Geography Tools: Maps, GPS & GIS

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: The World Map: Overview & Major Geographical Regions

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Geography
  • 0:54 Maps
  • 2:04 GPS & GIS
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How can we study the earth and the features in it? Watch this lesson to find out more about common tools used in geography, including maps, global positioning systems, and geographic information systems, and their differences.


Melissa is very excited. She's studying geography in college, and she has a special summer project planned. She's going to hike through the mountains near her hometown and record the environment. She can't wait to get started!

Geography is the study of the physical features of the earth and of how human activity affects and is affected by the environment. For example, in her geography classes, Melissa has studied things like mountain ranges and state and national boundary lines, and she's also studied why certain cultures developed the way they did in response to their environment.

Now that Melissa's setting out on her summer project, she wonders what types of tools she should use to help her. Let's examine some of the common tools in geography, including maps, GPS, and GIS.


Melissa decides that she needs to know where she's going when she sets out on her hike. After all, the mountains have a lot of trails, and she doesn't want to get lost!

A map is a two-dimensional drawing of the earth's surface. It can be very simple or very detailed, and it can show natural landmarks, like mountains and lakes, and also show man-made boundaries, like state lines or roads and trails.

For centuries, maps have been the primary way to record geographic information and the primary way to get around. If you want to go from point A to point B and you've never been to point B before, you get a map and follow it.

Maps are a good place for Melissa to start out. She can plan her hike by looking at maps and take one with her to help keep her from getting lost.

Melissa also might want to draw her own map as she explores, marking the individual landmarks she thinks are important. A cartographer is a person who draws maps, so if Melissa makes her own map for her project, she will be a cartographer.


For most of history, maps were drawn on paper and there are still many maps that are available on paper. But lately, maps can be found electronically, too, via computer, phone, or other technological device.

Melissa wants to access maps electronically and also to keep track of where she is by using GPS, or global positioning system, which involves satellites projecting information to receivers on the earth's surface, calculating latitude and longitude positioning and offering directions.

Most people, like Melissa, have used GPS before, either in their car or on their phone. Like maps, GPS systems are used both by geographers and by everyday people who want to get to a new location.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account