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MasterClass review (2019): Is it worth paying for?

Quick note: There are referral links below, which means we may make a small commission if you decide to purchase MasterClass. This doesn’t increase the costs to you and helps support our journalism.

If you’re someone interested in online education and learning, the chances are that you’ve come across MasterClass lately.

They’re a new online education start-up based out of San Francisco, founded by entrepreneur Aaron Rasmussen and film editor and director David Ragier in 2015. Since then they’ve grown rapidly, raising over $56 million and delivering online courses to millions of students already.

They’ve recently received a lot of interest. I therefore decided to put together this comprehensive review of MasterClass.

As you’ll see in this review, I’ve identified their core strengths as well as what I believe to be some of their weaknesses.

The key question I want to address in this review of MasterClass:

Is it worth paying for?

What exactly is MasterClass?

By now you’ve no doubt come across numerous online education platforms. You may have even taken your fair share of classes. Or maybe you’re looking at taking some.

Wherever you’re currently at with online education, there’s no denying that it holds revolutionary potential for curious minds.

You can now learn from the world’s most brilliant and accomplished people from the convenience of your laptop or even your mobile phone. You can learn at your own pace.

And in most cases, the cost of online education is decreasing.

MasterClass is one of these online educational platforms. As we’ll explain below, their prices are very competitive.

But what exactly is their selling point?

They offer a major selling point: you can have the privilege to learn from the world’s best and most prominent creators – people you normally would not have any access to.

Let’s find out if that’s true.

Who are the MasterClass instructors?

This is what makes MasterClass incredibly unique.

They bring the world’s greatest practitioners to their student community. When I say “world’s greatest practitioners”, I mean exactly this. For example:

It’s difficult to imagine so much talent being assembled in one place, with their knowledge and experience delivered in the form of online classes.

When you take an online course with MasterClass, you’re being taught by the very best.

Hans Zimmer is one of the MasterClass instructors, teaching a course on film composing. Source: MasterClass

How much is MasterClass?

You know that you’re being taught by true experts. But how much do the MasterClass classes cost?

  • Each “class” costs $90, giving you 20-40 video based lessons (about 3 to 14 minutes each – 2-5 hours in total) with lectures from the particular “master” of the subject you’re learning about.
  • Or you can the All-Access pass, giving you unlimited access to every class for $180 per year.
  • There’s a 30-day refund policy with both options.

You get lifetime access to the classes with both options. This includes all of the video based content and written descriptions of each module.

Some class members are reportedly lucky enough to receive online feedback from the instructor themselves, although it’s difficult to imagine this will always be possible as MasterClass grows.

I’ve been working in the online education space for a number of years now, and can tell you that this is a very competitive price compared to other education providers.

I’ll explain more below.

NOTE: CHOOSING BETWEEN AN INDIVIDUAL CLASS AND THE ALL-ACCESS PASS

A number of people have reached out to me to ask my advice on whether to sign up for an individual pass or go straight for the All-Access Pass.

The best way to decide is look through the instructors teaching at MasterClass, and see if there’s at least 3 you’d like to learn from. If that’s the case, it’s likely worthwhile going straight for the All-Access Pass.

However, if you’re particularly drawn to one particular instructor, then begin with their individual class.

Who is MasterClass for?

MasterClass offers classes for writers, photographs, musicians, journalists, athletes and much more. They cover a wide range of subject areas, and their breadth is growing rapidly.

But who exactly is MasterClass for?

After taking a number of classes, it’s clear to me that MasterClass is best suited for creative people looking for inspiration from the world’s most successful people.

In contrast, many other online education providers focus on providing you with practical skills, such as in the areas of business or digital marketing. Personally, I certainly would benefit from these skills and won’t find them on MasterClass.

What I will find instead is an incredible amount of premium quality video content inspiring me to think differently about the creative arts. I’ll share a practical example below when I share the top 3 MasterClasses I took.

In short, MasterClass is designed for aspiring or established creative professionals:

  • Writers
  • Artists
  • Musicians
  • Photographers
  • Painters / Graphic Designers
  • Directors

Furthermore, MasterClass isn’t for those who thrive in pressurized classroom environments. Instead, it is ideal for those who like a more hands-on approach to learning where you have the freedom to learn at your own pace.

What are the classes like?

A MasterClass class is a truly unique experience.

When you sign up for one, you’ll be taken to a very intuitive interface that shows you your first lesson. But here’s where it gets a little different.

Other online education providers will try to take you through a structured process of learning, showing you one lesson after the other. MasterClass is different. It seems purpose-built for more creative minds.

Let me show you what I encountered right after enrolling with the All-Access Pass.

When I enrolled, I selected three instructors to check out first (Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown and Margaret Atwood – yes, I’m interested in writing!). They show me my choice when I login:

MasterClass reviews opening screen

Okay, this is pretty standard.

