Industry 4.0: Aporia and Implications for Higher Education¹

Xicoténcatl Martínez Ruiz

Are we educating young people to face the challenge of digital learning and academic-work scenarios in the coming years? What impact do the technological revolution, information revolution, and work environments of the fourth industrial revolution have on higher education? Why does Industry 4.0 result in aporia for the conceiving, updating, and purposes of higher education?

The need to review and update curricular content is prevalent in the international arena, from educational institutions and the economy, to diverse business fields.2 The new approaches generally have practical and immediate focuses. This revolution sees benefits, but also brings forward risks that must be considered in curricular renewal; for example, the implications across educational and work processes with artificial intelligence3, or the inappropriateness of limiting the broader meaning of education to a few business guidelines. The review and update of educational practice does not mean reducing it or impoverishing it, but rather adapting it to the demand of contemporary society without distorting it.

What does the aporia I am speaking of mean? An aporia (gr. aporein, aporos), to a large extent, refers to two valid reasonings that are opposite to each other. In this case, there are numerous contrasts between Industry 4.0 and higher education, not just one. On one hand, is the premise of redirecting or adapting human resource training to the environments, plans and needs of Industry 4.0, hence the need to rework not only the curricular contents of higher education, but also the mechanisms of educational management, liaison and communication, systems and interactions between university-society and employment.4 On the other hand, the same environment, including projects and innovations that take place in Industry 4.0, created the conditions for the transformation of job possibilities. Let us take the case of a higher education graduate in areas susceptible to automation. How will he or she face change? Industry automation created conditions that increased dissolution and—in other scenarios—the obsolescence of certain jobs; but also, the creation and conformation of emerging productive activities.5


Aporia then lies in that the conditions that allow—and will allow—higher education to respond, to adapt and to integrate Industry 4.0, and harmonize with it, seem to be the same ones that will radically give it a new meaning. In other words, the idea of flexible, adaptive and digital learning environments, of responsive learning with creative and immediate feedback—typical in gamification—is involving an unschooling level, i.e. the annulment of schooling environment criteria of higher education. The reorganization of the labor market and its implication to create, adapt and extinguish jobs, show signs of the redefinition that certain curricular contents will experience in coming years.6 As stated by Demartini and Benussi7, we must consider that “[…] real-world world examples currently suggest that the most relevant skills and competencies should be those that can withstand continuous and progressive self-upgrades and self-tuning, and are transferrable and directly applicable across various social, business, and professional settings.”

Thus, curricular content should be updated not only with respect to their validity, but also to their possibilities of prospective self-adaptation, in harmony with the high purposes of education. The analysis of the state of higher education implies understanding the role of critical, creative, ethical and resilience skills that enable a culture of wellbeing8, which in turn nurture the life of a young person who is educated for citizenship, freedom and equality.

In this context of emerging opportunities and skill requirements, we might ask ourselves: what is the role of digital learning processes and of digital resources? We must study the relationship between work spaces and educational spaces, without disregarding a long-term vision, i.e. considering what and how to guide education and its curricular content towards higher goals.9 Goals that both address and transcend the orientation of the fourth revolution industry, a prevalent and predominant guide whose environments are identified in The Next Production Revolution.10 I insist: the academic harmonization that considers—or guides—what the education-society-work environment is experiencing in the age of hyper-connectivity does not mean reducing the aims of higher education or limiting its future.

Thinking about the implications of Industry 4.0 for higher education also means considering a broader, hyper-related, and at the same time, solipsist process. It not only involves the change in industry and jobs, but also the way we understand each other as human beings. The revolutions of our time—technological, industrial, information—have already occurred. We are living its effects, its trials, its adaptations, its implications, its autonomous interactivity, its learning from mistakes to reconfigure without the intervention of human intelligence, like in AlphaGo Zero (an artificial intelligence computer program to play Go, one of the oldest strategy games, from China, that precedes chess).11 The difference between these in comparison to previous revolutions—among many others—is that part of its processes does not depend on human knowledge, but rather, non-human, an intelligence that is an—artificial—extension of what has characterized the historical evolution of human beings.

Hence, from a philosophical standpoint, when we speak of updating or reworking content in an educational system or model, its relative nature must be considered; because before the curricular content update shows any effects, it will be obsolete with respect to the technological environment to which it wants to respond. In light of this, it might be useful to outline flexible criteria to find a balance between education, society and work. These include:

  1. Criteria to foster creative and adaptable learning of educational model “n,” in a regional context and that of higher education institution identities but in dialogue with an interrelated environment and with mechanisms for the appropriation of digital pedagogies.
  2. Criteria to harmonize higher education system “n” with the link between unschooling training and society-work like a multi-agent system (MAS).12
  3. Criteria to establish guidelines that feed creative, adaptive, interconnected, ethical, of academic integrity, and resilient environments.
  4. Criteria that harmoniously restructure educational, administrative and regulatory management, to build learning, flexible, adaptive, responsive digital environments and with feedback.
  5. Criteria developed in democratic and educational equality environments within educational model “n.”

Criteria to draw up guidelines with an ethical and integrity-based approach, applicable to the development and asynchronous appropriation of digital pedagogies in educational model “n.”


