Learning a new skill from the comfort of your own home has never been easier. Whether you want to learn how to cook from Gordon Ramsay or how to write from Roxane Gay, there is a plethora of courses available online. But two of the biggest names are Masterclass and Skillshare.
And since this is a website all about writing and self-publishing, I'll be looking at these two learning platforms through the lens of someone who wants to develop the skills needed to become an indie author. We’ll also discuss each platform in general terms so you can learn about them even if you don’t want to use them for writing.
Now, before we get into the Masterclass vs Skillshare review, I'll tell you straight up that I think Masterclass is the better option for the lifelong learners among us. Read on to find out why.
- Which is better for developing as an indie author: Masterclass or Skillshare.
- An in-depth look at both platforms.
- Tips for getting the most out of whichever you choose.
Table of contents
- Skillshare vs Masterclass Review: What You Need to Know
- Masterclass and Skillshare: Features and Benefits
- Overall Recommendation for Writing: Masterclass
- Verdict for General Use: Masterclass or Skillshare?
- How to Get the Most Out of Masterclass or Skillshare
- Other Notable Masterclass Courses
- Alternatives to Skillshare and Masterclass
Skillshare vs Masterclass Review: What You Need to Know
If you're not familiar, Masterclass and Skillshare are both online learning platforms. At a glance, they are both similar in many ways, which certainly doesn't make things easier for someone trying to decide between the two. Luckily, upon inspection, there are some ways in which they're very different, which we'll get into below. First, a bit about each platform.
David Rogier and Aaron Rasmussen founded Masterclass back in 2012, although they didn't launch until 2014. The company came out of San Francisco, the tech capital of the country. Since then, their marketing efforts and big-name course instructors have made them one of the top names in the online course platform space.
The founders of Skillshare, Michael Karnjanaprakorn and Malcolm Ong, started the company in New York City in 2010. They launched it as an online learning community, and have stuck with that guiding principle ever since. They wanted to focus less on simple lectures and more on a community vibe where creators could interact. And while that's still possible, we'll discuss why this isn't necessarily a major selling feature below.
Now, onto the nitty gritty. First, we'll start with the biggest question most people ask: How much do they cost?
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Masterclass and Skillshare: Features and Benefits
The Skillshare Premium Membership is slightly cheaper than Masterclass's Individual Membership. Although Skillshare calls their membership “Premium,” there are no other membership levels that I've seen (other than Skillshare for Teams). Here are the basic memberships for each learning platform:
- Masterclass Pricing for Individuals – $15 per month billed annually at $180 a year.
- Skillshare Premium Pricing for Individuals – $13.99 per month billed annually at $167.88 a year.
Both platforms also offer plans for multiple people. They are as follows:
- Masterclass Duo – 1 Plan, 2 Devices – $20 per month billed annually at $240. ($120 per year per person instead of $180).
- Masterclass Family – 1 Plan, 6 Devices – $23 per month billed annually at $276. ($46 per year per person if you have six people chipping in.)
- Skillshare for Teams – $159 per user annually.
One of the differences that struck me about their two websites was how easy it was to find pricing information on Masterclass—but not on Skillshare.
On Masterclass, there's a clear link that allows you to view the different plans they have on offer. After about five minutes of looking for something similar on Skillshare, I gave up. They want you to sign up for the 7-day free trial, but they make it difficult to find the pricing until they're asking for your credit card number. This lack of transparency left me feeling a little frustrated even before signing up.
Although Skillshare is slightly cheaper than Masterclass, the difference in transparency is a major drawback for Skillshare, in my opinion.
Price Comparison Winner: Masterclass
Masterclass does not have a free trial. You can't try any of the courses (although you can watch teasers) until you pay the full year's subscription fee.
Skillshare, on the other hand, offers a free 7-day trial and a free 1-month trial, depending on whether you sign up for a monthly or a yearly subscription. You can then take a Skillshare class or two (or four) to see how you like it. This is definitely a benefit and a point toward Skillshare.
