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MasterClass is an online learning platform where you can learn from the best and brightest in their respective fields. Whether it’s taking chess lessons from Gary Kasparov or skateboarding with Tony Hawk, MasterClass offers an astounding breadth of courses. In this review, we’ll go into how MasterClass works, its limitations and whether you should spend your hard-earned money on it.
The affiliate disclaimer is of course the big elephant in the room. And while I do earn a commission if you choose to sign up through one of my partner links, I’m also a teacher by training prone to contrarianism. I’ll give you an honest review of my learning experience with MasterClass and tell you what I love and hate about the online learning platform.
What Is MasterClass?
MasterClass offers online learning classes, tutorials and lectures from some of the best and most successful in their field. From thinkers to sports personalities. From chefs to politicians. It all comes in the form of a subscription-based streaming service.
It’s a surprisingly innovative concept. MasterClass took something we all know (online learning, video streaming and…experts…I guess). And they merged it into the novel idea of making the knowledge and skills of celebrities accessible to anyone.
Carefully curated and structured in bite-sized video lessons, these are not your typical dry classroom tutorials or long-winding interviews either. It’s high production value, each with its unique style and atmosphere that reflect the skills you’re about to learn.
For its service, MasterClass has now reduced its price to $10 per month billed annually, which comes down to $120 per year. That gives you unlimited access to over 180 classes which you can stream anytime anywhere on your preferred device. So what classes are included?
What Does MasterClass Offer?
- scientific thinking from astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson
- acting from Jodie Foster or Samuel L. Jackson
- how to write and tell a story from Salman Rushdie
- dog training from Brandon McMillan
- diplomacy from Madeleine Albright and Condoleeza Rice?
There’s much more than a single MasterClass review can cover. But one thing I love about the selection is that there are plenty of instructors with whom you’re going to disagree. Some you might even despise. Take your pick if you don’t want to learn about leadership from George W. Bush or Bill Clinton, or both. The Do I really want to learn this from that person? reflex is understandable. I had it, too.
Though it’s worth noting that these are lecturers who teach from their own experiences and perspectives. They’re not the arbiters of truth. Instead, you will gain valuable insights into how the people who have shaped their field see the world. What makes us think there isn’t anything we can learn from them?
How Does MasterClass Work?
Signing up is very simple and can be done through their highly-rated app. Select your membership type and leave your payment information. If you’re not happy you can request a refund within 30 days. Once you’re in you can get started right away.
The bread and butter of MasterClass are its classes. Each class offers about 20 video lessons at an average of 10 minutes per lesson. Go through them at your own pace. Learn over the course of a few weeks or soak it all up within a day. All up to you.
Classes also come with a workbook. These pdf booklets are the classes in a nutshell. They’re tailored to your course and contain additional material such as explanations, practices and assignments. In terms of quality, they’re equally well-curated and edited. I’d almost say each is its own little piece of art.
Then there’s Sessions by MasterClass, more practical 30-day courses that teach you a skill step by step. Tech YouTuber Marques Brownlee, for example, shows you how to create compelling videos. Chris Voss has a 30-day session on how to win workplace negotiations. This format is closer to an in-person class as it includes project assignments and feedback from the community.
The former FBI negotiator’s instruction felt a lot like a classified briefing, complete with case studies and mock negotiations to study his methods in action. Each lesson is dedicated to a negotiation skill such as the power of your voice. If you’ve enjoyed his book Never Split The Difference, you’ll find lots of additional value in seeing and hearing the master negotiator in action.
David Sedaris, on the other hand, delivers something akin to an anecdotal fireplace chat. In his MasterClass, he talks about his journey of becoming a writer, how to establish a daily writing routine, and how you can better connect with your audience. The more laid-back character matches his dry humour and stoic attitude of writing for as a life’s mission while not-forcing your success.
As pleasant as the learning experiences are, there are limitations to MasterClass you should be aware of.
The Limitations of MasterClass
It goes without saying that there are limitations and tradeoffs to the highly accessible online learning concept of MasterClass. Especially when compared to traditional teaching methods.
One of the limitations is the lack of interaction. Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson won’t answer your science questions and your climbing instructor Alex Honnold won’t warn you if you’ve put your harness on backwards. This gravely reduces the risk of being called a $@&#% for burning the carrots by Gordon Ramsay. But it’s ultimately the biggest downside of online learning.
This extends to assessments, a cornerstone of teaching and learning. The lack of assessments is especially tricky when it comes to highly practical skills such as skateboarding or even playing chess. With MasterClass, there is no way to know whether you’ve understood the content or are proficient at a skill. In other words, if you’ve achieved the learning goals. Without assessments, there’s also no certificate in the end. At least none that I’d put on my CV.
As I pointed out in my essay about the Feynman Technique, teaching is more than just reading a PowerPoint aloud. Learning is more than memorising facts. While the MasterClass content is well-structured and delivered, much of a teacher’s job happens via negativa; spotting errors in a student’s thinking or doing. Good teachers know when to break a concept down into smaller aspects or make an exercise more challenging if needed. They guide students to be able to self-correct.
Finally, we should note that the Master in MasterClass refers to your instructor, not to the student upon completion of the course. Let’s be realistic about what a single class can accomplish. In the worst-case scenario, students might end up worshipping a cargo cult. Meaning they imitate the instructor without a deeper understanding of what they’re doing in the false hopes of the same results. Practice is key. And in the absence of a living and breathing tutor, it’s up to us to take in real-world feedback and ask ourselves: Are our new skills getting the desired results?
What I Like and Dislike About MasterClass
Let’s finish this MasterClass review with a quick list of my likes and dislikes about the online learning platform:
- Huge variety of classes and sessions from writing to climbing, from diplomacy to cooking.
- Learn at your own pace from the best in their field.
- High-quality resources including videos and workbooks.
- Made to be pleasant and memorable learning experiences unique to the subject matter.
- No option to buy single classes. (Use membership sharing offers when available)
- One size fits all classes, not tailored to individual needs or progressions.
- Once your subscription expires you’ll lose access to the classes. (Make sure to save your workbooks on your hard drive in time.)
- Being a U.S. company, content is centred around content for the American market.
Is MasterClass Worth Your Money?
That’s my review of the MasterClass online learning platform. As far as I’m aware, no other online learning platform offers so many high-profile tutors from that many different fields in one place. But is it worth spending your hard-earned money on?
It depends on how you look at it. Consider the anchoring effect I learned from Chris Voss’ MasterClass. If your first point of reference is the price of your instructor’s book ($15), the platform will seem expensive in comparison. However, if you consider how much online courses at full-fledged universities cost ($2,000 and up), $120 dollars for thousands of lessons is a bargain.
So if you’re a dedicated lifelong learner who takes a keen interest in a wide variety of skills, MasterClass is an excellent investment and money well spent. And if you found my MasterClass review useful and want to support my work, please check it out through my MasterClass partner link.