MASTERING MASTERCLASS: A NEW WAY OF LEARNING FROM PROFESSIONALS

Celebrities and industry professionals teach courses on MasterClass. Screenshot courtesy of MasterClass

With Zoom sessions replacing face-to-face classes, business meetings, and celebrated holidays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, who’s to say that culinary teachers can’t be replaced by Gordon Ramsey? Or singing coaches can’t be replaced by Christina Aguilera? MasterClass provides just that with online video courses taught by celebrities and other industry professionals, available to anyone willing to learn. Perhaps something like this can have the power to change education as we know it.

Students during the pandemic are already attending class in pajamas, some still in bed, while we’re not even quite sure that others are awake because their cameras are turned off. Is what we’re doing now not working? Should we turn to celebrity-taught classes to incite a sense of excitement to learn? We’ve already replaced concerts with live-streams, handshakes with foot-shakes, and concealer with masks in the last year alone, so nothing would surprise us at this point.

Perhaps it’s a bit dramatic to say MasterClass can replace schools or high education facilities, however, using the platform as a supplement to the system we are currently so familiarized with can assist with the pandemic blues and lack of motivation.

 

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MasterClass courses are roughly two to five hours long and are divided into lessons that last from five to 25 minutes. Each course is done at your own pace and each lesson can be rewatched as many times as needed. Students are also provided with a workbook and notes that go along with every lesson.

For instance, the workbook on Jeff Koons, who teaches art and creativity on MasterClass, is 36 pages that introduce him, his work, and offer practice activities to help stimulate creativity in students. He discusses different technologies he uses when creating his art, where he finds inspiration, and how to use color to emote feelings. Perhaps the best thing to take away from his course is to be keen to the world around you. Koons documents noticing colors on a cereal box and remembering a time he went to Marine World as a child, which later inspired his dolphin art. Taking note of the little things around him helped to make him such a prominent figure in contemporary art.

Annie Leibovitz teaches photography. Screenshot courtesy of MasterClass

While most courses are not interactive with the instructor as they are typically pre-recorded videos, MasterClass has begun hosting occasional live Q&As with different professionals from their corresponding industries. Others, such as Annie Leibovitz’s photography course, have student sessions where the instructors teach and hold discussions with actual students in the videos.

Leibovitz, a renowned photographer for publications such as Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, teaches a course that dissects the different techniques she uses to make compelling photos. Beginning with portrait photography and ending with the evolution of a photographer, she gives in-depth pointers on working with light, choosing subjects, and taking portraits. “I’m not a technical photographer,” Leibovitz said in her introduction. “And I try to keep things as simple as possible. And I know one hears about big productions. But I fight it so much.”

Aside from the basics of photography, Leibovitz offers advice that can benefit amateurs and professionals alike. Based on her personal experience, she emphasizes the importance of editing and looking back on your photographs while bringing viewers into her studio as she works.

 

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Who better to learn creativity and leadership from than Anna Wintour, herself? The Vogue Editor-in-Chief inspires future visionaries with pointers on successful job interviews where she explains what she looks for most in a candidate, effective team-building, and going against the “right” decision. As if learning the inner-workings of Wintour’s mind isn’t enough, you even get to sit in on a Vogue editorial meeting.

Fashionistas have the opportunity to fall even further down the MasterClass rabbit-hole with Marc Jacobs’ course on fashion design. In the near five hours it takes to complete the class, aspiring designers have the opportunity to learn the entire process from creating sketches to constructing the clothing. Aside from the technicalities of designing collections, Jacobs teaches lessons on how to survive the fashion industry and how to keep a passionate and positive mindset in times of trouble.

Marc Jacobs teaches fashion design. Screenshot courtesy of MasterClass

The streaming platform, now dubbed as “edutainment,” was first introduced by David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen in 2014, as Yanka Industries. In May 2015, the website was publicly launched as MasterClass. Its popularity has soared since the start of the pandemic that left people locked in their homes with no school, no work, and nothing to do. According to Forbes’ May 2020 article, MasterClass had raised $100 million to produce more celebrity-led classes in light of the rising demand for online courses. They have certainly held their promise because the website is overflowing with celebrity instructors from acting with Samuel L. Jackson to producing and songwriting with Alicia Keys to comedy with Steve Martin.

If you thought the genres of courses stopped at the arts, you’d be wrong. Disney CEO Bob Iger teaches business strategy and leadership, James Suckling teaches wine appreciation, Brandon McMillan teaches dog training, and Gabriela Cámara teaches Mexican cooking. Perhaps my personal favorite, Ron Finley, the self-proclaimed Gangster Gardener, teaches how to not kill your plants. The variety is endless.

James Suckling teaches wine appreciation. Screenshot courtesy of MasterClass

All that’s left is the age-old question: is it worth it? Subscribers are given the option to purchase singular classes for $90 each, or they can pay a flat rate of $180 for full access to any course for an entire year. This rounds to about $15 per month and ends up being much cheaper than most college textbooks.

YouTube reviewer, Kindlepreneur, discussed the variations between different classes, saying some focused more on strategy while others were hands-on with how to take their lessons to the real world. “Don’t go into it expecting that you’re going to become a master at basketball or the next Martin Scorsese in filmmaking,” he said. “Think of it more like a very high-level discussion that’s like icing on the cake.”

So maybe we can’t completely replace traditional school with MasterClass, but we sure can use it to help us get an idea of what we may want to specialize in, learning the foundation from people who’ve inspired it in the first place.

If COVID-19 has brought nothing else, at least it has helped to popularize this platform, bridging the gap between professionals and beginners, while being simultaneously educational and entertaining. For more info heads over to their website: www.masterclass.com

Alicia Keys teaches songwriting and producing. Screenshot courtesy of MasterClass
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