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Friday, January 18, 2019

The idea that successful people can teach their secrets isn’t new. Now MasterClass is selling it for $180 | The Goods -

Can a video of Serena Williams teach you tennis? Probably not.

Photo: Sarah Lawrence for Vox

After surviving for five months in space, astronaut Chris Hadfield has a new, tougher challenge: teaching me, a grown man whose only qualifications are narrowly passing 10th-grade science and usually keeping motion sickness at bay when commuting, to be a space explorer.

“It will be a great moment of introspection for humanity if you’re the person who finds that one little fossilized flower on Mars,” he says over rousing music. He points at the viewer when he says “you.” That viewer, not the first or even the millionth, is me as I watch the trailer for his MasterClass.

MasterClass burst onto the scene in 2015 with more star power than Love, Actually. Its pitch was simple: Famous people teach you about the thing that made them famous. For $90, you’d get access to the instructional videos and workbooks that made up each course. Students could also interact with one another and maybe their star instructor. Serena Williams reportedly invited one of her students to play tennis. James Patterson published a novel with one of his pupils.

2015 was a heady time for online learning. It was only a few years after the New York Times announced the “Year of the MOOC (massive open online course).” Universities had started putting lectures by their star instructors online. In 2013, the video e-learning platforms CreativeLive and Coursera completed Series B rounds of $21.5 million and $63 million, respectively. MasterClass appeared to synthesize all these developments, with the addition of copious stardust.

While much of e-learning matured into mundanity, MasterClass has doubled down on celebrity glitz. It now focuses on selling annual, all-access subscriptions...

Every MasterClass follows the same formula. Bathed in soft light, the instructor delivers 15 to 30 brief lectures. If the instructor does something inherently visual for a living, like cooking or sports, those lessons include demonstrations. The writers just talk. Each lesson comes with a PDF workbook containing a summary and links to further reading. Students can record questions for instructors, who periodically post video replies during “office hours.” The formula extends all the way to course titles: Person Teaches Skill. Deadmau5 Teaches Electronic Music Production. Frank Gehry Teaches Design and Architecture. James Suckling Teaches Wine Appreciation. Teaches.
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