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The impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on Higher Learning Institutions

Authored by: Isaac Lupanda

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will transform industries so considerably that much of the work that exists today will not exist in 50 years. It is imperative for people to understand the impact of these changes on all areas of our lives, including the higher learning institutions.

Currently, all graduates face a world transformed by technology, in which the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning, Big Data, Cloud and Edge Computing, and social media create different opportunities and challenges for formal education systems. As students consider life after graduation, learning institutions are facing questions about their own destiny, especially employment. These technologies powered by artificial intelligence are so much transforming the world that social concepts such as “post-work” are more and more defining the present period. This period requires certain skills that are not exactly the same as the skills that were required in the Third Industrial Revolution where information technology was the key driver.

The connection between education and society is often implied to be one-way where education is expected to fit in with economic and political trends, rather than opposing them and representing something different. Such a general understanding of the relationship between education and the socioeconomic structures and what the education position involves help us to form a projection of future higher education associated with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The goal of higher education in the 4IR era is to ensure the quality of learning via teaching, to enable learners to get the latest knowledge through exploratory research and to sustain the development of societies by means of service. Higher learning institutions in the Fourth Industrial age should put innovation, both evolutionary and revolutionary, high on its agenda and deepen its technology system reforms by breaking down all barriers to innovation. Though the business of higher learning remains unchanged since the times of Aristotle; today students still assemble at a scheduled time and venue to listen to the wisdom of scholars. Given the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new form of a higher learning institution is emerging that does teaching, research and service in a different manner, such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), virtual classrooms and laboratories, virtual libraries and virtual teachers. It does, however, not degrade the educational experience but augment it.

In conclusion, higher education in the Fourth Industrial Revolution is complex and bring exciting opportunities which can potentially transform society for the better. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is powered by artificial intelligence and it will transform the workplace from tasks-based characteristics to human-centered characteristics. Because of the convergence of man and machine, it will reduce the subject distance between humanities and social science as well as science and technology. The need for a higher learning institution to respond is urgent as the power of 4IR technologies for either positive social impacts or devastating environmental damage is upon us. This will necessarily require much more interdisciplinary teaching, research and innovation.


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