I then decided to begin with Margaret Atwood’s class on creative writing. Halfway through the introduction, I paused the video and saw this:

As you can see, I’m given the option of continuing to watch the introduction I started, skipping on to the next lesson or starting an entirely new class by Malcolm Gladwell (who I hadn’t even selected at the beginning).

For me, this demonstrates one of the real strengths of MasterClass.

It’s not so rigid, getting you to stick with a rigorous process of watching lessons in a certain order. Instead, you’re encouraged to jump around from one instructor to the other.

For example, after taking a few lessons I then navigated back to my home page and discovered the following screen:

On my day 1, they’ve welcomed me to a curated series of lesson based on a particular theme. Today’s theme is “Determination” and they’ve selected a number of lessons to watch.

This is further illustrated with their “playlists”.

When you scroll further down on the homepage, you’ll see that they have put together more playlists for me to explore. Below, I hovered my mouse over “Story: Idea to Ending” for you to get an indication of what I’m talking about.

They’ve packaged lessons from 5 instructors, in this case James Patterson, Aaron Sorkin, Steve Martin, Judy Blume and Malcolm Gladwell.

It then shows a video from each instructor between 1 and 5 minutes in length. I found it incredibly useful, helping me to understand how it really feels when you have an idea worth sharing, as opposed to something that is not so well formed.

In short, the All-Access Pass is perfectly suited to creativity and inspiration. It harnesses the brilliant talent and premium videos, making it modular. It’s brilliant for creative minds.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect when you take a MasterClass course:

  • High-quality video lessons from a “Master” teacher. The number of lessons averages on 24 per MasterClass course with each class providing 2-5 hours of premium video.
  • Course notes on each video containing key points.
  • Additional reading resources as well as a space to log down your own notes.
  • Membership to the MasterClass Community. You can join discussions, share work, and connect with your fellow students.

What is the MasterClass community like?

So, we’ve gone through the quality of the instructors, the premium videos and the unique interface when you purchase the All-Access Pass, which seems spectacularly well designed for creative minds.

Now, we face the challenge that all online education providers seem to encounter, with very few managing to solve it.

This challenge is creating a collaborative learning environment to give it more of a classroom feel.

How does MasterClass approach this challenge?

They have created The Hub. It’s where the community meet each other and interact around each class.

It’s basically a forum with topics, and each topic can be tagged with the instructor’s name. Here’s the latest topics shared around Shonda Rhimes’ class:

The most recently talked about item is “Shonda Rhimes Top Ten Reasons for Success. I clicked on it and discovered these statistics:

The conversation has been going on for 2 years now, with almost 100 people contributing.

Yet upon further exploration, it doesn’t seem like there’s a huge amount of interaction happening. Every day there are new topics and contributions, but it doesn’t like much considering tens of thousands of people are enrolled in MasterClass.

I think The Hub is best seen as a well organized place to find extra resources related to each class. You can probably use it to meet people and interact around classes, but MasterClass is better designed for video consumption rather than collaborative learning.

If you’re looking for a more collaborative learning experience, I don’t think MasterClass will deliver this for you.

What makes MasterClass online classes different?

I’m going to share what I believe to be the two core strengths of Masterclass. In the following section, I’ll explain how I think they can improve what they offer.

Strength number 1: The quality of the instructors

The first differentiator of Masterclass is in the quality of their instructors. Every single teacher is quite simply world class.

This was always the goal of co-founder Rogier. He aimed to bring together “the best in the world to teach and share and make it a price point that is affordable.”

Dustin Hoffman teaches acting. James Patterson teaches writing. Aaron Sorkin teaches screens writing. Christina Aguilera teaches singing.

This is only scratching the tip of the iceberg.

They also have Usher teaching performance, Serena Williams teaching tennis and Steve Martin teaching comedy.

It’s hard to imagine how Rogier and Rasumssen managed to convince such talented and well-known people to join forces with MasterClass. According to Hollywod Reporter, they have likely done so by accepting a $100,000 advance for each course they deliver, along with 30 percent of the revenue their classes generate.

According to Rogier, the course instructors also “see this as a way to give back…. If it was for the money, there are tons of other options.”

“Every single one of our masters worked their butts off,” continues Rogier. “They have worked for decades on their craft. They also have the same fears and insecurities that some of us do about becoming good. I think our students are actually really inspired by it.”

However they managed to get such an incredible cast of instructors on board, it’s clear that the quality of teachers is a significant differentiator of MasterClass.

Strength number 2: The quality of the video classes

The quality of their video classes is incredibly captivating.

Hans Zimmer, in the midst of filming his course. Credit: MasterClass

MasterClass have gone all out to make sure the videos they create are of the highest quality possible. In fact, their aim is reportedly to bring the quality of Netflix to the $100 billion e-learning industry.

