MasterClass Review (2021): Is It Really Worth It? My Verdict
MasterClass review summary
If you’re new to MasterClass, here are the key things you need to know:
- A-list celebrity instructors teach you the thing that made them famous.
- Each class has around 20 video lessons (with amazing production quality).
- The Masterclass annual membership costs $180 per year. Compared to other online learning platforms, this is good value.
- My favorite thing about MasterClass was how warm and enthusiastic the instructors were. They seemed to genuinely get a kick out of sharing their craft.
- What I didn’t like about MasterClass was the community feature.
Verdict: MasterClass is much more practical than it’s given credit for. After completing 5 classes, I won’t emulate the successes of my instructors any time soon. However, I am already a better writer, home decorator, and cook for having taken them.
I’m a writer.
And when I saw that two of my all time heroes, Neil Gaiman and Malcolm Gladwell, were teaching on MasterClass, I knew I had to check it out.
In my epic MasterClass review, I’ll walk you through how MasterClass works, how much it costs, what I liked about it, and what I didn’t.
I’ll also share my personal experience taking 5 totally different classes – Neil Gaiman, Malcolm Gladwell, Kelly Wearlstler, Gordan Ramsay and Chris Hadfield.
Is MasterClass worth your time and money?
Let’s find out!
(This review contains affiliate links which means any purchases may earn us a commission — at no extra cost to you. However, it’s an honest review about my personal experience with MasterClass).
What is MasterClass?
MasterClass has been making waves recently thanks to their brand new approach to online education.
Every instructor is the A-team.
Acting classes by Natalie Portman. Cooking by Gordon Ramsey. Chess by Garry Kasparov.
Each class has around 20 lessons, between 3 and 5 hours of video content in total, a workbook summarizing the key points of each video lesson, and an online community.
MasterClass taps into a key urge of so many of us in 2021 — to learn and improve ourselves.
Although celebrity instructors are the headline act, the emphasis of MasterClass is firmly on students honing their own talents. These classes are about the creative spark that lies within all of us.
About the instructors
MasterClass instructors are household names. Classes include:
- Neil Gaiman teaches writing
- Gordon Ramsay teaches cooking
- Chris Voss teaches negotiation
- Helen Mirren teaches acting
- Daniel Negreanu teaches poker
- Garry Kasparov teaching chess
- Aaron Sorkin teaches screenwriting
- Steve Martin teaches comedy
- Alicia Keys teaches songwriting.
And I gotta say, across the board, I was really impressed by their knowledge, warmth, and enthusiasm. They’re not just A-listers, they’re great instructors too. They were passionate about teaching me their craft.
The classes are full of intimate anecdotes that give me a sense of who the instructors really are beneath all the feathers in their caps. You really get a one-on-one vibe that is pretty enthralling.
Fair warning though: while these classes are chock-full of information, they shouldn’t be confused with something like an online college course.
But I didn’t sign up for MasterClass to get a college credit. I signed up to be taught by some of the most prominent minds in their fields.
Who is MasterClass for?
MasterClass is for anyone hungry to learn new skills and gain some inspiration along the way.
You won’t find career-changing skills (I mean instantly practical things, like coding or digital marketing) in most MasterClasses, but that’s okay. There are other educational platforms for that.
These classes are all based on tapping into your own creativity.
Like I said, I’m a writer.
MasterClass was great for me because it gave me the inspiration to pursue new things. After diving into 5 classes (so far), I have:
- Become a better writer and storyteller because of Neil Gaiman and Malcolm Gladwell.
- Found new ways to decorate my apartment courtesy of Kelly Wearstler
- Learned how to whip up some epic meals Gordon Ramsay-style
- Picked up a thing or two about rocket science from Chris Hadfield.
I consider my MasterClass subscription like a gym membership or library card; it’s a workout for my mind that introduces me to new perspectives and expands my horizons.
How much does MasterClass cost?
The Masterclass annual membership costs $180 per year.
When you sign up, you get access to every class on the platform (currently 110+ classes). And they’re adding new classes on an almost weekly basis.
MasterClass used to offer individual classes for $90 but they stopped doing this last year.
