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MasterClass Review: Is It Worth It? (November 2020 Update)

 

I’m spending more time at home these days because of coronavirus.

And it’s been a great opportunity for me to dive into MasterClass again, the online education program that everyone seems to be talking about.

Over the last few years, I’ve taken almost all of the MasterClass classes. Now I’m going through my favorite ones again.

I’ve put together this comprehensive review of MasterClass so you can decide if it’s the right for you.

By the end of this review, you’ll know exactly how MasterClass works, as well as its pros and cons. So you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth your time and money.

Let’s jump in.

What is MasterClass?

Before we get into the review, let me explain exactly what MasterClass is.

MasterClass is an online learning platform where the world’s most successful people teach you the things that made them famous. All of these classes comprise video lessons and downloadable workbooks for you to easily follow along.

MasterClass is unique for two reasons:

  • They have the world’s most well-known instructors. Really. Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking. Neil deGrasse Tyson teaches scientific thinking. Natalie Portman teaches acting. Timbaland teaches producing and beat making. Thomas Keller teaches cooking. Matthew Walker teaches the science of better sleep. They even have Serena Williams teaching tennis.
  • They have the best video production quality of any online education platform out there.

When you enroll in MasterClass, you’ll instantly see why people have been raving about it. It’s addictive! There are hundreds of hours of educating content. The video lessons are inspiring and entertaining.

You can binge-watch just like you’d do with Netflix, but you’ll end up learning so much more than you ever could through simple TV binging. It’s entertainment and education.

Or to borrow a phrase, it’s edutainment.

That’s MasterClass: a deep education platform with hundreds of hours of video lessons from the brightest minds in their field.

For me, that’s reason enough to give MasterClass a shot.

But I also want to make sure you are properly informed if you’re thinking of joining MasterClass. In this review, I’ll share not only the good, but also the bad about MasterClass.

To summarize, here are the key points you need to know about MasterClass:

  • MasterClass is a video-based online learning platform.
  • They are a new online education start-up based out of San Francisco.
  • They have already delivered their courses to more than one million students.
  • Their video production is world-class. In fact, their aim is to bring the quality of Netflix to the $100 billion e-learning industry.
  • They have the world’s best experts. More on this below.
  • However, it’s a pretty standard approach to online learning. You get access to lessons in the form of videos and notes.

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Who teaches on MasterClass?

Here are some of the instructors you can access with your MasterClass subscription:

It honestly boggles my mind that I could access the teachings of so many incredible people.

It’s also relatively cheap compared to other online education providers at only $180 a year for access to all their classes.

I’ll touch more on the cost below.

Who is MasterClass for?

To be completely honest with you, MasterClass isn’t for everyone. But, it is great for a lot of people.

It’s great for creative types such as writers, photographers, artists, musicians, and cooks. If you want to improve your writing or become a better homecook, you’ll probably love MasterClass.

But if you’re looking for office-oriented, practical skills that help you in a non-creative career, you probably won’t find it here.

Instead, MasterClass is more relevant for people looking to add a creative spark to their lives. If you want to learn the fundamentals of acting from Natalie Portman, MasterClass is the platform for you.

There’s another key point you should know.

MasterClass videos aren’t live. The lessons are all taped.

MasterClass isn’t ideal if you’re looking for hands-on contact with instructors. They do have a Q&A feature, but MasterClass has gotten so popular that it’s hard to have a one-on-one feel with instructors.

The lessons are extremely high-quality, and the great thing is that you can complete them at any time (no class schedule), but you can’t get live 1:1 instruction.

Compare that to an online workshop like Out of the Box by Ideapod. I joined this recently and have direct access to the instructor. I’m getting really practical tools to change my life along with direct access.

It really depends on what you’re looking for.

MasterClass suits creative types who want to learn at their own pace. To be honest, that probably applies to many of us. But it’s important to know.

Now let’s take a look at how much MasterClass costs.

The price of MasterClass online classes

 

When you’re being taught by the world’s leading experts, you would expect it to cost an arm and a leg.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the case with MasterClass.