Digital ethics proposes to understand and develop awareness and attitudes regarding the four aforementioned transformations in the Onlife Manifesto, whose implications for education we see in learning environments that have included communication and information technologies. This tool is also used to find answers to: what ideas, values, goals have been transformed by the current technological revolution identified as the fourth industrial revolution?

The redefinition of axiology and ethical practices have permeated in the three aforementioned revolutions, and encourages paradigm changes to understand the reality and human beings of the 21st century.14 What do we understand by the fourth revolution in the current technological context? From the IT revolution perspective, and following Floridi, the first revolution was initiated by Nicolaus Copernicus, filled with vital questions about the subject-object relationship and its epistemological implications. Soon after came the revolution brought about by Darwin and his research on our place in evolution. The third revolution, according to Luciano Floridi, was with Sigmund Freud and the research on what governs or explains a person’s behavior. The fourth revolution was triggered by Alan Turing in the 20th century and was a reconfiguration of our understanding of non-human intelligence.

However, there are others reasons to talk about a fourth revolution, that can be defined from a historical perspective of industrial transformations; revolutions that have preceded us are understood as a linked succession of technological changes.15 Generally speaking, we can talk about a first revolution that is catalyzed by the application of scientific discoveries to specific problem solving, as is the case with Isaac Newton and the creation of steam engines for an industry that began displacing labor force.16 The second one is surrounded by transformations in production and daily life that was brought upon by electricity; the third revolution, for Xing and Marwala, is seen with the electronic revolution.17 The fourth industrial revolution is characterized by environments and systems that incorporate digitization, artificial intelligence, machine learning, industry automation, and the horizontal and vertical integration of production processes, among other elements.

From both perspectives—the information technology revolution and the fourth industrial revolution—significant redefinitions were made, both in the notion of being human, and in knowledge and education. However, transformation did not stop in those fields. The ideas of time and space were also rethought; both are key in understanding, redirecting critically and harmonizing educational challenges with current social, production and work scenarios.

Without losing sight of the highest goal of education and considering the practices and educational content that our students receive and will continue receiving in coming years, let us think for one moment how to unravel the historical meaning of our time when facing environmental, social and peace challenges, with respect to the place we give today to technological innovation, consumption and industrialization in our way of life.


1 With prior authorization from the author and minor editorial changes, we reproduced the article originally published in Innovación Educativa, vol. 19, issue 79, Jan-Apr, 2019, pp. 7-12.

2 Petra Maresova, Ivan Soukal, et al., “Consequences of Industry 4.0 in Business and Economics”, Economies, vol. 6, núm. 3, 2018, pp. 1-14 .

3 Baobao Zhang and Allan Dafoe, Artificial Intelligence: American Attitudes and Trends, Center for the Governance of AI, Future of Humanity Institute, Universidad de Oxford, Oxford, 2019 .

4 Gabriela Beatrice Cotet, Beatrice Adriana Balgiu and Violeta-Carmen Zaleschi, “Assessment Procedure for the Soft Skills Requested by Industry 4.0”, MATEC Web of Conferences, vol. 121, 2017 .

5 International Labour Organization-Global Commission on the Future of Work, Work for a Brighter Future, Geneva, 2017 />.

6 McKinsey Global Institute, Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions in a Time of Automation, 2017>.

7 Claudio Demartini and Lorenzo Benussi, “Do Web 4.0 and Industry 4.0 Imply Education X.0?”, IT Pro, May-Jun, 2019, p. 5 .

8 Kenneth Tobin, “Researching Mindfulness and Wellness”, in Matgorzata Powietrzynska and Kenneth Tobin (editors), Weaving Complementary Knowledge Systems and Mindfulness to Educate a Literate Citizenry for Sustainable and Healthy Lives, Sense Publishing, Rotterdam, 2017.

9 Eevi E. Beck, Tone Dyrdal Solbrekke, Molly Sutphen and Ester Fremstad, “When Mere Knowledge Is Not Enough: The Potential of Bildung as Self-Determination, Co-Determination and Solidarity”, Higher Education Research & Development, vol. 34, issue 3, November, 2014, pp. 445-457.

10 OECD, The Next Production Revolution: Implications for Governments and Business, OECD Publishing, Paris, 2017.

11 David Silver, Julian Schrittwieser, Karen Simonyan, et al., “Mastering the Game of Go without Human Knowledge”, Nature, 550, pp. 354-359 />.

12 Luciano Floridi, “Hiperhistoria, el surgimiento de los sistemas multiagente (SMA) y el diseño de una infraética”, in Xicoténcatl Martínez Ruiz, Infoesfera, Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Mexico City, 2015.

13 Luciano Floridi (editor), The Onlife Manifesto: Being Human in a Hyperconnected Era, Springer, 2015, p. 7 />.

14 Luciano Floridi, The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2014.

15 Bo Xing and Tshilidzi Marwala, “Implications of the Fourth Industrial Age for Higher Education”, The Thinker, vol. 73, Quarter 3 resources/Thinker%2073.pdf>.

16 Claudio Demartini and Lorenzo Benussi, “Do Web 4.0 and Industry 4.0 Imply Education X.0?”, op. cit.

17 Bo Xing and Tshilidzi Marwala, “Implications of the Fourth Industrial Age for Higher Education”, op. cit.