While MasterClass doesn’t offer a free trial period, there is a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not completely happy.
MasterClass Special Deals
MasterClass sometimes offer special deals. Check out any current deal here.
Is the annual membership good value?
Yes. MasterClass is good value for an online education platform.
When you consider that you’re being taught by some of the most recognizable names in their fields, I think $180 is a great deal.
Each MasterClass has between 3 and 5 hours of video content, so per hour it’s still much cheaper than any college course.
And my local college doesn’t have James Patterson and Christina Aguilera on the staff.
The annual membership also gives you access to Quick Lists, which is a way to explore video lessons from different instructors and learn specific skills. This feature is massively useful, and I’m going to talk more about that below.
Even if you’re only interested in taking classes from one or two instructors, having access to every instructor on the MasterClass platform is still a huge bonus.
How MasterClass works
You can expect the following from a typical class:
- Video lessons from the instructor. Most classes contain around 20 to 25 video lessons.
- Workbooks. The workbooks summarize the key points of each video lesson, and provide extra references and sometimes homework assignments.
- Access to the community. You can join discussions, share your own work, and connect with other students taking this class.
The lessons are structured so that even if you’re a beginner you’ll be able to apply what you’ve learned to your own life right away.
Here’s a screenshot from Helen Mirren’s class:
I’m such a bad actor that I was the only kid to get kicked out of the Christmas pageant at school, but after trying a couple of her activities I actually felt a lot more comfortable and confident.
Helen Mirren would be proud of me.
Let’s break down the key aspects of each MasterClass a little more so you’ll know what to expect.
The videos are the standout feature of MasterClass.
I was totally blown away by the production values and the amount of work that’s obviously gone into every single video. The camerawork, lighting, music and of course the instructors themselves made the videos an absolute joy to watch.
Take a look at the trailer for Garry Kasparov’s course above and you’ll see what I mean.
The videos are usually between 5 and 20 minutes, so it was pretty easy to fit one in at lunch time or on my commute. Whenever I switched between my laptop and phone it automatically saved my progress.
In the writing classes there’s a lot of talking, but I also got to see the instructors reading aloud, drawing, and illustrating their ideas on paper.
The cooking classes had a lot more practical demonstrations so that I could follow along in my own kitchen at the same time.
The workbooks are available to download as a PDF. They have a summary of everything that’s said in the videos plus extra references, so you don’t have to take notes as you watch.
My writing hand was grateful.
Some contained assignments to put what I’d just learned into practice; everything from research at the library to shopping for ingredients to trying to mimic another writer’s voice.
I will say that some of the homework was a bit weird.
One of Werner Herzog’s assignments involved walking exactly 100 miles from home and documenting everything you see. I like walking but that’s a three-day hike.
Sorry Werner, I skipped that one.
The workbooks included links to a lot of useful resources. I was really impressed that these are much more than just reading material.
For example, Christina Aguilera recommends an app that tests your vocal range and shows you how to use it to measure your progress as you go through the course.
Gordon Ramsey’s class uses an interactive guide to seasonal vegetables; put in your location and the date and it tells you what to buy.
Access to the community
MasterClass has created a community called The Hub to interact (and even network) with other class members.
I found the comments on the writing courses generally thoughtful and helpful. The other students were people who were serious about improving and they made an effort to give me useful feedback.
However, as I’ll talk about below, the overall the community feature was my least favorite thing about MasterClass.
My experience taking 5 MasterClasses
Like a lot of people, I’ve been spending more time at home. The upside of this is that I found time to sample lessons from 20+ instructors on MasterClass.
I took 5 classes in full — Neil Gaiman, Kelly Wearstler, Malcolm Gladwell, Gordon Ramsay, and Chris Hadfield.
Here’s what they were like for me.
Neil Gaiman review
Neil Gaiman is many things. He is an author, journalist, and blogger, but, once upon a time, he was a failed writer who desperately wanted to fit into the literary world.
After years of hard work and learning, he is now listed in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as ‘one of the top ten living post-modern writers.’
From his groundbreaking series Sandman to his confronting dark, children’s book Coraline, and into his very popular Norse Mythology and American Gods, Neil has created a strong foundation for readers and writers alike.