The annual membership costs $180. This gives you access to every single current and future class available on MasterClass.

MasterClass used to offer individual classes for $90. However, as of May 2020 this was discontinued. At the time of writing they only offer the 1 year subscription for $180.

Is this value for money?

Here’s why I believe it’s a great deal for your money.

  • You get access to over 90 different courses. You don’t have to pick and choose the ones you pay for.
  • The video quality is amazing (Netflix-level), and can be played on desktop, iOS, Android, or smart TV.
  • The courses come with PDF workbooks.
  • Each class has a community where students share work.
  • The instructors are world-class.

Considering how many classes you get, and how high-quality the lessons are, this is a very competitive price point.

After reviewing many of the classes, I think there’s real value in getting annual membership. Even if you are only eying off one class in particular, having access to every class is a great bonus.

MasterClass has a unique and intuitive interface that shows you related lessons from instructors you may not ordinarily consider. I’ve shared some screenshots for you to see in the next section.

As the annual membership gives you access to every instructor, you’ll have a great time jumping from one instructor to the other.

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What’s it really like taking a MasterClass?

Taking a MasterClass is easy: you watch high-quality educational videos delivered by masters in their craft. You then complete additional homework in your PDF workbook.

Here’s a typical breakdown of how a class works:

  • 10-20 video lessons that are anywhere from 5 minutes to an hour
  • Accompanying workbook anywhere from 50-100 pages
  • Homework assignments to complete on your own time
  • An online community where students can post work and ask questions

You can tackle each course in your own time. Want to be diligent and work with Shonda Rhimes on your pilot for 2 months? Go for it. Want to binge all the chess basics with Garry Kasparov in a day? You can do that too.

The best way to think about MasterClass is as edutainment. It’s a streaming service, like Netflix, except it teaches you valuable skills.

MasterClass videos are quite short but highly engaging. They’re not too heavy and they’re easy to follow.

Watching MasterClass when I get home has now become a habit. It’s so easy to use and I’m really enjoying it.

If you’re looking for a formal education experience, it may not be the perfect fit. But if you have a curious mind and want to start consuming educational content but still be entertained in the process, I recommend checking out the annual membership.

Not convinced? Here’s a breakdown of one of my favorite MasterClasses: Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking.

Inside Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass

I thought it would be useful for you to get a more in-depth look inside one of the classes, so I’m going to tell you more about one of the most popular: Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass.

Check out the trailer for the class below. I think you’ll be impressed:

Gordon Ramsay’s class consists of 20 episodes. They range from teaching you the basics of cooking to creating an effective kitchen layout to mastering different types of ingredients.

Check out the screenshot below.

Each lesson contains videos that run up to 25 minutes, which is longer than the average MasterClass video.

The first lesson is a simple introduction, followed by a more philosophical class called “learning from the masters.” It’s definitely worth a watch.

Lesson 3 is when things get going. Gordon teaches you how to set up your kitchen. It might not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but it’s a critical skill to learn, and it helps prepare you for the real cooking.

From there, Gordon cycles between lessons that focus on ingredients, techniques, and recipes. He teaches you like a classic chef: walk before you run. You’ll focus on vegetables and eggs before moving on to the pastas, fishes, and meats.

Remember: this is Cooking 1! He has additional classes that focus on advanced techniques.

Cooking 1 is a great dive into how to approach cooking from a chef’s perspective. It helps to have familiarity with a kitchen, but Gordon never makes assumptions about your skill levels. This isn’t Iron Chef, and he’s not screaming at you. Instead, he walks you through cooking basics.

Each lesson contains a workbook.

These workbooks function as cookbooks with additional techniques thrown in there. I found the workbooks to be great value, and I’ve returned to them to cook recipes from time-to-time. There’s room on the margins to write your own notes as well!

 

The best thing about MasterClass? The videos!

Hands down, the videos are the best thing about MasterClass.

The videos are so well-produced, and can be slowed down or sped up to help you follow along.

I’ve taken a lot of different online courses, and nothing compares to these videos.

