Education in Surveying: Improving the Geospatial Learning Experience: GeoLearn

GeoLearn is an online education company founded in 2013 and designed to improve the learning experience for busy professionals and technicians in the geospatial professions.  Joe Paiva, PhD, PS, PE, a long-time geospatial industry educator, and Robert Morris are principals of this start-up educational company.  

The company’s initial slate of  professional development courses, announced at launch in mid-February 2014, include unmanned aerial vehicles, ALTA/ACSM Land Title Surveys, and National Flood Plain Insurance.  More are being planned and will be announced in the coming months. 

We posed GeoLearn’s founders with questions about the state of education in the geospatial profession.

PSM: When it comes to advancing their skills, surveyors are faced with a huge number of options as the geospatial world expands into related disciplines. What skill sets would you recommend that a working surveyor develop to advance his or her career?

GeoLearn: I would begin with the basics. Whether a surveyor is young or old, with a college degree in surveying or not, I find from interaction with surveyors that many either lack (or have forgotten or let fall into disuse) skills that are important for today’s environment or the future. 

So they need to start with an analytical and honest evaluation of what skills they have and at what level. Then those skills should be compared, first against the skill set one would expect a new surveyor today to have, because one has to think about what’s needed today and not what was needed years ago when an individual became licensed. Then compare that with what is needed for an individual’s best projection of the future. 

Technology is changing. The environment of rules, regulations, and statutes that affect the way we work is changing, regardless of whether our specialty is boundary surveying or not. The way we need to communicate with our clients demands much more than the old fashioned letter-writing-only approach of days past, both for business purposes as well as for conveying technical content. 

How we conduct our businesses is critical for success.  This includes how we engage our clients on specifications development, how we keep the client notified on status, the different types of products that are conveyed to clients and other stakeholders, as well as activities such as sales and marketing. Even the types of activities that we do to provide clients with useful information have changed and expanded.

Some skills to consider for reinforcement include (though are not limited to): 

  • mathematics, including calculus, statistics, physics,
  • business areas, including finance, sales, marketing,
  • legal studies, especially with respect to real property,
  • errors in surveying measurements of all types and their adjustment,
  • surveying systems, design and use,
  • instrumentation,
  • practical “how-to” and “how does it work” courses on new and developing technologies,
  • boundary surveying legal principles,
  • theory of survey networks and adjustment,
  • legal concepts such as conveyancing, unwritten title transfers, writing legal descriptions, evaluating field evidence,
  • mapping and coordinate systems, and
  • geodesy.

Growing from there are related technology and applications in GIS, mapping, photogrammetry (both conventional and close-range), remote sensing, and cartography. Additional areas include BIM, project management, technology-dependent services such as mobile lidar, mapping and surveying with UAS and satellite image analysis, and the ever-expanding fields that require spatial data to be combined with time-related observations to create temporal datasets and their analysis.

PSM: Clearly, opportunities for surveyors have exploded into such diverse areas as BIM, hydro, asset management, and GIS. Even precision agriculture is being touted as a huge growth field. Which areas do you believe hold the most promise for the profession in the coming years?

GeoLearn: First and foremost, surveyors need to quit stopping at the borders of precision measurement. If they viewed their work as employing their professionally developed skills in the collection, analysis, and dissemination of data, information, and knowledge obtained from geospatial (both static and time-dependent), their horizons would be as wide open as the world itself. Specialties inevitably develop, and sometimes that happens due to a happy accident of preparation, being in the right place, or both. 

If surveyors aren’t constantly probing, investigating, and considering where the opportunities are and limiting themselves to precision measurement or land boundaries, then they are simply being the Maytag repairman. They may or may not get the business. This way of operating means that many who may have chosen surveying as their profession may not be cut out for what the profession will evolve into. The decision may be based on personality, drive, or desire, but in the end the question will be, “Do I paint myself into a corner that causes extinction, or do I change my viewpoint and embrace the new challenges that can become opportunities?”

PSM: You’ve been an educator in our world for many years. What is the most effective way for someone to learn the skills necessary for a productive career?

GeoLearn: I strongly believe that if one wants to have a career in surveying, geomatics, or some other aspect of the geospatial world, a four-year degree from an ABET-accredited school is important. 

Today, many programs offer their degrees with all or substantially all courses available in some distance learning mode, most commonly, web-delivered.  However, in terms of the skills an experienced professional would have, such a degree is only a preparation. It would be fair to state that in practical terms, a four-year-degree graduate really knows very little about geospatial as a career. That’s where working to develop a well-rounded set of skills from a variety of employers becomes important. 

Fortunately, for licensure most authorities require a number of years of experience. The career neophyte would be wise to move around performing various activities within an organization, but also in different organizations. The idea that there is more than one way to do something is a valuable thing to learn early in one’s career. 

PSM: Your e-learn curriculum was just launched a few weeks ago.  Who is your curriculum designed to serve?

GeoLearn: Our introductory curriculum is designed mostly for professional surveyors, particularly those who need credits to establish that they have met continuing education requirements set by licensing boards for the purposes of continuing their licensure. However, as “learn” is in our name, we have the approach that anyone engaged in surveying or other geospatial activities, even if not licensed, or even at the technician level, has a need for this education. 

So, you could say we exist to provide an opportunity to build a higher quality knowledge base in an individual engaged in the geospatial disciplines regardless of whether he or she is licensed or not.
As time goes on, we will expand our professional-level courses in topics beyond surveying, to include GIS, photogrammetry, cartography, remote sensing, image analysis, and business.
Our plan is to also expand our course library by introducing courses specifically designed for technicians. We will attempt to key these courses to the certified survey technician (CST) syllabus and examination process.

Finally, we will introduce a series of courses for those seeking licensure as surveyors. These will be to help them prepare for the licensing examinations. We will also expand this to support study for other certifications in other areas.

PSM: If a young college student who is just demonstrating an interest in entering the geospatial profession asked for guidance on what courses and what skills they should develop, what advice would you give them?

GeoLearn: Strong interest in mathematics and sciences, especially physics and statistics, is an essential background. Finding good courses in the wide spectrum of geospatial science is also important for the future. 

Good four-year curriculums for surveying professionals should have a surveying core, but the related areas, quite similar to GeoLearn’s progression in topics, would be important. A good way to determine quality of a program is to look for ABET-accredited programs.

PSM: For someone midway through their career in the geospatial profession, what advice would you give?

GeoLearn: Go back and look at my answer to the first question here: evaluate how well you fit the expected profile as compared with a profile you may have developed as a consequence of tradition that does not consider constant redevelopment of oneself as a process that continues throughout one’s career.

Then develop a plan to get up to snuff. Depending on what the professional interests are, perhaps also look at opportunities with current or potential employers, then build from a good base.
More information about GeoLearn is at


A Sampling of GeoLearn’s Faculty

David Doyle is a nationally recognized expert in geodesy and the geodesy editor of this magazine. He is the former chief geodetic surveyor for NGS and instrumental in the US National Spatial Reference System and North American Vertical Datum. 

GeoLearn founder Joe Paiva PhD, PS, PE is a nationally recognized expert on unmanned aerial systems (UAS). He also offers a comprehensive study on the State Plane Coordinate System and the fundamentals of surveying.

Bill Henning, PLS has over 45 years of experience in all phases of land surveying and is a nationally known expert in real time GNSS positioning. He has been actively involved with education and outreach. 

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