I tried Masterclass.  Here's why it's worth it

I tried Masterclass. Here’s why it’s worth it


  • Videos from recognized experts
  • Subtitles are available in English, German, Spanish and French
  • Multiple video quality and speed options
  • Full refund within 30 days of purchase (may not apply to some offers)

The inconvenients

  • Full refund does not apply to Black Friday 2 for 1 subscription offer

Welcome to Master Class

What do household names like Madeleine Albright, RL Stine, Indra Nooyi, Dr. Jane Goodall and Serena Williams have in common? They all taught classes through MasterClass. It is a platform rich in references and saturated with inspiration.

Learning a skill is one thing, learning it from someone with demonstrable experiential success in that area is another. When I scrolled through the course offerings, I couldn’t help but fangirl: “They are on MasterClass?”

I had a MasterClass subscription a few years ago and used it to take writing lessons from Margaret Atwood, James Patterson, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman. (Instruction comes in the form of recorded videos and downloadable guides; don’t expect instructor interaction or feedback. Here’s the MasterClass FAQ for more details.)

It was a transcendent experience to soak up the words of some of my idols and note the wisdom they had to share. And it was less distracting than soaking up YouTube videos with tons of ads and recommendations scattered across the platform. Watching MasterClass replaced streaming services like Hulu and Netflix for me for a while: MasterClass was both relaxing and uplifting.

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Since then, MasterClass has added a hands-on format called Sessions, which has a structured 30-day program with peer engagement and teaching assistant feedback. The membership rate still seems very reasonable, from $180 per year, which would be $15 per month. Each class has an exercise book, as well as about 20 lessons with an average duration of 10 minutes. MasterClass adds new courses every month that you can download and watch offline if you have the right plan.

And there is currently a two-for-one MasterClass membership offer for Black Friday, where you pay for a subscription and can gift one for free. For this review, I purchased a subscription for my own pleasure and gave one away.

How to get started with MasterClass on your phone

You can register through a web browser or on your phone; the process is similar. I chose to sign up on my iPhone 11 by selecting the two-for-one promotion.

The first was a quick three-question survey asking about my intentions, categories of interest, and planned study hours per week. Based on my selections, MasterClass suggested 125 courses for consideration (out of approximately 180 offered). You are not limited to these and will have access to the other categories. At the end of this survey, you can choose to register. You will receive a confirmation and you will be asked to upload a profile photo (less than 1MB) — I went to the office for this part and had no difficulty.

Registration for the Master Class

Sherin Shibu/ZDNET


There are three membership options: Individual, Duo and Family. The Duo membership option is the one that is automatically selected when you access this page, and it is priced at $20 per month or $240 per year.

I chose to go with the individual membership, at $180 per year. It’s $15 per month, but be aware that if you cancel your subscription after the 30-day refund period and before the end of the year, the remaining months will not be refunded.

The Individual plan supports one device to view MasterClass at a time and does not allow episode downloads for offline viewing. The Duo subscription supports two devices at a time and allows downloads for offline viewing, while the Family subscription increases the number of possible simultaneous devices to six. All three plans have the full library of classes and sessions.

Classes can be played at 0.5x, 1x, 1.5x, and 2x speed. Subtitles are offered in English, German, Spanish and French. Video quality options are Auto, 360p, 540p, 720p, and 1080p.

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Example lesson: “Think like an FBI profiler” by John Douglas

Master Class Homepage

This is what MasterClass looks like on computer.

Sherin Shibu/ZDNET

Under “New to MasterClass” I saw the intriguing “Think Like an FBI Profiler” course taught by John Douglas.

Douglas pioneered criminal profiling, working on 5,000 violent cases for the FBI. In a series of MasterClass videos ranging from 8 minutes to 18 minutes, he breaks down criminal profiling to help the viewer understand how it works, and also hopefully stay safe in their own lives.

One question he addressed while talking about serial killer Ed Kemper was, “Are criminals born or created?” Douglas opened up about how he tackled a horrific case and explained what the process of going to a high-security prison to question Kemper was like and how dangerous and stressful it was to talk to him. He even played creepy, never-before-seen tapes of his interactions with Kemper. Douglas also identified key manipulative traits to watch out for in day-to-day life.

I found the video quality to be excellent and Douglas was a calm, well-spoken presenter. The information came from an expert but was presented in a way that was accessible and compelling to a wider audience.

MasterClass Sessions

Sessions are a practical touch to MasterClass courses. You get projects and activities in a structured 30-day format and you can share your work with peers taking the course and get feedback from teaching assistants on what you submit. You can skip a day or two in the program if needed – lectures are pre-recorded, so you can pick up where you left off whenever you want.

Here are some session options that stood out to me:

I decided to try the viral video course presented by Marques Brownlee, who has 16.3 million YouTube subscribers. The sessions have a more goal-oriented vibe than regular classes on MasterClass. Brownlee’s session aims to give the viewer the skills they need to make high-quality videos, and he gives assignments along the way to keep viewers on track.

The Sessions videos I watched only had English subtitles, but the speed and quality options were the same as a regular course.

At the end of the line

MasterClass is a solid investment in personal development. It offers an instructive video of well-known personalities and its stake is quite low as it offers a 30-day full refund period. Keep in mind that the refund does not apply if you make the 2 for 1 Black Friday subscription offer and gift MasterClass to someone.

Whether you’re using it on mobile or desktop, the viewing experience offers captions and plenty of video speeds and quality levels. The more activity-oriented sessions should be a good experience for those setting goals.

If you’re looking to discount streaming services by focusing on high-quality bang for your buck experiences, I recommend checking out MasterClass.

Alternatives to consider

Coursera caters to job seekers, with affordable degrees, certificates, and courses in high-paying fields. There are many free courses on the platform, but if you want to get a certificate, you will probably have to pay for it on a course-by-course basis. Keen learners will enjoy Coursera Plus, a subscription service offering unlimited certificates and training for $59 per month.

Mindvalley offers classes with a life-transforming message that should resonate with the target audience of the MasterClass. It’s currently $99 per month.

CLASS101+ offers many courses in subjects such as illustration, music, and photography for $19.99 per month.

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