I’ve been a huge Neil Gaiman fan for years, and with the TV adaptation of Good Omens recently arriving on Amazon Prime Video, I thought this would be the perfect chance to learn at the feet of the master.
What I learned from Neil’s course:
- Sources of inspiration. Neil discusses how to get inspired to create and he goes through some techniques to assist with finding fresh ideas when you think you’re stuck. Most importantly, he explains why you need to build a ‘compost heap’, which is a dumping ground for the quirks, words, and appearances of those around you.
- Developing character. Step-by-step, Neil walks you through the process he uses to go from a vague idea to a fully formed person walking around inside your head. What kind of physical quirks do they have? How do they talk?
- Descriptions. How do you make your setting come alive without your audience getting bored? Neil talks about using all five senses to create a vivid mental image and how memorable details can provoke strong feelings. He also shares the most important tip of all: don’t tell the writer how to feel. As he states, “if I leave you crying because I just killed a unicorn, I’m not going to tell you how sad the death of the unicorn was.”
- Humor. Since everyone needs a laugh sometimes, Neil shares some of the ways he makes his stories funny and surprising, and how you can twist a cliché to make it work for you. And it might not be in the way you assume. Try spotting the cliché’s he uses in his books!
More than anything, I learned that everything involves storytelling, even song lyrics. I’m not going to be writing a bestselling novel any time soon, but does good copy writing also involve storytelling?
So does giving a speech or pitching a project or anything that involves holding your audience’s attention.
Because storytelling is important in many areas of life, I can’t think of a situation where I won’t use this class.
You can read Isabel Cabrera’s full Neil Gaiman MasterClass review here.
Kelly Wearstler review
When I first tuned into Kelly Wearstler’s MasterClass, we were in the middle of a seemingly endless global pandemic. Like me, many people were spending more time at home.
Is your home a sanctuary? Or are you climbing the walls dreaming of escape?
Interior design is a remarkably powerful way to create the kind of atmosphere you want in your space. In her class, Kelly Wearstler teaches you how to use color, texture, pattern, lighting, and more to transform your home according to your aesthetic vision.
As Kelly herself says in the intro, “Good design is important because it helps us live better; it helps us feel better.”
Here are some of my main takeaways from Kelly’s course:
- Embrace your space: I used to feel that sometimes the walls of my apartment were closing in around me. But Kelly’s class helped me adjust my attitude and appreciate the space I do have. Even awkward nooks and crannies can be incorporated into a design aesthetic.
- Tell a story: Kelly discusses her design process, which often involves researching the history of a building and its surroundings and using this deeper history to inform the design. By merging past and present, Kelly is “giving an old soul a new spirit,” working with the existing space and respecting its history while creating a new story.
- Color: It may seem intuitive, but so many homes have the same neutral walls. Kelly is a big proponent of bringing color into your home. Repainting a wall or adding a colorful accessory is one of the most dramatic ways to rejuvenate a room. A fresh coat of paint can make a room feel bigger, airier, happier, or calmer.
- Define your project: Before embarking on a huge project, Kelly advises you to take a moment to consider exactly what you want: How do you want to experience your space? Ask yourself how a new design could potentially improve your quality of life, perhaps by giving you a better entertaining space or enlarging your kitchen’s storage.
Prior to taking this class, I hadn’t given too much thought to interior design.
Now have a deeper appreciation for what design can actually do for my surroundings. It’s about more than just upgrading your countertops. Good design is a form of self-expression; it lets you showcase your creativity while also improving your home’s function.
I will note that many of Kelly’s examples center on higher-end projects and clients, which can be hard to relate to at times. That said, each lesson contains practical tips that can be applied to any everyday home.
Malcolm Gladwell review
Not many people can write a New York Times Bestseller every single time they publish, but Malcolm Gladwell is 5 for 5.
Is this because he has spent 10,000 hours on the craft? Maybe. The success he has obtained is probably more likely due to his advanced knowledge of his subject matter.
His books are powerhouses in the industry of gaining success. No wonder Time magazine named him one of the most influential people in the world in 2005.
