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The main purpose of tertiary education is to enhance academic knowledge, career-related abilities, and social skills for preparing to be a productive and active individuals of the societies. Post-secondary education provides valuable opportunities to learn how to understand differences in people. Therefore, the importance of cooperative and collaborative relationships in a tertiary education setting has been vigorously discussed by many researchers. In this context, the concepts of social independence, social interdependence, and social isolation are highly associated with learning outcomes in universities. The focus of this essay is to identify the influences of social isolation, social independence, and social interdependence on learning outcomes for individuals and groups. This essay will also discuss the relations of these three concepts to cooperative learning and traditional learning approaches to bring satisfactory results for those who have Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Specific examples and suggestions for better learning outcomes for the vulnerable groups within a tertiary education setting will be provided.
Social isolation refers to a lack of interactive behavior between individuals and other members of society. It is commonly caused by introversion, shyness, being a newcomer, self-alienation, and involuntary exclusion. Being socially isolated can lead to not only physical health problems but also psychological health issues such as poor sleep quality, impaired executive function, and a decline in accelerated cognitive function which may impact on academic results. University students may experience a reduction of opportunities for social connection due to the allocation of the free time to the heavy load of study which might result in being socially isolated. Bryant and Trower also indicated that students in tertiary education are more likely to experience psycho-social disturbance and social isolation, and insufficient social participation can negatively impact on academic learning outcomes for both individuals and groups. Undoubtedly, socially isolated students have limited access to any approachable learning resources. For example, a CALD student might be involuntarily separated from the rest of the students due to the language barrier, limited literacy, and different cultural understanding. Consequently, this student will not be able to cope with given learning tasks as much as other students, and it can also negatively influence the outcome of groups as a whole.
In contrast, social interdependence is represented in students who work to accomplish a shared goal between team members, and the learning outcome is considered to be influenced by the actions from the peers and themselves. There are two types of social interdependence which are positive and negative social interdependence. A positive social interdependence appears if the goal achievements of individuals are positively correlated to the rest of the group members encouraging the interactive efforts. Whereas a negative social interdependence typically occurs when goal attainments of individuals are negatively linked to others and it obstructs each other’s efforts to reach the goal. Positively interdependent group members are highly likely to be motivated to work cooperatively as they have a shared goal to attain. In other words, academic results for both individuals and groups are positively impacted by being socially interdependent. The meaning of success for individuals with positive interdependence is the same as the other group members’ success.
On the other hand, social independence exists when students basically rely on their work and the goal attainment of individuals is not influenced by other peers. Only individual achievement is rewarded so there is little or no attention to the development of social skills. As a result, it makes limitations in terms of collaborative work. However, it is beneficial for individual learning outcomes as becoming socially independent can increase self-confidence, self-esteem, and competency.
In the educational setting, socially independent students are generally passive and inactive at getting information and knowledge. This concept is highly related to the traditional teaching and learning approach which was the most common educational technique in the early 20th century. Zohar & Dori referred that traditional education is a linear and sequential method that focuses on learning by rote and memorization. As the main role of teachers in this setting is to transfer information and knowledge to students, teachers are mostly oriented whereas students tend to be silent and just listen to the lecturer’s instruction in classes. Furthermore, students work individually and independently without any interference from other peers so that they are only responsible for themselves. As a result, social independence tends to cause social rejection and social isolation. On the other hand, the cooperative learning approach has increasingly become popular in many tertiary education institutions. Many researchers have observed the connection between social interdependence theory and the cooperative learning approach. Essentially, cooperative learning is a form of active pedagogy which enables individuals to interact with other peers and to work towards a common goal. There is an emphasis on learning in a small group which aims to reduce social isolation by having collaborative individuals as a part of a group. Each student is still accountable for individual learning and participation. Besides, they believe in the power of collaboration. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson noted that positive interdependence reinforces personal responsibility and accountability as it binds group members together. It makes individuals feel responsible for completing assigned tasks as well as supporting the work of other group members in the cooperative learning approach. Overall, both traditional and cooperative learning approaches have different merits and demerits in terms of learning outcomes for individuals and groups. However, the level of information and knowledge has been continuously becoming diverse and complex. Consequently, the meaning of learning is not just considered as memorizing information or following the given instructions anymore, but it is regarded as understanding, reasoning and developing higher-order thinking skills through effective interactions with other peers. Therefore, the cooperative learning approach is more preferable to traditional learning in a tertiary education setting.
When it comes to CALD students in universities, there are many obstacles to their learning environments. Undoubtedly, the underlying reasons for this include language barriers, cultural differences, difficulties with communication and building a relationship, as well as insufficient social interaction. Boughton, Halliday & Brown also emphasized that most of the international students who face these barriers are more likely to become socially independent learners and they eventually confront involuntary social isolation. Furthermore, they have limited access to learning resources which negatively affects academic results due to a lack of confidence to approach peers and teaching staff. Surprisingly, it is observed that a majority of students with CALD backgrounds are willing to actively engage in interactive activities, however, they fail mainly because of the learning environment such as lack of guidance from instructors or large tutorial groups. Therefore, applying the cooperative learning strategy can be intensively used to build an interactive learning environment along with the traditional learning approach under the careful consideration of instructors. As the contents and structure of each lecture have different learning objectives and expectations, it is effective to apply the educational approach flexibly. If a lecture requires sharing personal ideas and learning from listening to other peers’ experiences, a cooperative learning strategy can be predominantly used which reduces the fear of making mistakes and improves the social interdependence of international students through working in a small group. Conversely, if there is a knowledge-oriented class where independent understanding is mainly required, applying the traditional learning approach will be effective with additional support for CALD students to prevent social isolation. It is vital to provide necessary academic recourses and social support for CALD students. In addition to this, lectures need to fully understand the needs of international students and flexibly instruct the classes.
In conclusion, all concepts of social isolation, social independence, and social interdependence have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of learning for individuals and groups. Positive social interdependence is highly associated with cooperative education for both individuals and groups as it promotes cooperative work towards a shared goal. Conversely, social isolation negatively impacts on any learning approach as it rejects any opportunities to access learning resources and support. Social independence, however, has double-sidedness. When it comes to traditional learning, it was essential to be independent for improving personal abilities and understanding the given information. Whereas in a cooperative learning setting, social independence negatively influences the outcome for groups due to disagreements between individuals and a common goal. Major issues of university students who are culturally and linguistically diverse were lack of social interactions and insufficient learning resources due to involuntary social rejection. These issues can be resolved by applying cooperative learning methods along with the traditional learning approach. The educational facilitators are required to carefully understand the basic needs of CALD students by considering the aspects of social isolation, social independence, and social interdependence. Moreover, instructors should consider applying appropriate and flexible educational strategies with additional support for CALD groups.
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