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The Online Classes Actually Worth Taking

28 courses that were thoroughly vetted.

Photo: Beth Sacca
Photo: Beth Sacca
Photo: Beth Sacca

Over the last decade, the world of online classes has grown steadily: Platforms like Coursera and MasterClass launched with courses on everything from coding to political campaigning 101, amassing tens of millions of users. But after the pandemic forced most of the world into lockdown, the category ballooned. In a matter of days, instructors locked the doors to their studios, kitchens, and offices and moved their businesses online — to Instagram, Zoom, and beyond. (Meanwhile, it was reported in early May that MasterClass was valued at about $800 million — double its 2018 valuation.) The result is that the internet is flooded with classes. But which meditation lessons and saxophone classes are actually worth your attention? Here, 29 options recommended by dozens of enthusiastic class-takers.

Learn the Choreography From Swan Lake

Turn It Out With Tiler, free at @tilerpeck

➽ A principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, Tiler Peck has been teaching classes daily on Instagram. PR director Peggymarie Merck noticed Peck (whom she already followed) going live and joined on a whim. Two months in, she’s been taking the class weekly and says she feels “longer and leaner.” Fashion marketer Hannah Davis takes it too and says she especially likes that Peck “teaches the choreography from ballets like Swan Lake or Giselle.”

Negotiate With Loved Ones

Chris Voss Teaches the Art of Negotiation, $15 a month (billed annually) at masterclass.com

➽ Former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss teaches a MasterClass that two people we spoke to were persuaded to take by a YouTube ad. Entrepreneur Umesh Kumar told us that he assumed the class would be all about business but that it’s really about “how to enhance everyday communication.”

Take 2018’s Most Talked-About College Class

The Science of Well-being, Yale on Coursera, free at coursera.org

➽ Two years ago, a New York Magazine cover story investigated Yale’s Psychology and the Good Life with Professor Laurie Santos. Santos has since adapted the class for Coursera, which is where ­marketer Erin Thibeau stumbled upon it. The curriculum draws on positive ­psychology and behavioral science to “debunk myths about what makes us happy and share what actually works.” One of the first assignments is to measure your baseline level of happiness so you’ll have a point of comparison for the end of the course after you’ve practiced happiness-­boosting habits. Students are asked to practice strategies, such as exercising, for at least 30 minutes a day.

Get a Green Thumb

Ron Finley Teaches Gardening, $15 a month (billed annually) at masterclass.com

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

➽ In “Gangster Gardener” Ron Finley’s class, students learn how to create planters from household items, grow their own food, and keep everything alive. Photographer (and “notorious plant killer”) Paige Gribb says the course is helpful whether you’re working “with a windowsill or lots of land.”

Consider the Design of Caligula’s Floating Palaces

The Great Courses: The Architecture of Power, $20 a month after free trial

➽ Video-game writer Jessica Price took this course about how palaces in the ancient world were built to meet the political needs and desires of the ruling class. The course, she says, delves deep into how structures — including Nero’s Golden House, Caligula’s Floating Palaces, and the White House — were designed.

Dance With a Broom

Ryan Heffington’s Sweatfest, free at @ryan.heffington

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

➽ Choreographer Ryan Heffington’s near-daily Instagram classes occasionally include guests like Pink and Emma Stone, who dance with him to an audience of thousands. Branding consultant Rebecca Zhou tells us her favorite part is one with moves inspired by chores like “hanging art” and “sweeping.” Says photography director Meg Reinhardt, “I’ve gotten sad thinking about where he’ll go when COVID is over.”

Or … Just Dance

Pony Sweat Aerobics, $5 a class at ponysweataerobics.com

➽ “The ideal angsty bedroom dance party” is how writer-director Aiden Arata describes Pony Sweat Aerobics’ classes. She found them while looking for a dance class with zero empowerment-speak, and says that the instructors regularly encourage participants to let themselves go and “f— the moves.” Those moves, according to Arata, are “a mash-up of ’80s aerobics and riot-grrrl thrashing, set to tracks from bands like Boy Harsher and the Cure.”

Write a Novel at Night

Catapult Writing Classes, from $15 at Catapult.co

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

➽ Catapult markets itself as “by writers, for writers” and hosts a range of classes on everything from finishing a novel to marketing your book to agents. Lane Florsheim, digital staff writer at WSJ. Magazine, was looking for a class that she could fit into her schedule and found it with Mila Jaroniec’s Online Fiction Intensive, which promises you’ll write 40,000 words in 40 days — it, crucially, began at 9:30 p.m. What’s particularly valuable, Florsheim says, is you can go back and look over all the different lessons from your class once it’s finished.

