Introducing “The New Global Order”, our first foray into online education

Miranda Johnson, The Economist’s deputy executive editor, explains how and why our new course on geopolitics came to be

Credit: Getty Images

Last month The Economist launched a six-week course on “The New Global Order: How Politics, Business and Technology are Changing”, created in collaboration with GetSmarter, an online-education provider and brand of global education technology firm 2U, Inc. It is our first foray into this type of online course. Our chief author was John Parker, a seasoned journalist and editor with experience living in Moscow, Beijing, Brussels and Washington, DC. I was the course’s secondary author, after time spent as a correspondent in Singapore and Atlanta. I am delighted with the outcome, but the experience has been a lesson in itself: creating online courses is a big undertaking.

Our initial challenge concerned the scale of the possible contents. The topic on which we wished to create a course was not small by any means: current geopolitics. Thorny questions immediately arose. What events, issues and themes should we focus on? And how should we organise modules around them? Luckily The Economist’s journalists helped us answer both during a long kick-off meeting at which we debated hotly the course’s possible subject matter. One structuring principle emerged quickly: at its heart would sit the relationship between China and the US.

Workshops followed with GetSmarter in which we designed a plan for “The New Global Order”. Writing commenced thereafter, with John and me in almost constant contact. Adjusting our work in light of breaking news was an ongoing concern. In the end, we delayed writing our module on the US, for example, so as to ensure that we could get a fair sense of President Joe Biden’s administration and its priorities. How much time to dedicate to explaining how international politics got to where we are now, as opposed to where we are headed, was another quandary. In the end, we tried to put most of our content relating to the history of geopolitics since 1945 into the first module.

Each module then went through the time-consuming but essential editing and checking familiar to our regular editorial work. Many colleagues reviewed the content. Throughout this process, we worked with a fantastic team from GetSmarter who helped us ensure our work would meet its pedagogical aims.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of creating the course was interviewing our colleagues, as well as guest speakers including Eric Schmidt and Kevin Rudd, on their areas of expertise for videos and podcasts in relevant modules. From the Internet of Things to President Vladimir Putin’s plans for Russia, and from climate policy to the state of global trade, I learned an enormous amount just in the process of filming. My colleagues David Rennie, who writes our weekly “Chaguan” column on China and serves as our bureau chief in Beijing, and Shashank Joshi, our defence editor, proved particularly impressive in front of the camera, recording almost in single takes. Me? Perhaps rather less so!

For those keen to learn more about the course it is easy to do so here. I hope that anyone who decides to take it finds it both fascinating and invaluable. More than two dozen correspondents and editors at The Economist worked together to create it. We plan to update its modules regularly, ensuring that students benefit from the most relevant information possible. It has been an intense process, but a worthwhile one: we are already working on a second course.

Miranda Johnson is The Economist’s deputy executive editor. Previously she was the publication’s South-East Asia correspondent, based in Singapore. Her former roles include environment correspondent, Southern United States correspondent and science correspondent. Miranda’s work has also appeared in the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Times and the Evening Standard. In 2016 she was shortlisted to be the ‘New Journalist of the Year’ at the British Journalism Awards. In 2017 she received the Desmond Wettern Media Award from the Maritime Foundation for her reporting on the ocean.

Insight and opinion on international news, politics, business, finance, science, technology, books and arts.