Masterclass Review: Are Their Online Classes Worth Your Money?

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You’re probably here because you’re wondering:

Is MasterClass worth it?

MasterClass is a relatively new online education platform with some of the world’s most famous and successful instructors.

I’m talking stupendously successful, A-grade celebrities like Gordon Ramsay teaching cooking and James Patterson teaching writing!

But does the hype live up to the reality of actually taking their classes?

I’m the founder of Ideapod, a personal development platform with millions of monthly readers and thousands of paying students. I know a thing or two about online education.

So I decided to put MasterClass to the sword and dive deep into the platform to figure out whether the hype of Masterclass matches the experience of paying for it.

This epic review is the result.

By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll know the answer to the question: Is MasterClass worth paying for?

Let’s begin.

What is MasterClass?

So what is MasterClass, exactly?

MasterClass is what you would get if you combined Netflix with TED talks.

It’s an online learning platform where celebrities teach you about the thing that made them successful.

There are currently over 90 instructors covering a huge variety of topics. Each instructor has a class with 2-5 hours of high-quality video content, divided into bite-sized lessons of 3-15 minutes each.

The lessons are very binge-watchable!

You can lose yourself for hours on end, switching from one instructor to another.

See for yourself how incredible the videos are:

Watch the latest Masterclass video trailer here.

I’ve never seen a site with so many high-profile teachers who teach things you simply can’t learn elsewhere.

But is MasterClass for a certain kind of person or for everyone?

Let’s find out.

Who is MasterClass for?

I’m going to be upfront with you: MasterClass isn’t for everyone.

If you want to sign up for an online education platform to learn practical skills, this may not be for you.

For example, do you want to learn to direct a movie as well as Ron Howard himself? You won’t be able to after taking his class.

MasterClass provides a different kind of educational experience.

It’s more about bringing your creativity and inspiration to life.

It does this by combing education with entertainment.

While you won’t necessarily learn practical skills, you will be inspired by Bob Iger’s story of Disney’s acquisition of Pixar and the grueling negotiations with Steven Jobs.

You won’t magically become a better writer by taking Malcolm Gladwell’s class. But you will get a glimpse into his philosophy and attempt to write from a deeper place (he calls it his “calling”).

And you’ll learn all of this while being entertained with gorgeous video production.

So to be crystal-clear…

Don’t sign up for MasterClass if you think it’s the thing that’s going to make you more successful.

But do consider it if you’re looking for a binge-watching alternative to Netflix.

Let’s dive deeper into who they’ve got teaching the classes.

Who are the MasterClass instructors?

How did they manage to do this?

Most of the MasterClass instructors are household names.

Shonda Rhimes, Ron Howard, Spike Lee, Judy Blume…

Chris Hadfield teaching space exploration! You can learn filmmaking from Martin Scorsese. Judy Blume teaches writing.

There’s even a fascinating class by deadmau5 on electronic music production.

There are nine categories of classes:

  • Film & TV
  • Music & Entertainment
  • Culinary Arts
  • Writing
  • Business, Politics & Society
  • Sports & Games
  • Design, Photography, & Fashion
  • Lifestyle
  • Science & Technology.

On average, 9 classes are available in each category.

The most popular classes are Gordon Ramsay’s cooking classNeil Gaiman’s writing class, and deadmau5’s class on electronic music production.

By now you’re probably wondering:

How much does MasterClass cost?

The price of MasterClass is $15 per month (billed annually at $180 per year).

When you sign up for the MasterClass subscription, you get access to every class on the platform (currently 90+). And they’re constantly adding new classes.

MasterClass used to offer individual classes for $90 but they stopped doing this in May 2020.

Is there a free trial?

While MasterClass doesn’t offer a free trial period, they do offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Be careful of websites offering you a free trial. These are fake.

You need to subscribe to get access to MasterClass.

They do have a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can give it a shot and get a refund if you don’t like it.

Does MasterClass offer a discount?

No, MasterClass doesn’t offer a discount.

They are currently running a 2-for-1 special offer, meaning you can enroll and give an enrollment to someone else as a gift.

Is the Annual Membership worth it?

Yes, the annual subscription for MasterClass is worth it.