- Masterclass – No Free Trial
- Skillshare – 7-Day or 1-Month
Free Trial Comparison Winner: Skillshare
If you offer a free trial, it kind of makes sense not to offer a long refund period. After all, if you don't want to use the service, you can simply cancel it before the free trial ends. And this is how Skillshare goes about it. After you pay, you only have seven days to request a refund from Skillshare.
Masterclass, on the other hand, doesn't offer a free trial—but they do offer a 30-day money-back guarantee. This gives you time to get to know the platform, take a few classes (or a lot), and then request a refund if you so choose.
That said, if you only get a 7-day free trial with Skillshare and a 7-day refund period, that's only two weeks. Masterclass gives you a month.
- Masterclass – 30-Day Refund Window
- Skillshare – 7-Day Refund Window
Refund Comparison Winner: Masterclass
As far as sheer course selections go, Skillshare far outnumbers Masterclass. There are an estimated 35,000+ different courses on Skillshare and only around 1,000 on Masterclass.
A simple search for “Fiction Writing” on Skillshare comes up with 267 results.
A similar search comes up with a total of 20 classes on Masterclass. But quantity doesn't always equal quality.
The big selling point for Masterclass isn't the number of classes they have, but who is teaching those classes. This is where things get interesting (and exciting).
Let's take a look at just a few names of Masterclass course instructors for writing:
- Dan Brown
- Judy Blume
- James Patterson
- Margaret Atwood
- R.L. Stine
- N.K. Jemisin
- Malcolm Gladwell
- David Baldacci
- Neil Gaiman
Pretty impressive list, if you ask me. And that's not even all the names.
If you do the same thing on Skillshare, you might recognize a name or two. Roxane Gay has a class on Skillshare (she also has one on Masterclass). But chances are you probably won't recognize many of the names on Skillshare. Does that mean that you won't learn anything if you take an online class via Skillshare? Absolutely not. In fact, many of the lessons may be similar on both platforms.
But if you're trying to write novels like James Patterson or nonfiction like Malcolm Gladwell, wouldn't it be best to go straight to the source? To hear it directly from them? I think so. And that's part of the allure—perhaps the biggest part—of Masterclass.
That's not to say that the Skillshare teachers aren't successful in their own right. Many of them are. But since pretty much anyone can upload a course to the platform, you'll probably want to do some vetting before you start taking advice about writing from any given Skillshare teacher. Some teachers list their bona fides in their introduction or the class dashboard, but not all of them.
And when it comes down to it, you don't want to spend all your time taking classes. Sure, there are thousands of classes on Skillshare, but taking even a fraction of them would take thousands of hours. The idea when signing up for an online learning platform shouldn't be: How many classes can I take? Instead, it should be: How can I learn what I need to know in as few hours as possible?
There comes a point where watching video lessons on writing will be more detrimental than beneficial because it will be taking away your writing time. And, as any writing teacher worth their salt will tell you, the best way to learn how to write better is by writing!
- Masterclass – Fewer classes taught only by big-name experts.
- Skillshare – Lots of classes taught by everyone from passionate amateurs to well-known professionals.
Course Selection Winner: Masterclass
The average length of a course on Masterclass is somewhere between three and four hours. On Skillshare, you're looking at courses between two and four hours. Of course, this varies widely depending on the subject and instructor. At least on Skillshare. If you're trying to learn Adobe Illustrator, you can expect to spend a bit more time on it than if you're trying to learn the basics of Google Docs.
On Masterclass, the courses are separated into videos that are usually between ten and fifteen minutes long. Skillshare classes are often shorter, but again, this depends on the instructor and subject.
If the videos are too short, you can simply watch more. If they're too long, you can pause them and come back later. So for this category, there's no clear winner.
- Masterclass – Three to four hours per course – ten to fifteen-minute lessons.
- Skillshare – Two to four hours per course – lesson length varies.
Course Breakdown Winner: Tie
Now that you've seen many of the big names teaching courses on Masterclass, it probably won't surprise you to learn that the production value is better on Masterclass than on Skillshare. It's clear that the videos on Masterclass are professionally shot and edited. The sound is always good, and the backgrounds lend an appropriate atmosphere to the videos.
