On a mission to unlock human potential by inspiring a learning lifestyle in everyone.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
David Rogier is the founder and CEO of MasterClass, the streaming platform where the world’s best come together so anyone, anywhere, can learn from and be inspired by their knowledge and stories.
Growing up, Rogier loved learning but often struggled in school. Determined to reinvent the traditional model and provide lifelong learning opportunities for everyone, he created MasterClass in 2015. His vision was to capture, share and preserve invaluable knowledge and stories from the world’s best so future generations could access and appreciate them.
MasterClass has since transformed the lifelong-learning category providing unprecedented access to 150+ of the world’s best practitioners. With classes on a wide range of subjects, MasterClass has grown into one of the largest online learning platforms in the world.
In 2020, Rogier was recognized on Fortune’s “40 Under 40” list as one of the most influential leaders in media and entertainment, and as one of Hollywood’s New Leaders in Variety.
“MasterClass puts you in the room with the world’s best and gives members unprecedented access to the greatest minds of our time,” says Rogier. Sitting down with EdTech Digest, he responds to questions about his formative influences, advice to edtech founders, thoughts on soft skills, knowledge retention, how the platform is helping workforce learning—and what’s just ahead.
Your personal master teacher might be—your grandmother, I’ve read? Could you elaborate with an anecdote on a lesson you learned from her?
David: My Gramma lost most of her family in the Holocaust. She instilled in me from a very young age that education is the one thing no one can take away from you. She dreamt of becoming a doctor, yet faced constant prejudice and adversity when pursuing an education in the medical field. She never took ‘no’ for an answer and prioritized learning above everything else. Eventually, she was accepted into medical school and went on to become a doctor and build a successful practice. I learned grit, perseverance and that education truly is the one thing no one can take from you.
‘I learned grit, perseverance and that education truly is the one thing no one can take from you.’
What prompted you to create MasterClass, what would other founders want to know about your mission in the learning and technology space? What sparked the idea for MasterClass to expand to MasterClass at Work?
I’ve always believed that learning and entertainment are interconnected and knowledge should be shared. With these two beliefs, I created MasterClass, providing people the opportunity to learn from the world’s most successful people in their fields without feeling like they’re in a classroom.
The idea for MasterClass at Work came from large companies coming to us and asking for it. We listened to their needs as they were identifying clear gaps in communication, leadership, empathy, and other soft skills among employees post-pandemic. The pandemic, remote work, and a new generation of workers have changed the way we communicate and interact. There was a clear need for engaging learning and development content geared toward businesses that could teach people human skills. MasterClass at Work serves to spark this lasting change in behavior through emotional storytelling tailored to organizations’ needs. To date, we have brought in half of the Fortune 100 list as clients including Capital One, Deloitte, PayPal, Square, and Microsoft.
Why are soft skills now more important than ever? How would you define “soft skills” and would you rename “soft” into something else?
Soft skills are human skills. Leading a team effectively, communicating clearly, practicing empathy, and harnessing the power of self-discipline are all skills necessary to be successful in today’s world. These skills help foster a sense of belonging and community, and at work, contribute to an overall more inclusive workplace.
We all intuitively have seen the power of soft skills. They often make the difference in whether a project is launched, a project is approved, a star employee stays, sales are closed or a customer is happy. They also can drive more innovative and creative thinking, helping organizations and their people stay more agile and resilient in the face of disruption and accelerated change.
We’ve seen a huge regression coming out of the pandemic, and, in a time of AI and new technologies, these skills are the most important for us to hone.
How does video content prove to be more effective in knowledge retention?
Storytelling is at the heart of education. The best education is always entertaining. Engaging, purposeful storytelling is crucial to capturing employee interest, especially as content is competing against social media and the attention economy. We believe emotion-driven learning, based on learning sciences research and our own experiences with customers, is key to driving engagement, knowledge retention, and measurable behavior change in employees.
‘We believe emotion-driven learning, based on learning sciences research and our own experiences with customers, is key to driving engagement, knowledge retention, and measurable behavior change in employees.’
What feedback are you hearing back from businesses using the platform?
We’re hearing this is unlike anything out there – the interest and engagement are some of the best they’ve ever seen. Employee success requires a holistic approach to learning that includes skill-focused development and emotional well-being. By creating classes where evidence-based learning design frameworks come alive through captivating storytelling from the world’s best, we’re keeping employees engaged and helping them develop the skills they need to be more successful at life and in work.
LEARNING, DOING, CURRICULUM. Cinematic visuals and close-up, hands-on demonstrations make you feel like you’re one-on-one with the instructors as you learn on your own terms—in bite-size pieces or in a single binge. For those looking to learn by doing, Sessions by MasterClass offers a structured, 30-day curriculum where members can roll up their sleeves, get hands-on and learn meaningful skills through step-by-step guidance from world-class instructors and an engaged community of peers. Source: MasterClass
What is the nature of your teaching method and what makes it timeless?
The idea that we learn best from stories is ancient, but it’s an art that has been lost in a lot of instructional approaches. Hearing stories of triumph and of failure from top leaders, thinkers, and luminaries can inspire, make learning sticky, and help them apply those lessons in their own lives.
MasterClass is a platform where you can learn personal growth and setting goals from Simone Biles, lessons in creativity from Anna Wintour, or how to give feedback from Kim Scott. The opportunity to learn from those who have achieved the highest levels of success is something unique to our platform.
Any comment on deep fakes, artificial intelligence, or what the acceleration of technology in the last few months means for MasterClass or video-based learning in general?
Human skills are more important than ever. As AI automates more and more technical skills, organizations need to prioritize skills that are uniquely human—skills that involve collaboration, leadership, strategic thinking, innovation, empathy, and resilience. And perhaps most importantly, employees need to develop the skills and mindset of a lifelong learner. The acceleration of change means employees more than ever need to be effective learners in all facets of their lives.
‘The acceleration of change means employees more than ever need to be effective learners in all facets of their lives.’
Anything else you’d care to add or emphasize regarding MasterClass, the future of learning, or anything else?
In the future, I believe the workplace will become an even more critical place to learn. Lessons learned inside the classroom are important, but no longer as applicable to work as the workplace continues to rapidly advance. Prioritizing growth within the workplace will provide people with a more hands-on learning experience and will become increasingly more common. People will begin to rely on their jobs more for training and education.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org