When you think about the access you get to what made the world’s most successful people successful, $180 yearly isn’t much money.

Each MasterClass has 3-5 hours of premium video content, which is similar to taking a class at university. And you’re local university isn’t going to have Gordon Ramsay teaching cooking or James Patterson teaching writing.

You also get access to Quick Lists when you subscribe to MasterClass. This is a feature that curates lessons from different instructors based on topics. It’s massively inspiring, and I’m going to share a lot more about Quick Lists soon.

When it comes down to it, you only need to be interested in taking classes from 2-3 instructors for the annual membership to be worth subscribing to.

Click here for the current cheapest MasterClass price.

How does MasterClass compare to alternatives?

As the founder of an online education platform, I know the online education market in detail.

So let’s break down how MasterClass compares to other major players in the space.

MasterClass vs. Udemy

Udemy is much larger than MasterClass with over 57,000 instructors. Almost anyone can go to Udemy and create an online course.

It’s why they have so many instructors.

Each instructor can decide the price of their class.

If you’re looking to learn a particular skill and you can find it on Udemy, it may be worth it.

But if you want confidence in the quality of every single class available to you, MasterClass is a far better bet.

What you lack in quantity, you make up for with quality with MasterClass.

MasterClass vs. Skillshare

Skillshare is another big player in the online learning game.

Like Udemy, regular people can be teachers and create online courses.

Skillshare costs $99 yearly, but you can sign up for the first 2 months for only $1 with this special offer. It’s affordable, but it’s also a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of the classes.

Again, MasterClass is different for being such high quality.

MasterClass vs. CreativeLive

CreativeLive is a hybrid between Skillshare and MasterClass.

It’s a learning platform with an emphasis on creativity.

They also handpick their instructors.

With 700 instructors, they have many more classes available than MasterClass. You can purchase a monthly pass for $39, or an annual pass for $149. The annual winds up being $31 cheaper than MasterClass.

The quality of CreativeLive classes is consistently better than Udemy and Skillshare. But it can be spotty at times, and this is where MasterClass provides better value.

MasterClass vs. Great Courses

Great Courses is an interesting one, as it’s the only plan that’s more expensive than MasterClass. It runs $360 for a year.

You can purchase courses individually, but it is much, much more economical to purchase a subscription.

The courses are significantly more varied (learn Italian! Learn guitar!), and many of the courses have a distinctly collegiate feel to them. It’s definitely created with the dedicated learner in mind.

How does MasterClass work?

By now I’m guessing you’re curious about what it’s like taking a class with MasterClass.

It’s pretty simple.

The video lessons are presented like Netflix episodes. You can binge-watch one lesson after another, or move to a different class (MasterClass remembers where you are up to when you go back to that class).

This is what I like most about MasterClass. You don’t need to use it in a linear way.

By this I mean that you can move around from one class to another. It’s purpose-built for creative minds.

Let me show you what I mean.

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 log in:

Okay, this is pretty standard.

I 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 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 to a rigorous process of watching lessons in a specific order. Instead, you’re encouraged to jump around from one instructor to the other.

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

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

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

  • High-quality video lessons from a world-class teacher. There are, on average, 24 videos per class (total: 2–5 hours’ running time for each class).
  • Course notes on each video containing key points.
  • Additional reading resources, as well as space to take notes.
  • Membership to the MasterClass Community. You can join discussions, share work, and connect with your fellow students.

I created this video to show you what it’s like taking a class on MasterClass:

Quick Lists

My favorite part of MasterClass is their Quick Lists.

They used to call them “Playlists.”

The Quick Lists contain curated collections of video lessons from across all different classes.

They have themes of Quick Lists. They’re basically Spotify playlists, but for learning!

For example, there’s a theme called “Big Ideas.” Yes, I’m the founder of Ideapod, so I loved discovering this theme.

Within this theme, there are five Quick Lists: Opponents That Matter, Rules Only Get You So Far, Truth & Art, A Healthy Amount of Risk, and Motivations.

I clicked on Opponents That Matter and saw a list of four classes from Steve Martin, Stephen Curry, Serena Williams, and Garry Kasparov.

