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


Originally published at

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

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

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

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

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

Should you pay for it?

What exactly is MasterClass?

By now I’m sure you’ve come across online educational platforms. Perhaps you’ve taken your fair share of classes. Or maybe you’re looking at taking some. Either way, this new avenue of learning holds great potential for people with curious minds..

With these types of courses, you can learn anywhere from the convenience of your laptop or even your mobile phone. Even better, you can learn at your own pace.

MasterClass is one of these online educational platforms. But what exactly is their selling point?

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

Let’s find out if that’s true.

Who are the MasterClass instructors?

This is what makes MasterClass incredibly unique.

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

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

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

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

What are the classes like?

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

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

Who is MasterClass for?

MasterClass offers online courses in one particular subject – the creative field. While many of the online courses out there are centered on business or digital skills, Masterclass is designed for aspiring or established creative professionals:

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

Furthermore, MasterClass isn’t for those who thrive in pressurized classroom environments. Instead, it is ideal for those who like a more hands-on approach to learning.

The cost of MasterClass’s online classes

You know that you’re being taught by true experts. But what about the cost structure of MasterClass classes?

Each “class” costs $90, giving you 20-40 video based lessons (about 3 to 14 minutes each) with lectures from the particular “master” of the subject you’re learning about.

The $90 fee gives you lifetime access to the program. This includes all of the video based content and written descriptions of each module.

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

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

I’ll explain more below.

What makes MasterClass online classes different?

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

Strength number 1: The quality of the instructors

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

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

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

This is only scratching the tip of the iceberg.

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

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

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

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

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

Strength number 2: The quality of the video classes

The quality of their video classes is incredibly captivating.

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

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

They’re delivering on this aim. For example, check out the trailer below for Steve Martin’s class:

Now check out Ron Howard’s trailer for directing:

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

The problems with MasterClass

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

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

Are these really educational classes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bryan Collins took a number of classes and tested out the Hub, finding that “most of the Masterclasses have only a few replies.”

There are examples of instructors collaborating with students, as can be seen below. However, this is likely an exception to the norm, especially given MasterClass’s recent growth.

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

Are Masterclass’s online classes worth your money?

The key question I want to address is the following:

Are their online classes worth your money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, in the coming months Ideapod is launching an online course with the shaman Rudá Iandé. We’re limiting the number of participants to put people together in more intimate groups. Participants learn together with Iandé, and I’ll be moderating the course and getting really involved.

We’re able to do this because we’re a much smaller organization in comparison with MasterClass.

Having said this, I think it’s difficult to find a better value for money offering than what MasterClass offers.

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

To try out MasterClass, click here. We’re an affiliate partner of MasterClass and may earn commission if you purchase one of their classes. This helps Ideapod to keep on creating independent media. To be part of Ideapod, become a Prime member.