MasterClass launched in 2015, but the fact that it’s been around for a while doesn’t make it any less engaging or compelling. Some of the ideas from the MasterClass learning experience can even be applied to the learning experiences you design. Before we jump in, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page.

What is MasterClass all about?

What is MasterClass?

It’s a platform that offers high-production value online classes created for students of all skill levels. 

Who are the MasterClass instructors? 

MasterClass is the only platform with content provided by world-famous experts like Aaron Sorkin, Gordon Ramsey, and Steve Martin. Impressive, right? There’s no other online learning platform that pulls household name writers, chef’s, and actors into one space.

MasterClass online classes price

MasterClass is $15 a month or $180 a year.

What is the MasterClass learning experience?

MasterClass is polarizing in the learning space. Searching for “MasterClass” leads you down Google rabbit holes like, “Is MasterClass a ripoff?” and “Is MasterClass worth it?” In our office, we have a bit of a debate: is MasterClass just entertainment, or do subscribers receive value from this super-polished format?

I’m going to demystify MasterClass. I’ll talk about the things MasterClass does well: production value and access to world-class experts. Then we’ll consider gaps in the MasterClass learning experience. Finally, we’ll discuss how to replicate the success of MasterClass in your learning project.

Things MasterClass does well

When you think about a “learning video,” what comes to mind? Depending on your generation, you might have a few thoughts: Schoolhouse Rock!? Bill Nye? Some sort of PowerPoint with voice-over? A YouTube video? Whatever the case, all those are…well…just okay compared to the work that MasterClass is producing. 

If you haven’t taken a class from MasterClass or seen one of their advertisements, stop what you’re doing and go watch one right now! The cliché “a picture is worth a thousand words” doesn’t even come close to summarizing the value of the MasterClass experience. Once you see a 30-second clip, you’ll understand Masterclass takes their production seriously (here are two fantastic examples with Tony Hawk and Misty Copeland).  

With such attention to detail during the setup, shoot, and even editing, MasterClass online courses do a phenomenal job of blurring the lines between education and entertainment. This is, in part, what makes MasterClass successful. 

These classes are not your average learning video. I’d watch Steph Curry shooting threes on MasterClass over content on Netflix any day. The MasterClass team recognizes they’re competing for attention, like any other content platform. They’re saying that focusing on learning isn’t enough to get that attention. This high level of production combined with access to world-class experts is the essence of MasterClass’s value proposition.

Herbie Hancock teaches jazz, Tony Hawk teaches skateboarding, Ron Finley teaches gardening [headshots of Herbie Hancock, Tony Hawk, and Ron Finley]

Most of this information is a search away on their platform. Masterclass gives people access to all these experts talking about their craft that isn’t available from a Google search.

Gaps in the MasterClass learning experience

By creating a scalable, asynchronous way to have access to all these experts, MasterClass has chosen to lean more into entertainment than education. Its strengths are also its greatest weakness. They’ve captured the learner’s attention, but you have to ask yourself, “Are they learning?” 

The MasterClass format brings awareness to subjects for learners, but doesn’t give much opportunity for application. Perhaps, most importantly, there is no way for MasterClass to give you feedback while you’re practicing a particular skill. The expression, “You don’t learn how to ride a bike by reading about it,” comes to mind. As a learner, watching Kelly Wearstler talk about how she designed a hotel:

A. Isn’t going to help me win a contract to do my own hotel project.

B. Gives me zero skill development velocity. 

You might learn a little. A trick here, a tactic there, but it’s so incremental relative to experiencing the work in real life. Learning is a process, not a one-time event. 

Capture “MasterClass magic” in your next learning project 

How can you, with your next learning project, capture the strengths of the MasterClass learning experience and online classes—and avoid the pitfalls?

Make your content beautiful—and useful

Recognize that your content, like every other piece of content on the Internet, is competing for attention. A strategy to consider is our affinity for beautiful content. This is called the Aesthetic Usability Effect. When something is more visually pleasing, your audience is more likely to use it. This applies to usability and user experience design, too. You can apply this to the production quality of the photography or video content in your learning projects.

Use your experts to lead the charge

Get the best of the best to teach your content. Teaching sales techniques to your organization? Who’s your best salesperson? Get them to be one of the talking heads in a video, or have them do a “celeb shot” for a particular module. Looking to teach your flight attendants the  best practices on customer service? How do you measure success in those areas with your organization? Who’s the best? Have them teach! This will add personality, keep the skill in-house, and make it more authentic for your audience.

Let your learners apply their new knowledge

Give your audience a chance for practical application. After hearing from the experts, consider how someone can practice in their home office, in their workshop, or wherever they may be. Meet the learner where they’re at, and give them the tools they need to practice and apply everything they learn.

Focus on the learning process

Consider process versus outcome. Learning is not a one-time event. It’s a transformative journey that learners experience. Watching a video and checking the “I watched this” box is great for the MasterClass learning experience and its revenue model. You’re looking to generate change in your organization to win market share or reach another level of profitability or (at the very least) you’re looking for that project that might grab the attention of your leaders. Learning that focuses on process and not outcomes will give you and your organization the results you’re looking for.

Learning experiences come in all shapes and sizes

Training videos, eLearning courses, custom onboarding apps. We've done it all.

Explore different learning experiences