The Masterclass Effect: How to Transform Entertainment Learning Into New Skills

In a world of self-development platforms and consumer-grade learning, engagement isn’t enough to transform “watching new skills” into actual new skills.

the masterclass effect

Maybe it’s the Masterclass effect? Entertainment time spent in learning leisure for our own self-development outside of work. My friends and I are devoted fans of educational platforms like Masterclass and spend hours each week in pursuit of learning. I admire these platforms for their high production value, name-brand celebrities, or experts in their respective fields. They’re engaging enough to watch with my kids due to this high entertainment value, yet I find many consumer-grade platforms lack solid learning mechanisms to embed and sustain knowledge.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching all the courses, yet I can’t recount anything that I’ve learned. To me, it’s akin to watching a well-produced TV show. Interesting and enjoyable, yes. Leaving me with a finite understanding of the countless discrete concepts, not quite. So in an effort to maximize my time on skill-building, I decided to infuse “entertainment learning” with adult learning principles and Pooja Agarwal’s retrieval practice and application.

Repeated retrieval practice

First, I focused on repeated retrieval practice. To try to drive knowledge reinforcement, I lightly self-quizzed and quizzed my kids to see what principles we can recall. The purpose is to bring up the past ideas and concepts, not to evaluate our learning. The quizzes were fun, not remedial. In the workplace, this would be translated as short, succinct, practical quizzes/polls after a learning experience. How it’s delivered (text messages, gamification, quizzes, etc.) is not the point. The key is that by employing adult learning principles, learners are seeking and retrieving what they learned. This retrieval practice could even be as simple as asking learners in a virtual class what they remembered from the prior day’s session.

Focus on practical skills

Secondly, we focused our Masterclass retrieval practice on relevant information that led to practical skills, not facts that are ancillary. In my Masterclass example, we quizzed each other on different ways to persuade. While only knowledge-based, it was relevant in order to later practice the skill. We did not quiz each other on irrelevant information like the number of persuasion techniques, the exact name of the models or so many other items I see learning professionals choose when creating quizzes. In the workplace, we can apply this by considering what essential information should occupy the learner’s limited cognitive space. This will help create practical, outcome-focused workplace training.

Application of skills

The retrieval practice of key concepts was to set the stage for the third element in our Masterclass activity: application. The best success came through practicing each of the new skills, both soon after learning them and with longer intervals of spaced repetition in the ensuing months. Fortunately, my 10-year-old son found it useful and interesting to practice influence and negotiation. In fact, the immediate reward of seeing how he can manipulate his sister has fueled his interest in more training modules. The application activities weren’t contrived, they were real with actual consequences and benefits (in our case, tears and more screen time respectively). In the workplace, having meaningful application not only makes the learning “stick” but yields intrinsic benefits and the motivation to learn more.

Three-month refreshers and practice

The last element in our self-learning journey has been to focus our memory efforts three months after watching the Masterclass episodes in a quest to achieve transformational training. This has proved challenging without the sizzle of the training and with everyday life encroaching with more pressing priorities. I have to admit, it worked in the short term to conjure up past concepts we learned, but the retrieval practice has become difficult with time. It wasn’t enough to have read the books on which the Masterclass sessions were based, I needed more repetition over increasing periods of time to generate concept knowledge.

To achieve this, I used my session notes to refresh my understanding of the key concepts. Equally as helpful has been the focused times I’ve set aside to remember to practice the application. In the work world, it isn’t enough to take the course or read the book, it becomes a new skill only through continual practice. Reminders to practice and concept basics become the crutches that support the ongoing skill development. Job aids, a structured reminder plan, and other performance support are now essential.

In the end, we used retrieval practice with my brief notes to recall details about what we learned about persuasion and negotiation skills from Masterclass. I now appreciate the power of full and effective job aids (which I lack with my scant notes) and wish I had better planned. However, even with my short notes, we had fun practicing the techniques on each other in an effort to jog our memory and influence the other person. In the corporate setting, this refresher and skill practice needs to be well-thought-out and supported to ensure the practice is on the critical skills.

Co-created plan to apply

We co-created a practice plan. We determined specific instances when we would practice the technique (I think he’ll be negotiating with me for a new Nerf gun this weekend!). We also agreed on our cadence of retrieval practice “check-ins” and what skill mastery would look like. This discussion innately refueled our intrinsic motivation to master these skills and we both acknowledged that we’ll attempt to master just two sub-skills, not all of them. Months after any course, reality sinks in and this is when skill practice is the most critical.

In the work world, there also needs to be a plan. This three-month check-up may look like peer commitments or a more formalized commitment and check-in process throughout the year. A clear structure and “what’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) are important so learners feel self-motivated to continue practicing this skill. That said, the accountability for ongoing practice resides with each learner.

In the end, Masterclass was an entertaining way to feel like we were expanding our minds, but the real value came when we coupled it with immediate retrieval practice and deliberate application attempts of increasing importance in the real world. My son now naturally adopts some of the techniques and I also find myself incorporating some of the new skills effortlessly, without pause. Slowly, with our ongoing check-ins, I’ll reap the value of my investment and time spent. And at the very least, I had an entertaining time watching the videos.

Danielle Wallace is the chief learning strategist at Beyond the Sky, a provider of custom learning solutions. Previously, as a marketing executive with Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, she learned strategic marketing principles, which she applies to learning and development to create learning that sticks. Wallace is also a certified training and development professional (CTDP), and her thought leadership, free checklists, and monthly infographics can be found at www.BeyondtheSky.ca