I love this trailer with Hans Zimmer:

You can see the quality of the camerawork, the lighting, the sound, and even the music.

It’s as though MasterClass has taken their cameras inside the worlds of these incredible people, and managed to convince them to share the very best of their inside knowledge.

And then they’ve gone and produced these videos as though it was a movie production.

For example, here’s another by Chris Hadfield about space exploration:

It’s a fascinating topic and his class provides an insight into something I would never have access to elsewhere.

This is exciting.

After taking many of the classes, I can assure you that they maintain the same quality across all of the lessons you’ll have access to.

MasterClass is a highly professional look into the minds of the world’s most successful people.

I love this.

How does the mobile app look?

As you would expect after looking at the quality of the videos, MasterClass has put some effort into making the mobile design seem quite simple.

Check out the first screen you’ll find when you log-in after purchasing the annual membership.

I scrolled down to the writers as that’s what I’m most interested in.

I then selected Malcolm Gladwell. I really love this class.

Here’s what you’ll see.

It’s pretty clean and distraction-free.

Here’s what it looks like accessing the written content.

Overall, everything checks out. It’s a good quality app. Personally, I prefer watching the videos on my laptop but I’m sure many others will predominantly use their phones.

Whatever works for you.

The pros and cons of MasterClass

Like with anything, there are pros and cons to Masterclass. Since I’ve taken a lot of classes, I’ve been able to see both the good and the bad.

Here’s where I think MasterClass shines, and where I think it could use a little more help.

The pros of MasterClass

I’ve talked a lot about how MasterClass is good, and it is. So, I’ll sum up the pros in this quick list:

  • The video quality is amazing
  • The classes are affordable — $180 gets you 90+ courses for a year.
  • All the classes are taught by world-class instructors
  • The classes are substantive, with hours of video and many pages of PDF workbooks
  • Many of the classes have sequels, letting you dive into the material more deeply
  • The user interface is easy to work and you can watch the courses from virtually anywhere
  • These classes cater to creatives, and they really help to build up those soft skills
  • You get invaluable advice and teaching that you wouldn’t get anywhere else
  • You really learn a lot!

The cons of MasterClass

Like with anything, there were some things I didn’t like.

MasterClass provides an inside glimpse into the world’s greatest minds.

But is their instruction practical?

Well, it depends upon what your goals are with MasterClass. Are you looking to be a writer? Are you looking to be a better cook?

Or are you looking to improve your photography hobby?

If you answered yes, you’ll like MasterClass. But if you’re looking to find an online class that gives you a direct boost to a traditional career, MasterClass is going to come up short.

There was one other negative for me with MasterClass, and that was MasterClass’s online community.

Look, I get that it’s a challenge to develop a robust online community. But does “The Hub” community section of MasterClass deliver?

Check it out below:

MasterClass review, The Hub
The community area inside MasterClass.

It’s not the most inspiring place to be. It’s more of a bulletin board, and you don’t feel so welcomed to go and meet new people.

When some people pay for education, they want to be surrounded by fellow learners. Out of the Box, for example, has a thriving and connected community.

At least, that’s the case for me.

So, to sum up, the cons of MasterClass:

  • These classes aren’t meant to add value to a traditional career
  • There isn’t a degree or certificate that comes with the skills taught
  • The community isn’t interactive, so many of the courses feel a little one-sided.

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The top 7 MasterClasses for 2020

Masterclass is adding new content to their catalogue pretty frequently. To keep you in the loop on what classes are the most popular, I put together a list of the 7 best classes as of November 2020.

Since we’re all stuck inside because of coronavirus, there’s no time like the present to learn a new skill or two!

Gordon Ramsay: Cooking

Gordon Ramsay has such a larger than life personality that sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s an incredible cook and a great teacher.

I was intimidated at first, given that his shows like MasterChef and Kitchen Nightmares feature him yelling at his students, but he doesn’t bring that gruff demeanor to his masterclass. Instead, he walks you through his journey of learning from his masters (and even his mom’s kitchen) before passing his lessons along to you.