In essence, it's like sitting down in the instructor's living room and having a conversation. At least, that's how I felt when watching videos with Dan Brown, Neil Gaiman, and even David Mamet.
Some of the Skillshare course videos—especially those labeled “Skillshare Original”—are of similar quality. But many others are shot on computer cameras with whatever light happens to be coming through the window or from the lightbulb overhead.
Of course, this shouldn't take away from the learning experience. A video lesson is still just that: a video lesson. Professional production doesn't mean you'll be able to grasp the lessons any better. But it does make for a better overall experience. And it'll make you want to come back for more learning until the course is finished.
- Masterclass – High-quality production across the board.
- Skillshare – Quality all over the place.
Course Production Winner: Masterclass
Interaction and Community
As far as interaction and community go, there's no contest. Skillshare is the clear winner here. Most of the Skillshare writing classes I explored are much more interactive than those on Masterclass. And I've seen enough to surmise it's like that across most of the courses.
Of course, you wouldn't reasonably expect Margaret Atwood to interact with every creative writing student to take her class. Of course not. She wouldn't have time for anything else.
But this is the tradeoff you make for learning from the big names in the business. On Skillshare, your instructor may not have sold 400 million books, but you have a better chance of interacting with and getting direct feedback from them. Although this is by no means guaranteed.
Still, you'll find a “Discussions” section within each course where you can post questions and comments about the videos and material. If you are in a particularly active class, you may get a quick reply from other learners. And in smaller classes, the instructor may stay on top of replying to any questions directed at him or her.
Some of the writing classes I looked at on Skillshare had actual assignments for you to turn in. This allows others to read and comment on your work (if they so choose). So if you're someone who needs that motivation of turning something in, then Skillshare may be a good option for you.
You also have a reviews section for each individual course, allowing you to see what other learners thought about the course before you dive in. This can help you weed out the courses that may look appealing at a glance, but don't bear up under scrutiny. This type of interaction is something that is lacking in Masterclass, making Skillshare the winner in this category.
- Masterclass – Not much interaction or community to speak of.
- Skillshare – Discussions, interactions, and reviews for each individual course.
Interaction and Community Winner: Skillshare
Wouldn't it be nice if you could take a couple of great courses on Masterclass or Skillshare and get a certification? Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Neither one of these online learning platforms can provide you with anything other than knowledge. They aren't accredited by any official educational institutions, so you won't be walking away with a diploma. Maybe someday. . .
- Masterclass – No official certifications.
- Skillshare – No official certifications.
Certifications Winner: Neither
Notes and Extras
In addition to the video courses, you'll find that both Skillshare and Masterclass provide supplemental materials—usually as documents that you can download. This means you can keep this stuff even after you cancel your membership, allowing you to reference it later.
Every class I took on Masterclass had a nice-looking PDF to go along with it. These are essentially slightly abbreviated versions of the course, with the major notes outlined for your future reference. Below is a picture of a page from the Dan Brown PDF.
While this is standard with courses on the Masterclass platform, on Skillshare it's really up to the teacher what they provide as extras. Often, these are simple documents with links to other resources or some brief notes. Again, it depends on the instructor.
- Masterclass – A detailed and professional-looking PDF for each course.
- Skillshare – Often some kinds of notes or documents, but depends on the course instructor.
Extras and Notes Winner: Masterclass
Overall Recommendation for Writing: Masterclass
If you've been keeping track, the score is in Masterclass's favor. They've managed to get some of the biggest names in the fiction and nonfiction world to share what got them where they are today. That alone is worth subscribing for a year or two.
But they also provide value in the form of high-quality production, detailed classes, and extensive notes. Masterclass has a 30-day refund period. If you find that it's not right for you, then you can get your money back, no questions asked.
You can sign up for Masterclass here.
Verdict for General Use: Masterclass or Skillshare?
So far, we've been looking at two of the best online learning platforms for the writing courses they offer. But what if you want to use a platform for multiple courses in different subjects? Maybe you want to learn how to cook, start a freelance writing career, and become a better public speaker. Does that change anything?