The most interesting bits of Malcolm’s course:
- Imperfect Puzzles. Malcolm explains how a great work of non-fiction is an unfinished puzzle that allows the reader to put the pieces together themselves, keeping them engaged and entertained with the work.
- Research. A good idea is the first step to any great piece of writing. Malcolm shares how research helps him uncover interesting stories, how the best stuff is in the footnotes, and why you should never be afraid to follow your curiosity.
- Interviewing. In this lesson, Malcolm reveals his secrets to uncovering the subject’s authentic self in an interview, the importance of slowing down, and why you should embrace the unexpected and let go of control.
- Structuring language. Everyone thinks they can write, but we could all stand to take a lesson from Malcolm Gladwell on the power of simplicity to get your ideas across. I particularly enjoyed his discussions of using punctuation for rhythm and pacing.
I enjoyed his tips on testing his new ideas on friends and family first. First-response readers can show you, on a broader scale, how a larger scale audience will respond.
Malcolm Gladwell’s class had so many practical, actionable tips that I could practically feel my writing improving as I watched each video.
Some people claim to have training or knowledge in certain areas or industries, but Malcolm’s success shows that he actually knows what he writes about.
I’m just in awe of this guy.
Gordon Ramsey review
Okay, this class obviously has nothing to do with me improving my writing skills, but what the hey? I love Gordon Ramsay!
I often cook for friends and family, but they always say things like “What are these weird black bits?” and “Did you set off the smoke alarm again?” so I figured I could also do with a lesson or two.
Gordon Ramsay rose to popularity through Hell’s Kitchen, a TV show where he made prominent chefs falter and swore more than a sailor. But his success doesn’t end there, this English-raised restaurateur is also a prolific author and philanthropist.
The stuff I’ll take away from Gordon’s course:
- Kitchen layout. I’ve been doing it wrong all this time! Now I know how to store my ingredients properly and rearrange the kitchen to maximize space. I really liked how you don’t need a lot of fancy tools in order to cook well.
- Knife skills. Gordon explains exactly how to handle the knife so you’re not in danger of losing your fingers, and how to keep your knives properly sharp.
- Making pasta dough. The way Gordon breaks down the steps makes it seem easy, even though this was something I never thought I’d be able to do. Also, apparently you should never wash your pasta machine.
- Perfect scrambled eggs. If there was one thing I thought I already knew how to make it’s scrambled eggs. But I was wrong. Gordon breaks down the foolproof technique to making perfect scrambled eggs every time.
I also learned that this guy never met a curse word he didn’t like. I guess Ramsey’s balls-to-the-wall attitude will put some people off, but personally I loved his passion and the way he pushes you to do better.
Everything I made while taking this course got devoured in seconds and I even got a compliment or two.
You can’t argue with results!
Chris Hadfield review
Chris Hadfield is a retired astronaut and the first Canadian to spacewalk. After serving as a Canadian Air Force fighter pilot, he flew two separate Space Shuttle missions.
Though most things in life aren’t rocket science, his MasterClass really is rocket science. But it’s also much more than that.
Chris has a way of bringing space exploration and human life into perspective. He talks a lot about space, but even if you’re not a wannabe astronaut, you can learn something from him.
Diving into the class, I wasn’t totally sure what to expect. I’ve always been interested in space, but obviously, learning from a master in space wasn’t going to make me an astronaut.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. In the course, he covers everything from rocket-building to life lessons, and I actually enjoyed his “Bonus Chapter” the most.
What I learned from Chris’s course:
- Learn about everything. Chris discusses the difficulties of being a new astronaut. In space, you have to know a little bit about everything. As Chris explained, if you get a shard of metal in your eye, there’s no one in space to take it out but yourself. You have to know mechanics, engineering, medicine, and much more.
- Space could be our new normal. By talking about space, Chris talks about our future. While he knows none of us will become astronauts by taking his MasterClass, he is hopeful that one day space travel will become as popular as air travel. He talks about what living life on Mars would be like and how we can support life there.
- Rockets are awesome. There are a few lessons about rocket science, how rockets are built, and the inner-mechanics of them. I thought that this could be a little sleep-inducing, but between the video quality and Chris’s passion for it, I found myself entertained the whole way through.
