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In my MasterClass review, I go through everything you need to know to decide whether MasterClass is worth paying for.
It’s well-known that MasterClass online courses are taught by celebrities. I’m talking the world’s most successful people such as Gordon Ramsay teaching cooking and James Patterson teaching writing.
But does the hype around MasterClass live up to the reality of taking their classes?
Let’s find out. I’ll show you exactly what it’s like taking MasterClass with exclusive screenshots and videos from inside the platform.
By the end of this review of MasterClass, you’ll know the answer to the question:
Is MasterClass worth it?
Table of Contents
- What is MasterClass?
- Who is MasterClass for?
- Who are the MasterClass instructors?
- What does a class involve?
- How much does MasterClass cost?
- What makes MasterClass different?
- How does MasterClass work?
- What’s it like taking a MasterClass class?
- Garry Kasparov MasterClass Review
- Penn & Teller MasterClass Review
- Shonda Rhimes MasterClass Review
- Does MasterClass have a mobile app?
- Pros and cons of MasterClass
- How does the price of MasterClass compare to other platforms?
- Alternatives to MasterClass
- Is MasterClass worth it?
- Conclusion: Should you pay for MasterClass?
What is MasterClass?
Want to learn how to direct a movie from Ron Howard himself?
Thinking about taking chess lessons from Grandmaster Garry Kasparov?
Curious about cooking under Gordon Ramsay’s tutelage, but afraid to get yelled at in person?
Then you’ll love MasterClass.
MasterClass is what you would get if you combine Netflix with TED talks.
They have the world’s most successful people teaching classes in impeccably produced video lessons.
Once you subscribe, you simply open the website or app on your phone and start watching lessons.
The lessons are very binge-watchable! You can lose yourself for hours on end, switching from one instructor to another.
They offer classes from 80+ legendary instructors on a huge variety of topics. I’ve never seen a site with so many high-profile teachers who teach things you simply can’t learn elsewhere.
Who is MasterClass for?
I don’t think MasterClass is for everyone.
If you want to sign up for an online education platform where you learn practical skills, this isn’t may not be the platform for you.
MasterClass is a different experience. It’s more focused on entertainment and inspiration. It’s the kind of platform where you can lose yourself and get incredibly inspired. The video production is genuinely astounding.
When so many of us are spending more time at home, MasterClass is an incredible resource. You won’t find videos of this quality for free on YouTube. I watch MasterClass a few times a week. But make sure you know what you’re purchasing. You will find it challenging to apply what you learn into your life.
Who are the MasterClass instructors?
There are nine categories of classes:
- Film & TV
- Music & Entertainment
- Culinary Arts
- Business, Politics & Society
- Sports & Games
- Design, Photography, & Fashion
- Science & Technology
When you click on a category you see a list of the available classes. On average, nine classes are available in each category.
The most popular classes are Gordon Ramsay’s cooking class, Neil Gaiman’s writing class, and deadmau5’s class on electronic music production. The Science & Technology category is the least populated, with only two classes (Chris Hadfield and Neil deGrasse Tyson). There are also some teachers you wouldn’t expect to see, such as Anna Wintour teaching leadership and Serena Williams teaching tennis.
What does a class involve?
MasterClass structures each of its classes through a series of video lessons ranging from 5 minutes to over an hour. Each class consists of between 10-30 lessons and is accompanied by a PDF workbook that lets you follow along on your own time.
And the videos really are exquisite—more on that below.
The total video time for each “class” is between 2-5 hours. However, the information and skills you glean from the classes can easily last for years. (I’ll never cook an omelet the same way again—thanks Thomas Keller!).
Additionally, each class has a great community feature where you can comment, question, and interact with your fellow attendees. It’s pretty varied and robust.
In a nutshell, Masterclass is a platform where celebrity “masters” host a series of video classes that you can take to increase your knowledge and mastery of whatever topic interests you.
How much does MasterClass cost?
How much is MasterClass?
The cost of MasterClass is $180 per year. This gives you access to 80+ classes. Each class has 20-40 video lessons (about 2-5 hours in total for each class).
There’s a 30-day refund policy.
MasterClass used to offer a monthly subscription, but this isn’t available anymore.
