Interactionist theory, based largely on the work of American philosopher and psychologist George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), assumes that people learn how to act and react to different situations based on their interactions in society. This theory attributes conflict, cooperation and identity beliefs to how people see others around them. Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) also contributed to the theory by stating that all traits and characteristics, including speech and cognitive thought processes, are influenced by the culture in which people live.
This theory suggests that students within the same cultural settings will view many ideas in similar ways. Teachers can use this similarity as an advantage when planning lessons. By using different methods of instruction rather than books, educators have an opportunity to incorporate society and culture into classrooms. This material may appeal more to students if it is similar to their beliefs and way of life, therefore increasing their ability to retain the content.
Interactionist theory states that learning takes place with more ease if students are constantly subjected to demonstrations of what they are to learn. Such demonstrations include speech, conflict resolution and perceptions. This theory suggests that students in a foreign language class will be at an advantage learning the material if the language is consistently spoken to them.
Learning by association takes place through cultural generations by younger members acting the same way as their elders. This is an advantage of interactionist theory: It helps to sustain cultural traditions, dialects and ways of life. Children will learn to speak the same way their parents and grandparents do, using terminology specific to that culture and then, in turn, passing it on to their children.
Ability to Change
The basis of this theory is that the ability of people to learn is based on their culture and surroundings. An advantage that can be derived from this idea is that everyone is in charge of their own abilities. Unlike Chomsky's syntax approach, which posits an innate learning ability, interactionist theory states that knowledge is learning through observation. This idea would then suggest that anyone who is unhappy in their current surroundings needs only to relocate themselves to an ideal situation in order to enhance their abilities. For example, this theory suggest that people who want to become more intelligent should move to an area with many academically minded people, such as a university town, and make contacts there.