Most online classes are taught by professors who are taking an offline curriculum and bringing it online so it’s more accessible.
“What’s happening in most online classes is you’re taking a physical class and putting a webcam in the back of the room,” said MasterClass cofounder David Rogier.
Rogier and his cofounder Aaron Rasmussen decided to build the opposite: classes taught by masters of a profession, designed for online first.
On its roster of teachers are names like tennis star Serena Williams, actor Dustin Hoffman, and writer James Patterson.
Starting Tuesday, MasterClass is adding classes from actor Kevin Spacey and singer Christina Aguilera to its course offerings.
“If you’ve done well in business, it’s your obligation to send the elevator back down,” Spacey says in a trailer for the course.
Unlike a typical syllabus, Each class contains 10 to 25 chapters with interactive activities, with each chapter taking around 12 minutes of time. These aren’t just click a button quizzes passing as activities, either.
In James Patterson’s writing course, students edit the first draft of one of his novels and compare it to the final one. In Serena William’s course, students can upload photos of their swings and have other students give them feedback.
For Christina Aguilera’s course, the company built a range finder that works by tapping into a computer’s microphone and measuring an artist’s vocal range. Aguilera dedicates a whole chapter on improving it, so students can keep using the tool as they go, Rasmussen said.
The courses are designed to not feel like a classroom lecture, but more like a workshop that you would normally pay to attend from a star anyways.
Rasmussen and Rogier reject the workshop comparison a little bit, since it’s not a one-time deal. Compared to a workshop that might last a few hours or days, the MasterClass materials are yours to re-watch, re-work, and continue learning from even after you finish, the founders say.
Each class costs $90, so it’s pricier than many of the free classes offered online. The startup also makes no pretenses that the celebrities it works with are the ones who are editing assignments or watching the acting videos. Instead, Rasmussen and Rogier have seen MasterClass students latch onto the peer review process — a Dustin Hoffman’s MasterClass acting fan club has already sprung up in LA for instance.
The company does split the revenue with the master instructing the class, but it’s largely a labour of love and a passion to teach what they have learned that motivates its lecturers, Rogier says. Since each class takes weeks, if not months, to produce, the company has raised more money to help accelerate its pipeline and bring more masters on board.
MasterClass plans to announce Tuesday a new $15 million round of funding led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA). The new cash brings the total raisedfor the online learning company to $21.4 million in less than a year.
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