They’re delivering on this aim. Unfortunately, I’m not able to show you clips from inside MasterClass as that’s restricted to paying members.

But there’s a really effective way to get a feel for the quality. Check out the trailer below for Steve Martin’s class:

Now check out Ron Howard’s trailer for directing:

Truly breathtaking.

I can confirm that the lessons are all created at a similar level of quality.

Their videos are different to anything you’ll find from other online education providers. They are well scripted, shot in high definition and impeccably produced.

The problems with MasterClass

Now that we’ve covered what I think are the two key differentiators of the MasterClass online classes, let’s get to some of the key issues.

The key question I was asking myself as I was reviewing all of the material on offer from MasterClass was the following:

Are these really educational classes?

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and habits. Methods of education include storytelling, discussion, teaching, training and directed research.

For the MasterClass classes to be classed as education, I would want to see more interaction between the instructors and students.

Sharon Chatten, an acting coach who has worked with Cameron Diaz and Ben Stiller, agrees:

“It’s like someone studying violin but not holding a violin — just looking at videos of how to play a violin. It’s silly to put on your resume that you’ve studied acting because you’ve taken this course. I think it’s valuable in the way that watching ‘Actors on Actors’ or Charlie Rose is. You’re expanding your mind, but I wouldn’t consider that taking an acting class.”

Stuart Rogers, who runs an L.A. acting school that has been home to Allison Janney and Octavia Spencer, has a similar perspective: “It’s not a master class, or a class of any kind,” he says. “It’s tips and anecdotal information — a very cool thing professionals have done to share stories about their art. But it’s not training.”

MasterClass is aware of this challenge and emphasizes the community aspect of their online learning. They have created a “Hub” where students can engage in discussions and ask questions about the classes.

I reviewed The Hub above, noting that there isn’t a huge amount of interaction between students for each class.

It is possible to interact with instructors. You can see an example of this below. However, this is likely an exception to the norm, especially given MasterClass’s recent growth.

James Patterson, left, co-wrote a novel with his MasterClass student Kecia Bal after she took his online course. Photo by: MasterClass

My three favorite MasterClass instructors

It was difficult to narrow it down to my three favorite instructors, as there are so many incredible people to choose from.

I decided to choose three instructors who I discovered while inside the All-Access part of MasterClass. Even with my extensive research, I was still surprised to come across each of them.

As difficult as it was, my first choice was easy.

1. Bob Woodward, Investigative journalist

I was surprised to discover Bob Woodward had given a MasterClass! He’s someone I’ve admired for a long time.

In 2005, I did a Master of Arts in International Relations and studied American foreign policy with a strong focus on the Iraq war of 2003.

Two of Woodward’s books, Plan of Attack (2004) and Bush at War (2002) were required reading. He provides detailed accounts of the Bush presidency and why they made the decisions they did.

His key matra was always to report on the facts, not opinion.

I think it’s more important now than ever to have journalists learning the trade from people like Bob Woodward. Here on Ideapod, we have a readership in the millions of people monthly and I want our writers (including me) to make sure we work in similar ways to Woodward.

One of the key lessons imparted by Woodward in this class is about the importance of changing course as you work on your story. You’ll learn more about the story as you delve deeper, and you need to have an open mind about which direction to take. You need to let the facts steer the direction, not your pre-conceived intentions.

Finally, it finishes with a brilliant rallying cry to journalists to continue fighting for the truth.

Woodward isn’t the most charismatic of the instructors, but I think the message is more important than someone’s charisma.

To see the quality of Woodward in action, check out this recording of him speaking with President Donald Trump in 2018. It’s fascinating:

Check out Bob Woodward’s class here.

2. Judy Blume, Writer

Judy Blume’s class has been on MasterClass almost since the beginning. She’s a children’s author, well known for writing Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Blubber.

Her class follows the format of other classes: there are 24 lessons, access to the community via The Hub and a class workbook to download.

Here’s what it looks like to take Judy Blume’s class.

Blume focuses on helping you to discover the process of writing that works best for you. She does this by sharing many anecdotes about her own process, along with a number of case studies.

She also covers topics like how to handle rejection, find an editor and deal with censorship.

I particularly enjoyed Blume’s discussion of “how to get in touch with the child within”. It mirrors something I’ve written about the inner child.

I think Blume’s class is best suited for aspiring writers who feel the passion to write but haven’t figured out how to create the habits and routines required to be writing consistently every day. Personally, this is something I’ve learned a while back and I already have my own process in place. Blume’s class basically encouraged me that I’m on the right track.

Check out Judy Blume’s class here.

3. Malcolm Gladwell, Writer

I truly loved this class!

Malcolm is a great performer. He’s interesting to listen to, has great stories to share and also seems to have a real passion for helping you to get over your writer’s block and just start writing.