I'd still say stick with Masterclass if this is the case. Remember, unless you want to use these courses as a form of entertainment rather than a source of knowledge, then quality will trump quantity. And one thing Masterclass has in spades is quality. The people teaching the classes are among the best in their respective fields. And with over 1000 courses, you'll find pretty much anything you need on Masterclass.
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However, there is one caveat I would mention, and that is your learning style. The name of the game here is consistency. In other words, once you start a course, will you finish it? Think about how you learn best. Can you simply watch videos and put the lessons to practice on your own? Or do you need to have the goal of assignments to keep you going?
If you need that interaction, then you'd probably be better off giving Skillshare a try. Look for courses with active communities and teachers. Watch a video lesson or two and ask the teacher a question in the discussions section and see how long they take to answer. You'll definitely have a better chance of finding a hands-on instructor on Skillshare than you will on Masterclass.
How to Get the Most Out of Masterclass or Skillshare
Whichever online learning platform you choose, you'll want to make the most out of it. And with the tips below, you can do just that!
- Set Aside Time – Like anything worth doing, learning a new skill (or taking yours to the next level) requires time. So before you sign up for one of these platforms, make sure you'll have at least a couple of hours a week to devote to watching the videos and putting what you learn into action. This may mean waking up earlier or watching on your lunch break. The last thing you want to do is pay for it and then not use it!
- Learn and Do – Learning is all fine and good, but the best thing you can do for your writing career is write. So if you feel like signing up for Masterclass or Skillshare will take time away from writing, consider whether you really need to take the class. Of course, you may want to take a course on creating a writing habit or managing your time better—both worthy causes! (There’s definitely more than one productivity masterclass available on Skillshare.)
- Watch When You Can – If you have a really busy life, then you may need to watch a few minutes here and there. On your commute (unless you're driving), while waiting for an appointment, or when you have ten minutes to yourself. Luckily, both Masterclass and Skillshare offer mobile apps for portable devices. Masterclass also offers apps for smart TVs, so you can watch on the big(ish) screen!
Other Notable Masterclass Courses
We've already mentioned Gordon Ramsay for cooking and writers like Dan Brown and Judy Blume for writing, but what about other subjects? Here are just a few of the instructors and their courses on Masterclass:
- Chris Voss Teaches the Art of Negotiation
- Serena Williams Teaches Tennis
- Anna Wintour Teaches Creativity and Leadership
- Richard Branson Teaches Disruptive Entrepreneurship
- RuPaul Teaches Self-Expression and Authenticity
Alternatives to Skillshare and Masterclass
There are certainly alternatives to Masterclass and Skillshare. Below are some of the most noteworthy.
One online learning platform you may already have access to is LinkedIn Learning. This learning platform is much more expensive than either Masterclass or Skillshare at $39.99 a month. But it's also geared more toward professional development than the more “hobbyist” angle on the other platforms.
Udemy is another option for online courses. It’s similar to Skillshare in that anyone can upload courses. However, instead of committing to a subscription, you have the option to purchase individual courses on Udemy. Like Skillshare, you’ll have to sort through a lot of courses to find the best ones, but they have filters and prominent star reviews to help you.
Lastly, I have to mention the newly launched BBC Maestro platform, which has a course from Lee Child on writing popular fiction and one from Alan Moore on storytelling, among many others on skills other than writing. Unlike Masterclass or Skillshare, BBC Maestro gives you the choice between buying a single course or purchasing a yearly subscription. If you buy a course, you own it for life. But if you want to access multiple courses, a yearly subscription is probably the best option.
Note: If you're looking for courses for kids, check out the free classes on the Khan Academy website.
Overall, if you're looking for an online course platform, I'd stick with either Masterclass or Skillshare. That is, unless you have a niche professional course you'd like to take on LinkedIn Learning or some other specialty platform. For those looking to learn storytelling and writing from people who know it best, Masterclass is my recommendation. That said, BBC Maestro is just getting started, so they’re worth keeping an eye on as an alternative to Masterclass.