace where students can learn in-demand geospatial skills with easy to follow courses from a wide variety of trainers across the globe. Discover Spatial is a global platform giving students access to a wider range of expert trainers and courses then what they could ever possibly access through a single vendor site or even a university/college degree. Our site is vendor agnostic and designed to be a hub for all geospatial education, giving students all the geospatial learning options in one single, convenient platform. 
From what we’ve researched, existing eLearning portals such as Lynda or Udemy either have very broad focus or provide very limited offering for geospatial training. As such, they are not well placed to provide the best learning experience or compete with the breadth of training options we will ultimately offer. Discover Spatial on the other hand is purpose built to cater specifically for users interested in teaching or learning spatial. 

IE: I see you have your “own” LMS built on Wordpress used to build customer learning portals for clients. Is this what’s used on Discover Spatial? What features have you added to Wordpress to make it an LMS?
TE: Actually we are presently using a system that is not built on WordPress, however we are in process of upgrading towards custom-coded LMS that is built using combination of WordPress and Bootstrap. That’s as much as we can reveal about our new platform before it goes live!
IE: Prices range from free to $3 to $12 to $49. Do the providers of the courses determine the prices? Do you (GIS People) take a cut?
TE: Yes, the instructors set their own prices for their courses. Discover Spatial operates as a marketplace and employs the App Store 70/30 revenue split model where the trainer receives 70% of all their course revenue while retaining full intellectual property rights (IP) of their courses. Our aim right from the outset has been to focus on affordable, easy to follow, accessible content, hence the majority of courses are either free or are very affordable, making them a more cost-effective option as opposed to instructor-led training.
IE: As I understand it, all the courses on your site are student driven; there is no active instructor. Is that correct?
TE: Discover Spatial primarily focuses on self-paced education, so students can learn what they want, when they want. That’s not to say our courses are completely student-driven however. Discover Spatial also allows students to directly engage with the course trainer through a commenting/forum type system, so students can leave questions with the trainer at any time throughout their learning experience. Much like a forum, these questions and answers can be viewed by all students, benefiting all those who have enrolled in the course and allowing interaction between students and instructor. 
Online instructor-led learning is also on our roadmap and something we are considering rolling out as an addition in future platform versions. Geospatial professionals and most people in general are very busy these days, so our flexible learn what you want, when you want approach is very appealing to the market.
IE: What do you consider to be best practices for moving face to face GIS teaching to an online instructor-less format? Do you offer course providers guidance in porting classes?
TE: I don’t think that the online instructor-less format will entirely replace instructor-led format. Some people prefer to learn through interactive training with instructor in the room and they are prepared to pay higher price for that privilege. We’ve received some very valuable feedback recently from many busy professionals in the geospatial industry and what we’re hearing loud and clear is that people want flexibility and accessibility with their education. Having to strictly follow a MOOC or distance learning calendar or find the time for instructor-led workshops just does not fit in well with many people's busy schedules. So for those students that prefer convenience of self-paced learning, and for those that wish to save, eLearning and Discover Spatial is fantastic news.
IE: Why do vendors like CartoDB (a partner) and GIS Cloud (not listed as a partner) choose to effectively duplicate their free courses on your website? Is it just a marketing exercise? Is that a perk of a partnership?
TE: Discover Spatial is open to both independent trainers as well as organisations and software vendors looking to leverage our platform for additional exposure and sales of their training or courses. CartoDB, GIS Cloud, MangoMap and DigitalGlobe have already realised the potential of our platform and are either delivering or planning to deliver their courses through Discover Spatial.
The real benefit for vendors or organisations in general is that they don’t actually pay anything to have their training promoted to thousands of potential new users across the globe, some of which may already be using a competitor product. Why not offer those students a quick look into what’s possible with their technology? So for the vendors, Discover Spatial is another excellent and completely free to use marketing platform.
Our message to all trainers, vendors and organisations that have existing high quality training content: Get in touch with us (teach@discoverspatial.com) and we will host and promote your content for free! Discover Spatial is completely free to sign up, it is entirely vendor agnostic, and we will accept training in all software and hardware (UAV, GPS, Surveying etc.) products.
IE: What is the most popular course to date? Why do you think so?
TE: QGIS and CartoDB courses have been very popular so far. We believe that secret to their success might lie in the fact that while there is plenty of interest in open source software in general, there is a lack of availability of high quality training content. We hope that Discover Spatial will address that issue. Esri courses have also been very popular.
IE: What courses and/or course providers would you like to add next?
TE: Based on our research we’re experiencing a big demand for courses on web-mapping, remote sensing, ArcGIS, Python and QGIS so we’d welcome trainers experienced in these areas to get in touch with us immediately. We’re already expecting some trainers to be releasing courses in these areas in the coming months. We’re also expecting the release of some UAV and cartography courses in the coming months which we’re also excited about.