At the beginning, he’s honest about never having done something this before. He also says this class is a chance for him to reflect on his own career.

His key message is that writing is a calling. It has a higher purpose and is one way we can fulfill ourselves as human beings.

In a way, Gladwell’s class isn’t just about writing. It does have a focus on character arcs, structuring your writing and getting the process right. But it’s also packed full of inspiration. It’s humanizing,

To get a feel for it, check out the trailer below:

Check out Malcolm Gladwell’s class here. Or our full review here.

Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass is a surprising addition

Just recently I asked Ideapod writer Genefe Navilon to review Gordon Ramsay’s class on MasterClass, and what she wrote surprised me.

First of all, her initial reaction to Gordon Ramsay resonated with me. Here’s what she wrote:

“Like most of you, I did have my expectations of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. From the few sporadic episodes I watched of Hell’s Kitchen and Master Chef, I remember a blunt, ruthless, boisterous chef who seemed to like cursing as much as he liked cooking.”

I’ve also reacted abrasively to Ramsay.

Yet after taking all of the classes and even putting what she learned to the test with by cooking up a poached eggs and mushroom brioche, Genefe came to a different understanding of Ramsay:

“Chef Gordon Ramsay is truly an inspiration. Just hearing about his success story was more than enough for my money’s worth. But it really was his honesty and candidness that I liked watching.

“I am someone who is also passionate about my work. And more often than not, I find myself pushing and pushing to achieve a ‘reward’ in my head. As a result, I always chase for perfection and am not satisfied with anything less.

“But chef Gordon Ramsay imparted some wisdom in this MasterClass that truly resonated with me. And that is to find balance in your passion and work – how to never forget the reason why you do what you do. More importantly, not to forget that you love it.”

Therein lies something truly unique about MasterClass. Taking one of their classes is much more than learning skills from the world’s most successful people.

In Genefe’s case, she learned some essential skills about cooking. But the classes were also a chance to reflect on her pursuit of perfection and to find passion in her work.

This is what I love about MasterClass. It takes you inside the minds of the world’s most successful people in a way that helps you to grow as a person. It’s deeply humanizing and inspiring.

To find out more about Ramsay’s class, check it out here.

deadmau5 is teaching electronic dance music

There’s another fascinating instructor teaching on MasterClass. It’s Hans Zimmer aka deadmau5.

The Canadian electronic dance music producer and DJ is considered one of the most well-known music producers in the scene today. He’s now teaching a class on MasterClass. It’s another example of MasterClass recruiting the services of an enigmatic and unconventional teacher with fascinating insights to share.

Check out the trailer for his class:

We reviewed deadmau5’s full MasterClass here. Here’s our main takeaway:

“This MasterClass has a lot of personality. It’s snarky, funny, and one that I think, should not be taken too seriously. If you know deadmau5, then you know what you’re in for. Will you learn a lot You’ll learn a lot technically, for sure. You’ll learn how to develop your own chord structure. deadmau5 will teach you the basics of his approach to gain structure, EQing and limiting. The course covers a lot on music production.”

deadmau5’s MasterClass takes you deep inside his creative process. It’s consistent with the other classes reviewed here.

As I spend more time immersing myself taking the different classes on offer, a consistent theme is certainly emerging. MasterClass focuses on inspiration but delivers it in a practical way. The classes inspire you to get started doing something in life, whether that’s developing your passion as a writer, becoming a better cook or working on creating music that moves people.

Check out our review for more on deadmau5’s MasterClass. Here’s where you can find out more about his class on MasterClass.

Are MasterClass’s online classes worth your money?

The key question I want to address is the following:

Are their online classes worth your money?

This really depends on the kind of educational experience you are looking for.

If you like to learn independently, MasterClass may be the perfect option for you. Their classes are perfectly tailored for the kinds of people who enjoy learning at their own pace, often binge watching multiple lessons at a time the way you may watch many episodes in a row on Netflix.

The quality of their videos is so high. You know the instructors have credibility. It makes it easy to sit back, relax and watch multiple videos in a row.

For me, I would happily spend a weekend diving deep into the minds of Malcolm Gladwell, Ron Howard and Annie Leibovitz.

I think it’s important to note that technology provides us with a more powerful model of online learning. MasterClass doesn’t represent the pinnacle of what’s possible.

I would like to see online education evolve in the direction of bringing students closer together with incredible instructors. I think we can make learning more social and collaborative.

Having said this, I think it’s difficult to find a better value for money offering than what MasterClass offers. The videos are incredibly well-produced and the interface is designed for creative minds. It’s inspiring and educational.

If you’re new to learning online and want to quickly get started, they could be a great option for you.

Check out MasterClass here, and let me know in the comments below what you think! Also, here’s the link for the All-Access Pass.

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.

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