Quick Lists are my favorite because I’m inspired by jumping from one instructor to the next based on themes.

It keeps me engaged and helps me decide which class to take next.

Learn more about Quick Lists here.

The MasterClass community

MasterClass has created a community called “The Hub.”

It’s a forum with topics, and each topic can be tagged with the instructor’s name.

Here are 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 two years now, with almost 100 people contributing.

Yet upon further exploration, it doesn’t seem like there’s a tremendous amount of interaction happening.

Every day there are new topics and contributions, but it doesn’t look 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.

The MasterClass mobile app

MasterClass is also accessible through its mobile app.

You can do everything on the app that you can do on the website.

Here’s what the homepage looks like in the mobile app:

When you click on a class, you can watch the trailer or start the class.

Overall, the mobile app works well.

What makes MasterClass different?

MasterClass is different from other online education platforms because of its breathtaking video production quality.

You need to see it to believe it! (Check out their video trailer here.)

The MasterClass team spent significant time with each instructor planning the sequence of the classes.

They also put a lot of thought into the settings.

You get a unique glimpse into Malcolm Gladwell’s home, for example, with his library and home bar in view.

James Patterson shares valuable tips on writing from what looks like his local café (which they must have accessed after-hours because no-one is there — adding to the quality).

Gordon Ramsay’s home kitchen is stunning.

When you sit down and watch a lesson, you instantly feel relaxed. It’s a delight taking in the whole scene.

I honestly was taken aback by the quality and intimacy of the video courses. MasterClass never feels cold or stuffy.

It’s always a warm and pleasant atmosphere!

Now that I’ve shown you what it’s like enrolling in MasterClass and taking the classes, let’s go a bit deeper by exploring three of my favorite classes.

I’ve taken dozens of classes over the last few years (and re-watched more than a few of them). So it was hard to decide which three to analyze in-depth.

I chose three totally different instructors to give you a broader look — Gary Kasparov, Penn & Teller, and Shonda Rhimes.

Garry Kasparov MasterClass review

It’s not every day that you get to be taught Chess by former World Champion Garry Kasparov, but that’s Masterclass for you⁠ — it presents these rare opportunities as common occurrences.

What’s Garry Kasparov teaching?

Chess.

I don’t know about you, but chess has always had that air of “this is too confusing to play” whenever anyone mentions it for game night.

Not so with Garry!

He walks you through the game, top to bottom, start to finish.

Granted, he anticipates that you have a very basic understanding of the game (what pieces are what, how they move, what checkmate is), but after that, he creates a deeply philosophic and artful class on how to play the game ⁠— and how to learn the game.

What are some of the lessons?

Plenty of the class is devoted to the nuts-and-bolts of chess: mainly, the opening, the midgame, and the endgame.

In fact, he devotes multiple lessons on these topics. Along the way, he has lessons on tactics such as forks, pins, and other chess essentials.

He’s basically building up your arsenal of tricks that you can then use in a chess game. Outside of these basic lessons, a lot of the course is devoted to studies of various games.

He talks about games that he specifically lost, and then explains his thinking and why it was flawed at that moment.

It’s incredibly reflective.

What’s cool about it?

The simul.

There’s a lesson in the middle of the class called “the simul” where Garry plays three simultaneous games of chess against variously advanced players over the course of one hour.

I’ll give you a quick spoiler: all three end in a Kasparov win.

It’s a stunning, meditative class (very little dialogue), but it’s pretty indicative of his masterclass as a whole.

If you’d like to sit in amazement and watch him decimate three opponents, then walk them (and us) through how the games ended in victory, then you’ll love this class.

I found it to be a remarkable slice into the psychology of the master (Garry) and the three other players ⁠— one of whom clearly let Garry’s celebrity status get inside his (the player’s) head — and he didn’t play nearly as coolly as he should have.

Not that I could do any better (my chess.com ranking is an embarrassment).

Anything else I should know?

While this class is a mind-expander, it doesn’t offer any opportunities to put your skills to the test in class.

This was a bit of a letdown as I hoped that maybe Masterclass would have developed a widget or even a chess.com partnership to have students try out chess lessons.

