What can higher education learn from celebrity taught courses?

Tuesday, May 09, 2017 12:53

Katherine Hockley by Katherine Hockley

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Masterclass is a San Francisco-based company that creates online courses taught by celebrity icons. A few examples include learning the Art of Performance from Usher via 16 video lessons, two hours of Advanced Tennis Techniques from Serena Williams, and 5 hours’ worth of Acting Classes from Kevin Spacey. These classes cost you $90 each (around £70), and you have lifetime access to the content.

READ MORE: Why higher education needs to innovate the student experience

I’m tempted to sign up to all of them, and I’m not an actor, tennis player, or singer (yet). So what is it about these online classes that piques my interest, and what can higher education learn from these types of courses about attracting students?

Market your prestige

A massive attraction of Masterclass is the fact they have the crème de la crème representing certain subjects. In fact, this is their unique selling point – and they know it. Higher education can learn from this by making sure what makes them unique is at the forefront of any of their marketing. If your lecturers are your biggest assets, why aren’t they included in course explanation pages more heavily? Got a great reputation for student satisfaction? Dedicate more than just a few lines to it on your front page. Some universities are already doing this really well, but after a quick search on Google I can see this is not a universal strategy. 


Digital content

New students are digital natives, meaning they’re used to (as well as expect) video content. The fact that Masterclass is all online courses shows there’s clearly a market for it. MOOCs are already out there, but in attracting new students, video content could be the way forward. The video ads for Masterclasses courses are really engaging, (see ‘Steve Martin teaches comedy’ trailer) so why isn’t higher education creating more engaging content when trying to attract students?

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Imagine a course page with a video that shows an introduction to one of the department’s lecturers with cut away clips of lectures and seminars as well as student interviews. This hypothetical video gives a real taste of the course and the university, almost like a mini virtual event. Indeed, virtual open days are becoming increasingly popular, so more immersive video is definitely a strategy worth investigatingYou could even make something like an animated video explaining how an average module would works, which is far more engaging than three paragraphs of text. 

Alternatively, why not give prospective students a teaser module or task to work through online? This will show innovation on the university's part and allow students to fully connect to your university from the comfort of their living room, or anywhere for that matter.


UX design

The Masterclass website is undoubtedly modern and slick, and videos will "play in any modern browser." So why are some university websites still not mobile compatible? If a student can't search your website properly on their device, why are they going to stick around on your website?

UX2 - mobile.jpeg

Lifetime access

For the reasonable price the Masterclass students pay, they get access to the content forever. When you think about universities and students, once a degree is finished, there is generally nothing offered as an attempt to maintain a positive relationship with alumni (besides buying certain membership cards or being sent the odd free magazine). 

READ MORE: How to make lectures more interactive with edtech for higher education

However, if universities offered some kind of 'opt-in' alumni learning offering or free MOOC opportunities relating to their degrees, it would give students a stronger sense of identity to their university. This, in turn, would likely be viewed more positively from the point of view of prospective students; they aren't seen as just a number - the university cares about enhancing their education past graduation.


It could be something as simple as piloting a new module with alumni, or giving them short-term access to certain readings.

READ MORE: Why we should be teaching creativity in higher education

Universities are certainly missing a trick by not nurturing this relationship, as it could improve their reputation as well as ensuring greater relationships with students and alumni. 

By keeping up with trends and even daring to create new ones, higher education institutes can ensure high-quality candidates' attention, as well as become known as leaders in innovation. 

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Posted in Higher Education