What exactly does a university sell?
You might say they sell training and skills to help students earn a job. You might say they sell a space for young adults to explore their intellectual and occupational interests in a low-risk environment. You might say they simply sell a stamp of approval; a guarantee that students won’t fall into the cracks of society. Or maybe they just sell a year-long summer camp to have fun, meet lifelong friends and let loose.
The truth is that universities sell all of these things, bundled together. And that’s a big reason they’ve been able to raise prices to astronomical levels over the past several decades — it’s really hard to disrupt all of those things at once.
Credibility, Not Education
Even though MasterClass has instructors such as Aaron Franklin, Hans Zimmer, deadmau5, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, MasterClass isn’t selling a plate of barbeque, a film score, an EDM track, or a physics degree.
Rather, Masterclass is selling credibility.
The credibility of being someone at the top of your field takes a lot of work.
Masterclass is selling the LeBron James poster we put on our bedroom wall, not the skills coach we hire to train us three times a week.
(I actually think this is what massive online open courses (MOOCs) got wrong. They have notoriously low completion rates (around 5%), which is generally cited as the reason they didn’t upend the education system. But I think their mistake wasn’t in that people weren’t finishing the courses. Instead, it was the thesis that online, low-touch courses were for skill-building instead of inspiration or entertainment.
Borrowing social capital is easier than creating it.
MasterClass took people who were already famous and gave their fans even more access to them (without much burden on the celebrities). It’s tricky to create a world-class talent. The MasterClass model skipped the line of building a large audience and lots of credibility and instead, they purchased under-monetized social capital and made delightful educational content out of it.
Glasp is a social web highlighter that people can highlight and organize quotes and thoughts from the web, and access other like-minded people’s learning.