Go to Equinox for Free

Patrick McGrath IG Live Workouts, free at @patrickmcgrath

➽ Equinox trainer Patrick McGrath has taken his talents to Instagram in lockdown, where he uploads full-length strength and conditioning workouts throughout the week for no cost. Nicolás Lazaro, a community specialist at Grailed, told us he was looking for a “routine that didn’t feel like a routine” and found it with McGrath’s workouts. He adds that McGrath is “really chill and personable, so you don’t feel like you’re being yelled at.” Plus, he has a “cute little French bulldog named Murphy whose snores often interrupt the videos.”

Take Pilates With Ayesha Curry

The Studio (MDR), $15 a class at thestudiomdr.com

➽ L.A.’s the Studio gym holds classes that mix Pilates, cardio, and weights. “They work your abs hard and are worth every penny,” spa owner Gretchen Tiernan says. She adds that you can spot celebrities among the Zoom attendees, including Ayesha Curry.

Cross-Examine a Chef

Home Cooking New York, $40 a group class or $150 a private class at homecookingny.com

➽ Communications executive Drew Kerr would go to in-person classes at Home Cooking often before the pandemic hit and has been taking them online since. “We’ve made risotto and gnocchi, and you can ask the chefs questions like: ‘Is my butter too brown?’ or ‘Should I chop or mince this onion?’ ”

Analyze the Old Testament

The Great Courses: The Old Testament, $20 a month after free trial

➽ Price used to download the Great Courses’ offerings from Napster back when they cost hundreds of dollars each. But after noticing they’ve become more affordable, she took its Old Testament class. “It helps you understand literature that references the Bible better,” she says. The teacher, Amy-Jill Levine, is “a great analyst: funny and irreverent.”

Watch Naomi Campbell Make Pudding

Ghetto Gastro’s Gastronomical Cribs, free at @ghettogastro

➽ Rome-based journalist Erica Firpo also loves classes by Ghetto Gastro, a collective of four friends. The quartet FaceTime into the kitchens of their celebrity guests, who cook a recipe live. “Naomi Campbell made banana pudding recently. I watch it live, then rewatch it when I actually want to cook what they made.”

Make Graham Crackers With Christina Tosi

Christina Tosi Bake Club, free at @christinatosi 

➽ Firpo was not looking to take a class in lockdown but noticed Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi advertising a “daily Bake Club” on Instagram. “She has so much energy,” Firpo says, adding that Tosi lets attendees know all the ingredients they’ll need ahead of time to bake pie and nougat alongside her.

Take Cambridge’s Hardest Class

Talking Politics: History of Ideas Podcast, free on Apple or Spotify Podcasts

➽ Cambridge University’s famously difficult History of Political Thought class (which began in the 1950s) has recently been distilled to podcast form by one of its professors. Leo Sands, a BBC producer who took the class itself, recommends starting with the lesson on Hobbes, and he says the professor and host, David Runciman, is “a master.”

Try Skin School

Barbara Sturm Skin School, $10 at eventbrite.com

Illustration: Nishant Choksi

➽ Gwyneth Paltrow’s skin-care guru has been hosting seminars on Zoom. Davis, who stumbled on one while shopping for a serum, tells us everyone from high-schoolers to Hailey Bieber has taken the class and that Sturm gets scientific: “You learn about different skin layers, what produces acne, and more.”

Peek Into a Yoga Instructor’s Portuguese Apartment

Sky Ting TV, $20 a month at skyting.com/tv after free trial

➽ Fans of yoga studio Sky Ting, including musician Phoebe Bridgers, told us it’s mastered the art of fostering connection online. “It feels intimate, even with 2,000 people tuned in live,” says Annie Auchincloss, a home buyer at MoMA. Plus, “it’s fun to see the instructors’ airy apartments, from New York to Portugal.”

Immerse Yourself in Another Epidemic

Open Yale Courses: Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600, free at oyc.yale.edu

➽ In 1911, Italy kept quiet about a cholera epidemic. The fact was discovered by Yale’s Frank Snowden, who teaches a course about how he figured it out. Comedian Jay Welch says, “It doesn’t take your mind off current events, but it’s full of insights that apply to now.” Lecture No. 9, he adds, “which has the very dull title ‘Asiatic Cholera (I),’ ” is where things start to heat up.

Start Up With Sign Language

Santa Monica Language Academy, from $50

➽ Author Maile Meloy was learning sign on the set of a TV show she was writing for and has continued in lockdown with this SMLA class led by “great” teacher Lan Ngo. For a cheaper option, author Mary Laura Philpott likes the free courses on signlanguage101.com.

Go to Grad School–Lite

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, $315 at thebrooklyninstitute.com

➽ The nonprofit Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was created to offer university-style seminars ta