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Rounds With Leadership: Academic Nursing and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Published August 28, 2019

Welcome to Rounds with Leadership, a forum for AACN’s Board Chair and President/CEO to offer commentary on issues and trends impacting academic nursing.

August 28, 2019 - Academic Nursing and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

In 2016, Professor Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, heralded the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a new era of technology-driven change that impacts how we live, work, engage, and learn. Unlike earlier “revolutions” that focused on mechanization, mass production, and automation, today’s revolution is marked by rapid advances in technology – including artificial intelligence, genome editing, augmented reality, and robotics – that have the power to transform institutions, industries, and individuals (Schwab, 2019).

Though the accelerating pace of technology sparked by this new revolution can be exhilarating, it does pose some challenges to students expected to understand evolving systems and to those expected to teach. As addressed in our recent white paper on AACN’s Vision for Academic Nursing, the use of learning technologies is transforming higher education and offering greater opportunity for connectivity and active engagement. As a result, nursing faculty must have a clear understanding of the push-pull of technology and how to leverage technology to adapt teaching-learning experiences that resonate with students.

Besides rethinking how we approach teaching and student engagement, successfully navigating the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require new ways to lead. According to best-selling author and new technology advisor Bernard Marr (2018), “decision-makers are too often caught in traditional, linear (and non-disruptive) thinking or too absorbed by immediate concerns to think strategically about the forces of disruption and innovation shaping our future." As leaders in nursing education, we must embrace innovation and work toward unlocking the power of technology to accelerate meaningful change and enhance its impact.

Dr. Schwab understands the inherent challenges in thriving during a time of constant change and reminds us to not lose sight of the “human element” at the heart of this whirlwind. He calls for working together “to shape a future that works for all by putting people first, empowering them, and constantly reminding ourselves that all of these new technologies are first and foremost tools made by people for people.”  He sees the need for leaders in academia and across industries “who are emotionally intelligent, and able to model and champion co-operative working. They’ll coach, rather than command; they’ll be driven by empathy, not ego. The digital revolution needs a different, more human kind of leadership” (Artley, 2019).

AACN is committed to assisting our members in understanding trends impacting how we teach and how we lead.  We encourage you to explore AACN LEADS, our expanding portfolio of leadership enrichment programs designed with the latest thinking from industry experts.  Together, we can strengthen the skills you need to create a culture at your school that embraces change and ignites innovation.


Artley, J. (January 19, 2018). How to Be a Leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Accessible at

Marr, B. (August 18, 2018). The 4th Industrial Revolution Is Here - Are You Ready? Forbes Online. Accessible at

Schwab, K. (2019). The Fourth Industrial Revolution.  Accessible via at