- Celebrate life. In his “Bonus Chapter,” he talks about his own story. He had friends die in the 2003 Columbia Space Shuttle disaster, and how that really changed things for him. Chris has a beautiful way of relating space and the enormity of it to our human fragility.
So, I didn’t think I’d have much in common with a space explorer. I thought it’d be a cool class to take but was surprised that I could relate so easily to him.
Our human lives are fragile. No matter where we are or what we’re doing in life, we should celebrate it.
What I liked most about MasterClass
When I sit down to watch MasterClass video lessons, it really feels as if the instructor is speaking directly to me.
Christina Aguilera talks about singing the wrong lyrics to the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and how she recovered from that embarrassing mistake.
Neil Gaiman talks about getting stung by yellowjackets to make sure they wouldn’t attack his kids and how the experience inspired him to write a story about courage.
Bob Woodward tells the story of traveling to Libya to interview Colonel Gaddafi.
I love these behind-the-scenes looks into the lives of people I admire. It’s reassuring to know that everyone, even wildly successful people, sometimes have the same doubts and insecurities that I do.
If you’re feeling a bit down or in a creative slump, MasterClass can help get your motivation back.
Many of the instructors emphasize that success isn’t all about raw talent and that you shouldn’t be afraid of starting with nothing.
As Steve Martin says in his introduction:
“Know that there’s room for you out there in the world. You don’t have to have a special gift. I had no special gift. Except I loved being on stage and I loved comedy. And that’s all I had.”
The MasterClass platform gives you multiple options to sample bits and pieces of different classes.
You can of course follow one class through from start to finish.
But what if you want as much instruction as possible on one specific topic?
Let’s say you’re a writer who wants to create more compelling characters. You can find lessons on this topic in the MasterClasses by Neil Gaiman, Dan Brown, Margaret Atwood, R.L. Stine, Judy Blume, Aaron Sorkin, David Baldacci, and James Patterson.
Why not cluster these lessons together to get an incredible variety of perspectives on the same topic?
As I mentioned above, MasterClass makes this easy for you with Quick Lists. These are pre-made collections of videos by different instructors that speak to similar ideas and concepts. In this way, you can dive deeper in certain areas, such as “Creative Block,” “Leadership,” or “Communication.”
One of my favorites was “Draft to Draft”, which is all about the principals that creative people follow when developing an idea.
With Quick Lists you don’t need to take each class in a linear fashion from start to finish. You’re encouraged to skip between instructors based on topics.
What I didn’t like
This wouldn’t be an honest MasterClass review if I didn’t mention the things I didn’t like so much.
Interaction with the instructor
Before I signed up for MasterClass, I’d heard a rumor that the instructors might answer questions and give you personal feedback. Two lucky people even got to co-write a novel with James Patterson after winning a MasterClass competition.
Did I get anything like that? Not so far.
You can submit questions — either text or uploading a video of yourself — and the instructor may go through and answer some of them.
I’m guessing they get hundreds and hundreds of these things and the chances your question will be answered is pretty small. That’s understandable, but my complaint is that when you sign up you don’t know what kind of interaction you can expect.
At the time of writing, James Patterson had answered about twenty questions, and given general feedback on a bunch of assignments. Gordon Ramsey has answered four questions. Neil Gaiman hasn’t answered anything, although to be fair his course was relatively new when I first took it.
Don’t sign up expecting any of this, and treat it like a fun bonus. It’s totally a matter of luck if you’ll get a question answered.
The other major problem I had with MasterClass was the community…
The MasterClass community
Good classes aren’t just about the teacher; I also want the chance to meet interesting new people and bounce ideas around with them. I’m not going to lie, MasterClass should be doing a LOT more to make the community welcoming and valuable.
For some classes, the lesson discussions under each video are about as useful as YouTube comments. Don’t bother.
The Hub was better. I used it to post my writing assignments and get feedback from other students. They made a huge effort to provide useful feedback.
However, interaction between students in some other classes was lacking to say the least.
What’s the best way to watch MasterClass?