He really comes to life in this 1:1 masterclass, where he takes you on a culinary journey from setting up your kitchen to learning how to poach an egg to making the quintessentially British Beef Wellington.

He also has a few impressive lessons on breaking down whole chickens and fish, which I found technically mesmerizing.

His class comes with a cookbook that is a little on the shorter side (44 pages), but stuffs it full of very useful, methodically laid out information on kitchen prep, knife sharpening, meat information, and lots of other neat cooking tips. He even links a few quizzes into the workbook that you can take to test your cooking knowledge.

Check out Gordon Ramsay’s MasterClass here. It’s a great dive into the thrilling world of cooking.

Ron Finley: Gardening

Ron Finley teaches you gardening.

This is a great class for those stuck at home with access to a yard! If you’re in an apartment without access to a yard, you can make do with a sunny spot in a pinch.

Admittedly, I’ve never had much of a green thumb, so I approached this class with a bit of skepticism. I dunno, Ron. Can I really grow that?

Well, I’m proud to say that after taking his class, yes I can!

Over the course of 10 lessons, community activist/gardener Ron Finley teaches you how to create planters, grow your own food, and (most importantly) how not to kill your own plants.

It’s a short class, but it provides a lot of great pointers on plant care. There’s an especially cool class all about dirt — specifically the quality of your dirt for your plants. If your dirt is low quality or contaminated, Ron gives you solid + practical advice on how to improve the quality of the land for your plants.

I really enjoyed the section on choosing the right plants for your environment. It might sound simple, but it’s crazy important to remember that not all plants grow everywhere.

You can’t grow mangoes in New England. Not well anyway.

Check out Ron Finley’s MasterClass here.

Robin Roberts: Effective communication

I’ve always been a Robin Roberts fan.

She’s a groundbreaking newscaster who was the first black anchorwoman for ESPN (among a string of firsts in her career). So when I saw that she was teaching at Masterclass, I had to give her class a shot.

Over the course of 11 videos, Robin Roberts lays out a clean, emotionally connecting class on how to communicate effectively.

The classes vary from more foundational work (making an authentic connection) to more applicable classes (like public speaking).

I especially appreciated her class on interviewing for a job. I hadn’t thought of that when it came to effective communication, but after seeing it, I completely see how integral effective communication is to the job search process.

If you’re looking to up your interview or public speaking game (or you’re hoping to keep those conversations with your spouse from tipping into unproductive arguments), you definitely should give Robin Roberts’s class a try.

Chris Voss: Negotiation

This was a cool class.

Chris Voss leans on his training as a former FBI hostage + crisis negotiator to bring us a masterclass on how to effectively negotiate. While he certainly deployed negotiation in some very tense circumstances, his tactics can be used by any of us in our day-to-day lives.

I really like that, pretty much off the bat, Chris explains that current negotiating thinking has deviated away from “zero-sum” negotiations (I win, you lose), and now rests on win-win scenarios being optimal.

I’ll be honest: some of the advice featured tactics I haven’t used. I was surprised that using an assertive voice was labeled as “always counterproductive.” But the more I learned (and the more I thought), the more I realized that it’s true — all of my positive negotiations have been non-aggressive, non-confrontational.

Chris does a really good job of explaining why this is the case. He builds the class around specific negotiation tactics you can utilize to achieve win-win results in negotiation. It’s not a terribly long class, but the information he provides can last a lifetime.

Check out Chris Voss’ MasterClass here.

Annie Leibovitz: Photography

Annie Leibovitz is one of the most important and celebrated living photographers. Specializing in stunning portraits, she’s taken iconic photos of some of the most well-known celebrities of our time. Her More Demi Moore, taken of a pregnant Demi Moore for Vanity Fair, is one of her most iconic works.

So it was with this knowledge that I decided to take Annie’s photography class. Over 15 lessons, Annie breaks down the mechanics and art of photography to help an aspiring photographer perfectly capture that moment on film.

Her speciality is portraits, so her first lesson after the intro is a deep-dive into portraiture and photojournalism, where she reconciles “capturing a moment” with not truly being able to “capture a person.”

