online learning

Online Learning Can Help Develop Skills and Stave Off Boredom

Digital classes bleed into the summer as companies like MasterClass and CourseHorse continue to educate people from the comfort of home.
June 22, 2020
9 mins read

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, educators across the globe had to adapt and make use of online learning. To mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, students traded in their classrooms for classes on their computers, right from their own homes. The past four months have tested both teachers’ and students’ flexibility and mental agility.

With the widespread emergence of video conference classes and webpage workbooks, pre-existing online learning companies capitalized on the moment. Due to government-issued instructions, their consumer base grew exponentially overnight.

While scrolling through Instagram or watching videos on YouTube, people bored at home have undoubtedly seen an advertisement for MasterClass. MasterClass is an online service that offers instructional videos led by well-known experts in a variety of subjects. In the ads, an expert professional, usually a celebrity, starts with a hook to draw the reader in. The rest of the video then uses a series of incongruent inspirational statements meant to attract customers to the service.

For example, one advert features Margaret Atwood, author of the bestselling novel “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The first thing she says is, “Little Red Riding Hood. Let’s start the story a different way … It was dark inside the wolf.” Right on cue, “Meet Your New Instructor” flashes on the screen, and she then proceeds to offer words of wisdom and encouragement about writing. While the ads are only two minutes long, they make a seductive case for subscribing.

Atwood’s siren song, which says that anyone can be a writer, charms people searching for hobbies or a sense of motivation in quarantine. The MasterClass advertisements, however, conveniently leave out the cost of these simply invaluable classes: $15 a month.

Its website states that it is $15 for 20 lessons per class, which are only 10 minutes each. Essentially, a year’s worth of classes would be $180.

It would be easy to say that the classes are just a scam using celebrities to lure people into opening their wallets. But this isn’t the case.

MasterClass is different from other online learning platforms because it targets those who have a penchant for creativity over technicality. Each master comes with their own funny or creative personality, as well as credibility from honing their craft over time.

It is not the right website to become an expert coder, but after a few uses, the viewer can become a decent chef from Gordon Ramsay’s class. Yes, it is on the pricier side, but for those who need motivation to not give up on a hobby, the masters do an exceptional job in keeping the viewer entertained and inadvertently bringing them to learn.

For those not interested in a subscription, CourseHorse is an alternative service. Its website offers a wide range of classes from Virtual Croissant Making to Virtual Excel for Beginners. The titles are accompanied by a description of each class, whether or not they are a part of a series and past reviews from those who have taken the class.

Though these classes aren’t instructed by well-known masters, they are taught by what they call “top educators.” These include representatives from Columbia Business School, General Assembly, The Fashion Institute of Technology, New York Botanical Garden and others.

An important distinction must be made between CourseHorse and MasterClass. Both are forms of online learning; however, the former offers live classes while the latter is prerecorded. Of course, both have their potential drawbacks and benefits.

In a live class, a student can ask questions, but issues like timing or poor connection could result in a less satisfactory experience. Conversely, a prerecorded class makes it more difficult to ask questions, preventing some from learning.

CourseHorse has its courses on a sliding scale, with each class ranging from free to $100 or more. Compared to the $180 for 10 classes with MasterClass, it can be more expensive to buy 10 classes with CourseHorse. For example, the Performance Management class is $665 for 9 classes.

It is also important to consider that MasterClass is solely taught online. Before the pandemic, instructors taught CourseHorse classes in person. Thus, MasterClass provides stability and continuity, but CourseHorse has the potential to change its format based on the status of the pandemic.

For those looking for a more collegiate experience in online learning, edX is a popular choice. This service is much more traditionally academic when compared with MasterClass and CourseHorse. EdX allows an individual to take online courses from leading universities for free. It may sound too good to be true, but for the most part, edX has glowing reviews.

Their library features prerecorded online classes, homework assignments, tests and projects. The courses can span from one week to several months, and are divided up by beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.

Though it is free to the public, an individual can pay varying sums of money to receive a certificate upon completion of the course. Imagine walking into an interview at a major tech company and showing them a certificate from Harvard praising your advanced Python coding skills. It adds a competitive edge in the job market, where the prestige of a college can hold weight.

The problem with edX is its payment options. Once someone pays for the certificate route, which costs at least $49, they should have nothing but the class to worry about. For some, however, they never get to complete the course they paid for. By working as the middleman between institutions and students, there is an inherent lack of consistency.

Essentially, edX is more of a gamble. It provides a means of rich online learning, but glitches in its system or payment issues may result in not receiving the fruits of your labor.

Overall, these three websites are a part of a growing market of online learning. It begs the question of whether or not it is worth it to take these classes.

It is clear that MasterClass, CourseHorse and edX share many common elements. Enticing names, from celebrities to Ivy Leagues, attract students and customers. However, their prices aren’t necessarily affordable and the platforms can be susceptible to technical issues, which can both impede learning.

Ultimately, it is up to consumers to discern whether or not these services meet their needs. Between recreational pastimes or rigorous scholarship, there is certainly a class or tutorial for anyone. Online learning isn’t an exact science. Some people will have a terrible experience while others will possibly find a new calling or further their careers. Regardless, the pursuit of knowledge can offer a fulfilling way to pass this period of social distancing.

Farah Javed, CUNY Baruch College

Writer Profile

Farah Javed

CUNY Baruch College
Journalism and Political Science

Farah Javed is a Pakistani American Muslim with a passion for helping others, including through tutoring or volunteering. As an aspiring journalist, she wants to be a modern-day muckraker, bringing social change for the better.

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