Right now I’m stuck at home, isolating myself from others because of the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s an opportunity for me to get stuck into MasterClass, one of the highest-profile online education programs going around at the moment.
Over the last few years, I’ve taken almost all of the available MasterClass classes. Now I’m going through them again.
I’ve put together this comprehensive review of MasterClass so you can decide if they’re for you.
By the end of this review, you’ll know the pros and cons of MasterClass so you can decide whether it’s worth paying for.
What is MasterClass?
Before we get into the review, let’s explain exactly what MasterClass is.
MasterClass is an online learning platform where the world’s most successful people teach the thing that made them successful.
MasterClass is unique for two reasons:
- They have the world’s most well-known instructors. Really. Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking. Natalie Portman teaches acting. James Patterson teaches writing. Thomas Keller teaches cooking. 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, it’s really addictive. The video lessons are inspiring and entertaining.
You can binge-watch just like you’d do with Netflix.
But instead of dulling your mind with drivel, you’re learning while being entertained.
When so many of us are spending more time at home with the coronavirus lockdowns, MasterClass is a godsend.
For me, that’s reason enough to give MasterClass a shot, especially seeing as they have a 30-day money-back guarantee.
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:
- They are a new online education start-up based out of San Francisco.
- They raised over $56 million and 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.
- It’s a pretty standard approach to online learning. You get access to lessons in the form of videos and notes.
Who teaches on MasterClass?
Here are some of the instructors you can access with the MasterClass classes:
- Malcolm Gladwell teaches writing
- Annie Leibovitz teaches photography
- Chris Hadfield teaches space exploration
- Christina Aguilera teaches singing
- Ron Howard teaches directing
- Aaron Sorkin teaches screen writing
- Martin Scorsese teaches film making
- And many more
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.
Who is MasterClass for?
To be completely honest with you, MasterClass isn’t for everyone.
It’s great for creative types such as writers, photographers, artists, musicians, and painters. If you want to improve these kinds of crafts, MasterClass may be the right solution for you.
But MasterClass doesn’t provide you with practical skills that help you make more money with what you do.
Let me explain with an example.
Recently I took an online course to help me write better emails to my email list. The videos as part of the course weren’t even close to as entertaining as the MasterClass videos. But I learned a practical skill and got access to templates that I could use right away.
You’re not going to get things like this with MasterClass.
Instead, MasterClass is more relevant for people looking for inspiration. They really are bringing Netflix to the online learning industry.
There’s another key point you should know.
MasterClass isn’t ideal if you’re looking for hands-on contact with instructors. They do have a Q&A feature (I’ll show you some screenshots soon), but MasterClass has gotten so popular that it’s hard to have a one-on-one feel with instructors.
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 binge-watching inspiration junkies who want to learn at their own pace. To be honest, that may apply to many of us. But it’s important to know.
Before explaining the quality of the video production (which is what I loved the most), let’s first go over the prices.
The price of MasterClass online classes
MasterClass All-Access Pass
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 MasterClass All-Access Pass 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.
Is this value for money?
Considering how high quality the videos are compared to other online education providers, this is a very competitive price point.
After reviewing many of the classes, I think there’s real value in getting the All-Access Pass. 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 All-Access Pass gives you access to every instructor, you’ll have a great time jumping from one instructor to the other.
What is a MasterClass class like?
Here’s what it looks like, taking one of the classes. This is the class on comedy by Steve Martin.
The class is organized into video-based lessons. They are quite short (usually between 3 and 14 minutes each). It’s really easy to make the decision to watch one of them in one sitting.
Especially when you know how high quality they are.
Unfortunately, you need to purchase access to one of the MasterClasses to see for yourself.
However, you can check out the official trailer for Steve Martin’s class to get a feel for the production quality:
This particular class is very interesting. Steve Martin provides many anecdotes from his comedy and films from a very long and fascinating career.
There are many insights to gain from the videos.
The lesson notes to accompany the videos are quite useful as well. Here’s a screenshot of one of them:
I also found the recommended reading to be in-depth and useful.
How does MasterClass work?
Thankfully, MasterClass is fairly easy to follow.
The current set up for most MasterClass courses is that each course has 25 video lessons that you can watch and learn from. There are also worksheets and other items that you can download to help you learn along with the instructor.
These videos can be watched at any time, and they’re broken up into smaller parts so that they aren’t completely overwhelming. That means you can hop on and take the courses in five or ten-minute increments. You don’t need to have endless time to do it.
MasterClass All-Access Pass benefits
When you purchase the All-Access Pass, you can also experience a unique part of MasterClass.
It doesn’t restrict you to watching the lessons in a linear fashion, as you will find with most other online education providers.
Instead, you’re encouraged to move from one instructor to another.
Let me explain.
Check out the screenshot below. I’ve paused one of the lessons from Steve Martin:
When you pause the lesson, it shows you a related lesson from another instructor, in this case Samuel L. Jackson.
I love this about the All-Access Pass.
When I’m immersing myself in the teachings of Malcolm Gladwell, for example, I’m shown lessons from other writers on the platform based on similar topics.
It’s a brilliant way to use MasterClass and makes the experience quite similar to Netflix.
More on this shortly. First, I want to tell you a bit more about the video production quality.