I particularly enjoyed her lesson on “working with light,” as light is a photographer’s best friend (and the absence often a mortal enemy). It’s neat to see how she breaks down the technical elements into practical advice for a photographer of any level.

She jumps into a more reflective, philosophic lesson on “looking back on your work,” which offers some much needed introspection on the difficult art of judging your past efforts.

It’s a hard task. We all cringe at our old stuff. That just means we’ve moved onto different styles — not that it’s bad.

If you’re into photography, you certainly owe it to yourself to check out Annie Leibovitz’s class. It’s beautiful.

Margaret Atwood: Creative writing

Margaret Atwood is the creative genius behind “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

There are a lot of writing classes on Masterclass, and I firmly believe that each class offers unique insight into the art of writing. Atwood’s class certainly is no exception.

Over 23 lessons (and accompanied by a 90+page workbook), master writer Margaret Atwood walks you through crafting a plot, building compelling characters + dialogue, revising your work, and a host of other critical concepts for writing.

While narrative tactics and dialogue work certainly aren’t novel concepts, her lessons on “working with time” and “prose style and texture” offer interesting lessons that aren’t being covered by other masterclasses.

Her assignments are also really compelling; providing aspiring writers new prompts to spur their creative juices. And once you’ve got them going? She reins you in with more focused work (I particularly liked her character sheets), that gets you to refine and develop the story and the world you have created.

It’s definitely one of the meatier writing classes that you can find on Masterclass, so I recommend it to any writer who is looking to build up compelling characters, strengthen pacing, and learn how to properly revise.

It’s a phenomenal class! Click here to check out her class.

Neil Degrasse Tyson: Scientific thinking

I couldn’t not do Neil’s class. I’ve loved Neil since high school, when I checked out one of his captivating (and hilarious) texts about space (his anecdote about the sky in the Titanic still cracks me up).

I’m very pleased to say that Neil Degrasse’s class lives up to the books of his I read in school. It’s awesome.

While he definitely teaches about the scientific method, he devotes a great deal of time to how we (humans) think, make errors, and learn. He’s always been a devotee of skepticism, and he certainly doesn’t skip that here (he offers a whole lesson on that concept).

The communication aspect of his class makes for a slightly uncomfortable marriage with the scientific thinking component, but I understand that a huge part of advancing science is communicating new results in an effective manner.

Having someone be receptive to your findings is critical, and Neil teaches you ways to build a positive reception in your audience.

He has 13 lessons, so there’s definitely a good deal of content for you to explore. It’s not as hands-on as some of the other classes (like cooking), and the workbook is a little small without homework activities, so it’s best to think of this as a learning seminar as opposed to a more typical masterclass.

Still, his lessons on skepticism, biases, and belief systems are wonderful, and definitely worth your time and energy.

Check out Neil Degrasse Tyson’s class here.

MasterClass vs. Skillshare

Many people ask which is better out of MasterClass or Skillshare.

The thing is:

They’re completely different. Skillshare focuses more on hard skills, like writing, online marketing, and more.

MasterClass is for those people looking for personal development, and that means you won’t be getting a certificate afterward.

Skillshare is also cheaper, and you can even get started with a free trial. Some of their courses are just 10 minutes long, and many of them lack the deep insight that MasterClass courses have.

And last, but certainly not least, MasterClass has premium teachers and instructors. With Skillshare, people may know what they’re doing, but you’re not going to be learning from the likes of Gordon Ramsay or Natalie Portman.

MasterClass vs. Udemy

Another online learning platform is Udemy. Udemy is currently the largest online education platform, but they focus mainly on learned, hard skills.

Want to become better at marketing? Udemy.

Need to learn a new skill? Udemy.

Want to learn more about a hobby? MasterClass.

Udemy’s courses have a minimum length of 30 minutes. You also receive a certificate of completion, which allows you to share it with future employers.

You probably won’t be spending more than $20 or so on an Udemy course. While the price point is appealing, you won’t get the quality you get from MasterClass.