It’s not here yet, but maybe Masterclass will add it in the future.

Still, it’s a great class, and I’m glad I took it.

Penn & Teller MasterClass review

What are they teaching?

They’re teaching stage magic!

The kind of fun tricks like making an object disappear and reappear, guessing your card, all sorts of fun illusions.

They’re not teaching ritual magic, so please put your pentagrams away for the moment.

It’s stage magic⁠—sleight of hand!

The class is broken down into 17 videos that range in length from about 5 to 30 minutes.

Throughout the classes, they bring in both experts and amateurs to teach you the tricks.

What did I like?

One thing I loved from this class was the addition of the student learners in most of the lessons.

Whenever Penn & Teller would teach a trick, they’d bring along a few amateurs who would learn the trick during the lesson.

This was a great addition, as it allowed me to see the trick in various stages of development.

Sure, Penn & Teller slowed down their illusions when they were teaching, but you can’t replicate the visual of someone learning a trick for the first time, no matter how much you slow it down.

This really helped me out ⁠— especially as I was learning sleight of hand.

That brings me to my next point.

This class really is for beginners. And that’s a good thing.

I have zero magic experience, so I was nervous that a “masterclass” may leave me well out of my depth from the get-go.

No problems there. Penn & Teller build a very considerate, broad beginner’s course that allowed me (a complete novice) to gain a fun bit of mastery over a good dozen magic tricks.

A Pen & Teller warning

Penn & Teller built much of their career on revealing their tricks ⁠— along with exposing unscrupulous magicians and con artists.

It’s no surprise then that one of their classes deals with the con artists of the magic world: mentalists and mediums.

Penn & Teller spend a whole lesson walking you through how mediums rely on manipulation, mind games, and psychological tricks to con innocent people into believing that they (the mediums) have special links with spirits and the dead.

It was refreshing to see illusionists pull back the curtain on exploitative tricks, and it made me want to learn more about how to spot these types of cons.

However, I’m not sure if it was due to lack of time, or a desire to keep these “tricks” from falling into the wrong hands, but Penn & Teller deliberately didn’t go into all of the mentalist techniques.

I understand that decision but I would have liked to learn more.

I’ll say that was one of the most surprising (and greatest) things about this masterclass. It left me with the desire to learn more!

More about the history of magic.

More about the types of card tricks.

More about mentalists⁠—the list goes on.

This MasterClass was a great dive into magic.

Shonda Rhimes MasterClass review

Shonda Rhimes is one of the most accomplished writers in TV history.

She’s created Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Private Practice; and has produced How to Get Away With Murder (among many other shows).

She’s been working in TV and Film for three decades and has decided to bring this experience to Masterclass so that we can learn from her.

What a gift!

What’s the class like?

There are 30 classes where Shonda walks you through the conception of the production of TV.

It’s a nice narrative to the class: you start by creating an idea, you finish by learning how to be a showrunner.

Along the way, Shonda has lessons crafted to specific aspects of the TV experience — such as how to write a solid pilot, or how to create relatable dialogue.

Toward the halfway point of the class, Shonda also has a series of case studies that take a look at specific scripts she has written.

This was one of my favorite lessons⁠—particularly because masterclass includes downloads of early versions of these scripts (scripts which changed significantly by their air date), so you can really see how the script evolves.

If you’re looking for a class where you can trace the evolution of a creative idea, look no further!

What’s different about this class?

Right off the bat, I noticed that Shonda’s class had a big difference compared to some of the other masterclasses, and that was her use of “the hub,” which is MasterClass’s community board.

In her PDF supplement, Shonda gives specific homework (watch the first season of a show you like) and then directs you to share your experiences on the Hub.

Most masterclasses that I’ve encountered don’t push this.

I went to see how active the hub (for Shonda’s class) is, and, as of this writing, there was a comment 27 minutes ago on the lesson on page 5.

Total comments: over 500!

The writing itself

Shonda’s class is interesting compared to Kasparov and Penn & Teller because hers requires some significant homework.

Not just the “watch a season of tv and talk about it” homework, but the “write a pilot of a tv show” style homework.

This is a big commitment.

