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Goal Structures and Cooperative Learning

            Cooperative learning is an umbrella term for a group of teaching and learning strategies characterized by goal structures in which individuals must work together to succeed (McInerney & McInenery, 2010, p. 268). It has been proposed as a means of developing social skills, increasing higher order thinking, and as a means of improving race relations and empathy (Petty, 2009, pp. 143-144; Muijs & Reynolds, 2005, p. 57). It is, understandably, a much-loved and thoroughly researched teaching strategy, but it is not without its disadvantages. However, these disadvantages are often overlooked in research, and not firmly cemented in the collective consciousness of educational theorists and practitioners. This is unfortunate, as it is only by understanding the disadvantages of cooperative learning that its strategies can be used to full potential. In this essay, we will describe cooperative learning and some of its forms, as well as its advantages and disadvantages.
             Cooperative learning must first be distinguished from other learning styles. Effects are equally positive for high, average and low achievers. Learning may be divided into three different types: individual, competitive, and cooperative. In individual learning, students work by themselves to accomplish learning goals unrelated to those of the other students. The student seeks an outcome that is personally beneficial and ignores as irrelevant the goal achievement of other students. In competitive learning, students compete with each other for grades and marks to see who is "best". In essence, students work against each other to achieve a goal that only one or a few students can attain. Cooperative learning is different. Here, groups of students work together to solve problems, research, review material, and to accomplish other learning tasks. This must not be misunderstood merely was group work; rather, a cooperative learning activity presents students with a goal that cannot be achieved without working together collaboratively (McInerney & McInerney, 2010, p.

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