You can watch MasterClass on your:
- iPhone or Android phone (that’s how the app looks on my mobile)
- Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, or Roku TV.
MasterClass gives you plenty of options.
I found the streaming to be extremely high-quality and the quality didn’t drop when I switched between my devices. Like any good streaming service, it remembers exactly where you were.
Some classes I took my time with and worked on the things I learned after each lesson. Others I binged and finished a whole class in a couple of days.
For example, there were several Neil Gaiman lessons that really made me think about my own writing and how I could improve it. I went back to a few of my stories and re-wrote them, taking on board what Neil said in a particular lesson.
Chris Hadfield was different. I didn’t have any rockets in my backyard to improve, so I motored through his class and just enjoyed his take on space and life.
Are there any alternatives to MasterClass?
There are a lot of big names when it comes to online education, and it can be a little confusing to figure out what each platform offers, how much each costs, and which one is best for you.
That’s why I’ve put together a little guide which compares MasterClass to some of the more popular learning platforms. This way, you can see how they all stack up!
MasterClass vs Coursera
Coursera is all about teaching you the hard skills that you need to get ahead in your professional development. Coursera courses are accredited, whereas MasterClass courses are not. Plus, you can actually get full degrees through Coursera, which is not something MasterClass is built for.
Instead, MasterClass is all about learning from the biggest names in their respective fields. Classes are fun, engaging, informative, and of high digital quality. It’s edutainment (education + entertainment).
Price? Masterclass is $180 a year to Cousera’s $399.
MasterClass vs Skillshare
Skillshare helps you learn skills quickly, with lessons being as short as 5 minutes. Courses don’t last much longer than an hour. This platform is all about getting the information and getting it fast.
The quality is a bit of a mixed bag, with some classes being really informative, and others being a little hit-or-miss.
MasterClass is much higher quality across the board, though the classes are considerably longer and geared more toward artistic learners.
Cost: $144 for Skillshare, $180 for MasterClass.
MasterClass vs Udemy
Udemy has, by far, the most classes of any education platform I’ve ever seen — over 130,000 courses!
MasterClass, on the other hand, has just around 110 classes. However, they’re all taught by very high-level, high-quality teachers who are the biggest names in their field. The same can’t be said of Udemy.
Udemy also doesn’t have a subscription option. You pay per course. Courses cost anywhere from $12.00 to $399 depending upon the length of the course.
MasterClass, again, is $180 for the year. It’s a more curated option for the creative learner who wants high-quality content.
MasterClass vs. The Great Courses
The Great Courses is the oldest learning platform on this list. It got started over 30 years ago as a catalogue where you could order videos of college-level lectures on all sorts of topics. 30 years later, it has now rolled out The Great Courses Plus, a new subscription based model where you get access to all these high-level, college style courses for a competitive monthly price.
All the classes are taught by college professors (or similarly qualified individuals), the classes are considerably longer than MasterClass classes (think 20+ hours), and the content is much more academic. Having said that, the courses are also not accredited.
The Great Courses feels a bit more like watching very informative History Channel Documentaries, whereas MasterClass feels much more intimate, like you’re learning in the living room of living legends.
Price: The Great Courses costs $360 for the year, while MasterClass is $180.
My MasterClass review verdict: Is MasterClass worth it?
MasterClass is fantastic for those looking for inspiration in the comfort of their own home for a lot less money than a university course.
Signing up to MasterClass is worth it if you:
- Are interested in an insider look at how art is made
- Want to be inspired by the greatest minds of our generation
- Want to try something different in a new discipline.
However, MasterClass is probably not worth it if you:
- Are looking to pick up specific technical skills
- Want what you learn to be instantly marketable (career wise).
Overall, my experience with MasterClass was overwhelmingly positive.
I probably won’t go on to emulate the success of my instructors any time soon. However, I am a better writer, home decorator, and cook for having dived into these classes.
The founders of MasterClass have mentioned in interviews that they started this project to document the knowledge of great experts to serve as a time capsule after their deaths. That’s pretty heavy stuff, but they’re not wrong.
One day these people will all be gone and this record of their craft – in their own words – will be left for us to learn from.