While it’s rewarding to walk away from a class with your finished pilot (what an accomplishment!), it’s not a monitored class, so the work is on you to get that script done.

Shonda isn’t going to collect the homework and see how your act is coming along. She’s just delivering pre-taped videos and you’re watching along.

This isn’t a bad thing at all, but it makes staying committed a little more difficult.

If you’re like me, you need the check-ins and real-life teaching to keep you on track.

Shonda’s class lacked these safeguards, and as a result, it became much easier for me to put off writing my pilot for a day … or a week … or three weeks.

Again, this is not a bad thing, but it is a real thing to think about. If you’re motivated, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Check out her MasterClass here.

The pros of MasterClass

The quality of the instructors

I don’t know how they managed to convince such talented and well-known people to become teachers on MasterClass.

According to Hollywood Reporter, they have likely done so by the instructors accepting a $100,000 advance for each course they deliver, along with 30 percent of the revenue their classes generate.

MasterClass founders, David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen, suggest there’s a philanthropic aim driving the instructors. 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 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.

Video production quality

I touched on this earlier. The variety of their video classes is incredibly captivating.

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

The cons of MasterClass

MasterClass isn’t perfect.

While they’ve done something special by combining education and entertainment, education traditionalists may not be happy with the final product.

It isn’t education

The reason is simple.

Education usually involves a relationship between a student and teacher.

The student will make progress and experience setbacks, with the teacher providing personalized feedback along the way.

You won’t get any of this with MasterClass.

While they do have community hubs, there isn’t much activity between students and instructors. Therefore, it’s not really education.

As I said before, MasterClass is fantastic for inspiration and creativity. You just need to know what you’re getting yourself in for.

It simplifies “success”

When you watch a full class on MasterClass, you’ll notice a similarity with Hollywood movies.

They are all structured around the hero’s journey.

This is the well-known narrative arch that makes movies sell. And it turns out it helps to sell online education platforms.

The hero’s journey works by having a protagonist (the MasterClass instructor) explaining the big challenge they faced in life.

They managed to overcome it through some combination of inspiration, dedication, grit, and creativity.

Then they achieve their breakthrough, having fundamentally transformed themselves in the process.

It makes for compelling viewing. But in my view, it unnecessarily simplifies what it means to be successful.

I’d rather see a bit more authenticity and humanism in the MasterClass instructors. Perhaps they could question what success really means.

We do this in our Out of the Box online workshop. It goes far deeper in exploring some of the societal constructs that shape how we interact in the world.

MasterClass assumes we all want to be successful in the same way as the instructors.

Usually, this means becoming world-famous or the best at our craft.

This probably motivates many people who decide to join MasterClass.

But not me.

I like MasterClass for its high-quality production value. But I wouldn’t join it to learn how to be successful.

There are alternatives if you want to go on a far deeper and more transformative experience.

A good place to begin would be Ideapod’s free masterclass on turning frustrations with life into personal power.

Is MasterClass good value?

For the video production quality alone, MasterClass is competitively priced.

A $180 yearly subscription gets you access to 90+ courses and (according to MasterClass) 1000s of lessons.

That’s hours of education content from the brightest minds in the world — available for $15 a month (billed annually). That’s less than the price of a premium Netflix plan.

And, if you don’t think it’s a good deal, you can cancel within 30 days of signing up to get your $180 back.

As I mentioned above, there are deeper transformational experiences you can find.

But you can’t beat MasterClass when it comes to combining entertainment and education.

Is MasterClass worth it?

To me, MasterClass was absolutely worth it.

I seriously enjoyed learning from the top minds in their respective fields. The classes have many hours of high-quality videos, along with comprehensive workbooks, and thoughtful homework assignments.

The lessons are entertaining, and also educational.

I walked away from each class with newfound skills and expertise.

Conclusion: Should you pay for MasterClass?

If you’re looking to learn from some of the biggest names in their fields, and you’re especially interested in flexing your creative muscles, then I strongly recommend you subscribe to MasterClass.

It’s an engaging platform that has 90+ high-quality courses that can’t be matched anywhere else online. I’ve loved every course I’ve taken, and I can’t wait to dive back in again!

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Justin Brown

Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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