MasterClass vs. Great Courses

One similar thing between MasterClass and The Great Courses is that they offer a subscription service. Just like the MasterClass annual subscription, Great Courses has Great Courses Plus, which allows you to stream hundreds of courses for a low monthly price.

The main difference between these two comes down to video quality and instructor quality. With Great Courses, the instructors are knowledgeable in their field. However, they aren’t known to be celebrities.

Some may enjoy that they’re being taught by real, humble people rather than big celebrities. MasterClass can be a bit misleading in that just because you’re learning from celebrities doesn’t mean that you’ll be at their level.

However, because Great Courses doesn’t have the same type of funding and backing as MasterClass, they produce many videos and the quality shows. MasterClass’s video quality is supreme, and Great Courses is so-so.

MasterClass vs. CreativeLive

Needing the best of hobbies and business? CreativeLive has DIY, photography, art, and design, while also offering, marketing and business classes.

The problem is they lack some focus. Because they put so much of their time into multiple offerings, everything comes off a bit blasé. And while they’re a good online education platform themselves, they lack personal development skills that MasterClass is good at.

Through all of these online education platforms, my gripe with MasterClass and other online education platforms still remain the community.

CreativeLive has over 10 million students, but there isn’t a community that is strong and thriving. MasterClass’s community is stronger than theirs.

That being said, while none of these education platforms are bad, if you’re looking for premium teachers, amazing video quality, and personal development courses, MasterClass hits home.

Frequently Asked Questions on MasterClass

We get asked a lot of questions about MasterClass, and here are the most frequently asked:

Does MasterClass have a mobile app?

Yes, MasterClass has apps for iOS, Android, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Roku.

Do I have a time limit on my course?

You have access to all classes for one year with the annual membership. There is no longer an option to purchase classes individually.

How long are MasterClass courses?

Each MasterClass course varies in how much film there is to watch, but there is usually between two and five hours for every course. These are split up into smaller increments, making it easy to take a break.

Can I talk to the MasterClass instructors?

While I’ve heard that some students did get feedback from the instructors, I’m not holding my breath. Because of their celebrity status, it has to be pretty difficult for them to come back and give feedback. I wouldn’t plan on hearing from them.

How do I watch the classes?

You can watch the classes on your TV, phone, computer, tablet, or any other internet-enabled device.

What happens after I finish a MasterClass course?

You can start another one! Or, you can review the materials you haven’t gone over. There’s no harm in watching the course again, either. You don’t, unfortunately, get a certificate, but you do get to keep the knowledge!

Is MasterClass worth the money?

We’ve covered the great: the amazing teachers, the quality production, the sheer amount of content, and the multiple streaming avenues.

We’ve covered the so-so: a thin online community and less-than practical lessons.

So, at the end, is it worth the money?

Yes. MasterClass is worth it. It is a truly unique learning experience and gives you remarkable insight into amazing celebrity thinkers. You’d never get to learn from these brilliant minds any other way.

Personally, I love it, and the more I take the classes, the more I’m finding myself recommending MasterClass to others. You can even give MasterClass as a gift, which is perfect for those who love personal development.

While I do see the flaws, I think it’s fairly affordable and worth every penny I’ve spent.

Conclusion: Should you pay for MasterClass?

After doing several of the MasterClass classes, here’s my conclusion about whether you should pay for MasterClass.

If you feel like you’re lacking inspiration in your life, it may be a good fit for you.

Perhaps you’re a writer struggling with writer’s block, and you want access to the world’s best writers to see how they approach this situation.

Or maybe you’re an up-and-coming movie director and you simply want to immerse yourself in the ways of living and thinking of a high-quality director.

But most likely, you may be someone who simply wants to introduce more educational content into what you watch in the evening.

Sometimes, we get inspiration from simply understanding exactly what it’s like to be successful on the world stage. But certainly, we’ve got a lot to learn from the world’s most successful people.

The great thing about these MasterClass classes is that you really do get an insider’s feel of what it’s like.

If any of this applies to you, it’s well worth the money.

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Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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