An Educational Psychology Success Story: Social Interdependence Theory and Cooperative Learning

Jul. 10, 2009

Source: Educational Researcher, Volume 38, No. 5, p. 365-379 (June/July 2009). (Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The widespread and increasing use of cooperative learning is one of the great success stories of social and educational psychology. From being discounted and ignored in the 1940s through the 1970s, cooperative learning is now a standard and widespread teaching procedure. Its success largely rests on the relationships among theory, research, and practice. Social interdependence theory provides a foundation on which cooperative learning is built.
The purpose of this article is to describe how social and educational psychology has contributed to educational practice by summarizing social interdependence theory, giving an overview of the relevant research, and discussing the application of the theory to education.

Social Interdependence Theory

Social interdependence exists when the outcomes of individuals are affected by their own and others’ actions (D. W. Johnson & R. Johnson, 1989). There are two types of social interdependence: positive (when the actions of individuals promote the achievement of joint goals) and negative (when the actions of individuals obstruct the achievement of each other’s goals). The theory provides a conceptual framework to organize thinking about cooperation and competition, summarize what is known, and generate research studies.
More than 1,200 research studies have been conducted in the past 11 decades on cooperative, competitive, and individualistic efforts.
Findings from these studies have validated, modified, refined, and extended the theory. The research has focused on numerous outcomes, which may be loosely structured into three categories: effort to achieve, quality of interpersonal relationships, and psychological health.
This is one of the largest bodies of knowledge in education or social psychology.
From the theory, procedures for the teacher’s role in using formal and informal cooperative learning and cooperative base groups have been operationalized. Those procedures are widely used by educators throughout the world.
The applications have resulted in revisions of the theory and the generation of new research.

Updated: Oct. 20, 2009