MasterClass All-Access Pass
MasterClass quality of videos
Hands down, this is the best thing about MasterClass.
The videos are so well-produced.
I’ve taken many different online courses, and nothing compares to these videos.
Check it out for yourself. Here are three of my favorite trailer videos for their online classes:
You can see the quality of the camerawork, the lighting, the sound, and even the music.
I love this trailer with Hans Zimmer:
It’s as though MasterClass has taken their cameras inside the worlds of these incredible people, and managed to convince them 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 one more by Chris Hadfield about space exploration:
It’s a fascinating topic and such an insight into something I would never have access to.
This is exciting.
After taking many of the classes, I can assure you that they maintain the same quality of the trailers across all of the lessons you’ll have access to.
MasterClass is a highly professional and quality look into the minds of the world’s most successful people.
I love this.
Does MasterClass have a mobile app?
MasterClass does have a mobile app, and it’s great.
As you would expect after looking at the quality of the videos, MasterClass has put some effort into making the design quite simple yet sophisticated.
Check out the first screen you’ll find when you log-in after purchasing the All-Access Pass.
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 simple.
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 spent some time learning all about the courses, I’ve been able to see both the good and the bad. Here’s what I think is worth it and what’s not.
The pros of MasterClass
I’ve talked a lot about how MasterClass is good, and it is. So, I’ll sum up the pros of MasterClass in this quick list:
- The quality of videos is very high
- The classes are affordable and taught by world-class teachers
- 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
- Invaluable advice and teaching that you wouldn’t get anywhere else
The cons of MasterClass
Like with anything, there is some bad as well.
MasterClass provides an inside glimpse into the world’s greatest minds.
However, do you really want to get this kind of access by paying for online education?
It gets back to what I said at the start of this article. I’ve done online courses that are practical and useful for my life.
A course in comedy or space exploration doesn’t fit the bill of being practical.
Maybe it will be for you. Perhaps you want to be a writer. Or a painter.
If so, all power to you.
But I think the majority of us have a more applied focus and want to take an online class in something that adds immediate value.
Now, let’s get to the ugly side of MasterClass.
The thing that bothered me about MasterClass is the community.
I think one of the greatest challenges of online education providers is to deliver courses while cultivating a community.
This is one of the best things about traditional education. For all of its faults, it’s amazing for meeting new people in person.
Some of my greatest friends today are from my time at university.
MasterClass promise you’ll find community from “The Hub”. Check it out below:
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.
I think when you’re paying for education, you 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 with me.
So, to sum up, the cons of MasterClass:
- These classes aren’t meant to add practical value
- There isn’t a degree or certificate that comes with the skills taught
- The community isn’t interactive, so many of the courses seem to fall flat
How to use MasterClass
I’ve critiqued the practicality and the social learning aspects of MasterClass in the previous two sections. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be for you.
The best way to think about MasterClass is that it’s an alternative to Netflix or YouTube.
What do you usually do when you get home? If you’re anything like me, you probably switch on the television and stream some shows or clips on Netflix and YouTube.
But now I have a different option. I can get an educational experience that’s also highly entertaining.
The thing about Masterclass is that the 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 for you. 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 All-Access Pass.
In-depth look 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:
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.
Each lesson contains a workbook.
And you can join the discussion group.
So this all checks out and is what we’d expect.
But this is where it gets interesting.
Genefe Navilon from Ideapod provided a pretty comprehensive review of Gordan Ramsay’s MasterClass, and her conclusion mirrors my own.
She said that she began not knowing what to expect from Ramsay. She’s seen him being very crass on television and hadn’t previously warmed to him.
But after completing all of the lessons, she found there was an additional benefit to being a better cook.
The benefit was this:
She was much more inspired by her own life.
Here’s what she said:
“More importantly, I fell in love with cooking in a newfound way. 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.
“For the inspiration alone, I would recommend this MasterClass to anyone.”
I think this perfectly explains one of the benefits of MasterClass. It’s incredibly inspirational.
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 May 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.
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.
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’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!
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’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.
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 Great Courses is that they offer a subscription service. Just like MasterClass’s all-access pass, 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 is available on mobile, and you can even watch it from your TV.
Do I have a time limit on my course?
If you buy one course, you can forever access that course. There’s no time limit to completing it, and you can go at your own pace. If you purchase the All-Access Pass, you’ll have access to your courses for as long as you have the pass.
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 professors, 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 the instructors.
How do I watch the courses?
You can watch the courses 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.
Is MasterClass worth the money?
There are issues, as covered above. The community learning isn’t the best. The skills you learn aren’t so practical. So, with these in mind, is MasterClass worth the money?
Even with the issues, I think it is. It is a truly unique learning experience and really brings out the humanity of the instructors. You’d never get to learn from these brilliant minds any other way, so it’s valuable.
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 or not.
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.
I think if any of this applies to you, it’s worth the money.
However, if you’re looking for a deeper learning experience, it may not be right for you.
By deeper learning experience, what I mean is something where you have the instructor by your side.
Where you understand the progress being made by fellow students around you.
Where you get the feel of being in a classroom.
MasterClass isn’t that. It’s more like getting access to premium video footage that takes you deep inside the mind of a real expert.