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Published on Sept. 30, 2023
By: Emma Newbery
The big draw of MasterClass is that it offers high-quality online courses from celebrity instructors. You can learn about leadership from Bill Clinton himself, prepare your mind for victory with Lewis Hamilton, or uncover Neil Gaiman’s storytelling secrets. With high-quality production values, the courses are broken down into bite-sized learning opportunities, meaning you don’t have to commit an hour to each study session.
That said, MasterClass’ content won’t be for everybody. A lot of the courses teach broad brush principles, rather than getting bogged down in the nitty gritty. I loved Yotam Ottolenghi’s course on Middle Eastern cookery. But I learned a lot more about the nuts and bolts from his books and if I were training to be a professional chef, it wouldn’t be my first port of call.
When it comes to online learning, everybody is different. A lot depends on your learning style, what you want to learn, and why you’re learning. For example, I wouldn’t look to MasterClass if I wanted to learn to build a website or improve my technical writing skills. I’d use Udemy for that. And if I wanted to pursue a career in data analysis and needed certifications to show what I’d learned, I’d probably use Coursera.
Here’s how much MasterClass subscription costs:
You have to subscribe for a year; the monthly fee is just for guidance. MasterClass does offer promotional pricing for holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Just make sure you and the recipient fully understand the terms and conditions.
The way I view MasterClass is that it gives you content that will broaden your mind in an entertaining way. I completed fascinating courses on topics I might never otherwise have engaged with. For example, former FBI lead hostage negotiator Chris Voss both explains and demonstrates how you can come out on top in your negotiations. I learned about the science of sleep from neuroscience professor Matthew Walker. A few years on, and I still tell people about the nuggets I picked up in those courses.
You won’t get a certificate at the end of the course, and you’re unlikely to put any MasterClass learnings directly onto your CV. Moreover, MasterClass is fascinating and fun, but it isn’t essential. If you feel like you never have enough cash in your bank account and are struggling to save for the future, it probably isn’t the right time for you to subscribe.
My biggest objection to MasterClass is that it sells a high-quality product, but then nickel and dimes you more than a budget airline. Firstly, you can’t buy individual courses. So if you only want to watch Dr. Jane Goodall’s incredible course on conservation, you still have to pay for a whole year’s subscription. And once your subscription is finished, you can’t watch it again. In contrast, the Udemy courses I bought in 2018 are still available.
Which brings me to my second irritation. MasterClass gives you a monthly price on its website, but you can’t pay by month. You have to sign up for a full year. In fairness, it does have a 30-day cancellation policy. But if you want to end your subscription after, say, three months, you won’t get a refund for your unused time.
Those things are annoying, but they are not super uncommon in the world of subscriptions. Where I drew the line and canceled my MasterClass subscription is the way its gift passes work. These two experiences left a very bad taste in my mouth:
Frankly, I’d have forgiven both incidents if the customer service team had given me some reassurance. I gave them several opportunities to acknowledge the issue and help my friend. The boiler-plate emails I received did neither.
When it comes to online learning, my aspirations are often bigger than my ability to study. I am very good at signing up for courses, but not always so good at actually doing them. I found MasterClass helped me overcome this — I used to do one or two lessons at lunchtime each day. The celebrity instructors are inspirational and the courses are super engaging.
But there is a disconnect between its courses and its customer service. One offers high-quality content at relatively high prices. The other is a money-grabbing system that seeks to exploit its customer loyalty. I’d highly recommend MasterClass’ content. Just don’t try to share it with your loved ones.
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Emma owns the English-language newspaper The Bogota Post. She began her editorial career at a financial website in the U.K. over 20 years ago and has been contributing to The Ascent since 2019.
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