MasterClass and Udemy: Are They Worth It?

Saturday, March 14, 2020
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Education doesn’t have to take place in schools or universities. Don’t get me wrong, formal education and degrees are important. Yet, many successful professionals admit that true skill takes time, requires practice (lots of it… and then some), and will often occur in environments not designed for instruction to begin with.

In the digital age, knowledge is everywhere, from textbooks you can order/read online to video tutorials on YouTube, but comprehension is difficult to achieve without an expert to guide you through the things you don’t understand.

Put two and two together and you get e-learning. This year, Udemy will celebrate its 10th anniversary, while MasterClass reached its 7th. Despite serving a similar purpose, the two are quite different from one another. If you’re doubting their viability, there’s no reason to: both have managed to acquire over $300 million in private funding to date.

But are they worth it? Can you really learn anything you want online?

MasterClass – A Couch Conversation with Successful Individuals

MasterClass is the more recent of the two platforms, having officially appeared in 2015 with actor Dustin Hoffman, author James Patterson, and athlete Serena Williams. Now, it has over 50 classes, thousands of lessons, and it’s still growing.

Its aim is to give you access to online classes, which you can go through at any time and which are led by renowned personalities in their fields. The emphasis here falls on celebrity and, if you intend to take any of these, you should know that stardust is a big part of what MasterClass is selling.

You have a workbook containing a summary of each lesson, as well as instructions for further reading – which I find are greatly underestimated. You can record questions for instructors who will periodically try to provide answers. However, one downside of MasterClass’ success is that it keeps them busy, so there’s only so much they get to do in terms of actual interaction.

The service itself is definitely more than stardust. While countless journalists and professionals have criticized the platform for being less about learning and more about motivating the audience or providing an insight into what successful people are like, there is more to it.

By listening to the relevant tips and reflections from the likes of Gordon Ramsay, Margaret Atwood, or Annie Leibovitz, you can grasp their approach to a given task, whether it’s writing a short story, conducting a photo-shoot, or making the perfect scrambled eggs. This is a window into how they perceive their craft and a prime example of their worldview.

In many cases, the speakers have written their own books, so the videos themselves provide a way for them to enact what they say. For instance, if you want to learn simple and actionable tips to help you better negotiate, Christopher Voss’ MasterClass is an excellent addition to his co-authored book “Never Split the Difference.”

On the other hand, if you want to know really specific details, such as the settings on Annie’s camera or which tense is more appropriate in a specific section of your novel, you won’t get what you’re looking for. You also don’t get certificates for completing courses.

Udemy – Educational Opportunities Made Affordable

With over 57,000 instructors, more than 50 million students, and almost 300 million enrolments, Udemy is a more mature and open platform than MasterClass. There’s a reason why they call it the global marketplace for learning and instruction.

Its business model is also different, since Udemy’s goal is to make formal learning (and the likes of it) more accessible, rather than bring a star professional to share their experience on a topic in soft lighting. You can expect courses to be much cheaper (starting at $20, but going up to $200 vs. $90 with MC), cover more subject matter, and go into much more detail.

At the end of a Udemy course, you get a certificate of completion that can be displayed on your LinkedIn profile or resume. This certificate doesn’t guarantee you are legally certified in any way, even though it’s created by teaching academies, industry-leading professionals with a lifetime of experience, or active university professors.

More importantly, each course has quizzes, live exercises, assignments, and step-by-step tutorials you can follow to become truly immersed in the subject matter. If you are looking for more than just couch talk, this is the best place to find it.

What’s more, there a host of classes that are completely free and the platform is a major player in the MOOC (massive online open courses) movement. Over the past few years, Udemy courses have become a widely acknowledged source of reliable skill improvement, with reportedly 80% of Fortune 100 companies using them for employee upskilling. Now, that is something.

Udemy offers a more systematic educational experience that is suitable for beginners who really want to learn how to do something new. Meanwhile, MasterClass seems to be aimed at people with a firmer grasp of a topic, as some of the advice only makes sense once you already know what they’re talking about.

Learning in the Age of the Internet

Overall, you can look at both MasterClass and Udemy as examples of successful e-learning platforms. As you’ve seen, there are a number of differences between them (price notwithstanding) and whether one or the other is more suitable for you is entirely dependent on what you’re looking for.

MasterClass offers an inside perspective on how renowned and successful professionals think, act, and work. Many of them provide a breakdown of their process, rather than a how-to guide to doing this or that.

Udemy is more of a traditional classroom experience that is brought into the 21st century. Although you don’t get to sit down and watch stars sharing details about their craft, the instructors are authorities in their field and many of them are professors or teachers of the subject matter.

At the end of the day, if there’s one thing that we’ve learned in school, it’s that lasting knowledge and deep understanding are cultivated through personal effort. If you never got the chance to learn something you’d have liked to know more about, whether it’s cooking, programming, writing… you name it, MasterClass and Udemy are great opportunities to do so.