If you’re wondering whether MasterClass offer a free trial, they don’t.
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 my video later in the article.)
The MasterClass team spent significant time with each instructor, planning the sequence of the classes. They also put a lot of thought into the setting.
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 kitchen is stunning.
The quality of the lighting and audio is consistent across all classes.
When you sit down and watch a lesson, you instantly feel relaxed. It’s a delight taking in the whole scene.
The world-class instructors also make MasterClass different. They have Chris Hadfield teaching space exploration. You can learn film-making from Martin Scorsese. Judy Blume teaches writing. There’s a fascinating class by deadmau5 on electronic music production.
Each of the 80+ instructors is well-known and highly regarded in their field. You can see the full list of instructors here.
How does MasterClass work?
You then provide your email address and create an account, before providing your credit card information. Here is what you’ll see:
You then input your credit card information and get immediate access. There’s a 30-day money-back guarantee in case you change your mind.
Once you subscribe, you go through an option to choose your initial instructors. You can watch the trailers for each class. It looks like this:
I really enjoyed my initial experience choosing the classes to take.
Once you’ve chosen your initial classes, your homepage shows your progress with them, so you can pick up where you left off. You can also scroll down and look at highlights from the most popular classes. This is called “The Short Cut.”
Scroll down further and you will see “Snapshots” to learn something quickly without needing to take the full class.
You can continue scrolling down, with much to explore. MasterClass makes it easy to find something to watch whenever you log in.
What’s it like taking a MasterClass class?
A MasterClass class is a unique experience. When you sign up, there is an intuitive interface showing your first lesson. Other online education providers will try to take you through a structured process of learning, teaching you one lesson after the other.
MasterClass is different. It’s purpose-built for more creative minds.
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:
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.
For example, there’s a theme called “Big Ideas.” 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.
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.
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?
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 a 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?
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 let down, 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, but it left me craving more.
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 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 ii 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.
Does MasterClass have a mobile app?
Yes, MasterClass has a 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.
Pros and cons of MasterClass
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.
Pros 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.
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 an 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:
Cons of MasterClass: Is this really education?
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.
“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.”
Cons of MasterClass: Lack of community
MasterClass is aware of this challenge and emphasizes the community aspect of their online learning. They have created “The Hub” where students can engage in discussions and ask questions about the classes.
I reviewed The Hub above, noting that there isn’t a tremendous 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.
How does the price of MasterClass compare to other platforms?
What are the prices of other, similar online education platforms?
Skillshare doesn’t have the big names of MasterClass, but they have more courses. Their courses have a more practical focus. Unlike MasterClass, you can try Skillshare with a 2-month free trial with limited access. You can then upgrade to full access for $19 monthly or $99 per year. You can learn creative skills like “Illustrated Lettering” and “Creative Writing.” Read our Skillshare review here.
Coursera is another alternative. Their selling point is universal access to the world’s top universities. You can even get credentials from Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. However, their prices and subscription offerings can get a bit confusing. Generally, you’ll get a free 7-day trial for each specialized course and then pay $49–79 per month over 4–6 months. It’s not the Hollywood-level production of MasterClass, though.
Udacity may be of interest to you if you want to improve your tech skills. It’s an interactive platform and less expensive than its competitors. You get personalized feedback from your classes, setting it apart from MasterClass.
You also have the option of smaller education platforms, like Ideapod. When you enroll in an online workshop with us, the video production quality isn’t as high, but you get a more intimate connection with the instructors. There’s more focus on creating tangible change in your life as opposed to keeping you entertained.
In short, here’s why MasterClass offers such incredible value:
- MasterClass is a unique offering.
- The video production quality is unparalleled.
- Their instructors are the most successful people in the world. (They don’t have any amateur teachers.)
- They don’t have as many courses available as others (but still a sizeable course base at 80+).
- MasterClass is cheaper than its rivals and breathtaking when it comes to quality.
Alternatives to MasterClass
What kind of online experience are you looking for?
MasterClass has the best quality videos and they’re incredibly engaging to watch. The user experience is superb.
However, MasterClass does have its shortcomings. The community experience is almost nonexistent. They don’t focus on the impact of what you learn in your life. There also isn’t as much choice as with other platforms.
Therefore, you may want to consider alternatives to MasterClass, such as the following:
MasterClass vs. Udemy
There’s a big difference between MasterClass and Udemy.
Udemy is a platform where almost anyone can upload their own online course. You don’t need to be an expert. You just need some passion and a video camera.
There are thousands of courses for you to choose from on Udemy. However, this brings down the quality.
It’s a lot cheaper than MasterClass with some courses starting at $10.
But MasterClass is a different ballgame. They offer high-end courses from people you know, love, and admire. They are the true experts in their field, and they have a lot of wisdom to share.
But beyond that, the quality of MasterClass is better. The videos, the course material, and even the website is higher end, better quality, and easier to work with.
MasterClass vs. CreativeLive
CreativeLive works with people who are creatives. Their courses are geared for those who may have their own business and want to blog about it and entrepreneurs who like motivation.
Like Udemy, CreativeLive has many courses. Overall, they are of better quality than Udemy. But they don’t have the same high-profile celebrities that MasterClass has. They don’t have the experts that MasterClass has. Read more in our CreativeLive review.
MasterClass vs. Skillshare
Skillshare also offers educational videos. The main difference is that Skillshare offers more hard skills, like photography and web development, rather than personal development courses.
It really depends on what you’re looking for in an online platform. If you are hoping to work on yourself and expand your knowledge while becoming a better person, MasterClass is better. If you need actual hard knowledge about a topic that you work in, Skillshare may be beneficial.
Is MasterClass worth it?
Throughout this review article, I have wanted to give you everything you need to know to answer the question:
Is MasterClass worth it?
You’re going to have your answer to this question. It depends on what kind of online education experience you’re looking for.
If you value creativity and learning independently, MasterClass may be the perfect option for you. Their classes are perfectly tailored for people who like to learn at their own pace. You won’t have an instructor breathing down your neck. It’s completely up to you to embrace what’s on offer.
MasterClass is also a good option if you want an alternative to Netflix. You can binge-watch MasterClass lessons the way you can binge-watch episodes of your favorite show on Netflix. This is how I watch MasterClass, and I appreciate having it as an evening option alongside my other streaming services. I could easily spend a weekend diving deep into the minds of Malcolm Gladwell, Ron Howard, and Annie Leibovitz.
I don’t think MasterClass gets everything right. There’s not much community interaction. You probably won’t learn practical skills you can apply to your professional life. You won’t experience the deep kind of impact our students experience with Out of the Box.
Having said this, I think it’s difficult to find better value 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 looking for something educational while staying at home, MasterClass could be a great option for you.
Conclusion: Should you pay for MasterClass?
Personally, I love MasterClass, and, for me, it is worth paying for. However, spending $180 isn’t pocket change.
I’ve subscribed to MasterClass for the past few years and have taken almost half of the lessons available. I’ve also researched the company and its competitors.
If you feel like you want an alternative to Netflix, my conclusion is that MasterClass may be for you. It works just the same in that you can stream the lessons as you would episodes to your favorite television show.
But rather than mindlessly watching television, you’re being educated in the process.
Even better than being educated, you’re also enhancing your inspiration and creativity.
You may decide to enroll in MasterClass because you’re an aspiring writer and want access to the world’s best writers to improve your craft.
Maybe you’re an up-and-coming actor and want to be inspired by Natalie Portman’s personal story as well as her tools of the trade.
It could be that you don’t know what you want to do with your life and just want to be inspired by the world’s most successful people.
When you subscribe to MasterClass you get access to the world’s most successful people. You can’t help but be inspired by what you find.
But having said this, MasterClass isn’t for everyone. Your hand won’t be held as you move through an online course. You will need to be motivated to watch the lessons and then figure out how to apply it in your life.
You won’t be part of a vibrant community. You probably won’t meet anyone new.
MasterClass doesn’t provide a traditional online education experience.
But it does give you access to the world’s greatest minds. The video content is of better quality than what you’ll find on YouTube. Everything is impeccably produced.
You know you’re subscribing to quality. It’s a great alternative to Netflix, especially when we’re spending so much time at home.
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