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Action Research

Describes Action Research and how it is used in education.

What is Action Research?

Action research involves a systematic process of examining the evidence. The results of this type of research are practical, relevant, and can inform theory. Action research is different than other forms of research as there is less concern for universality of findings, and more value is placed on the relevance of the findings to the researcher and the local collaborators.

Riel, M. (2020). Understanding action research. Center For Collaborative Action Research, Pepperdine University.  Retrieved January 31, 2021 from the Center for Collaborative Action Research. 


The short video below by John Spencer provides a quick overview of Action Research.

How is Action Research different?

This chart demonstrates the difference between traditional research and action research. Traditional research is a means to an end - the conclusion. They start with a theory, statistical analysis is critical and the researcher does not insert herself into the research.

Action research is often practiced by practitioners like teachers and librarians who remain in the middle of the research process. They are looking for ways to improve the specific situation for their clientele or students. Statistics may be collected but they are not the point of the research.

  Traditional Research Action Research
Purpose To draw conclusions. Focus is on advancing knowledge in the field. Insights may be generalized to other settings. To make decisions. Focus is on the improvement of practice. Limited generalizability.
Context Theory: Hypotheses/research questions derive from more general theoretical propositions. Practice: Research questions derive from practice. Theory plays secondary role.
Data Analysis Rigorous statistical analysis. Focus on practical, not statistical significance
Sampling Random or representative sample. Clientele or students with whom they work.

Adapted from: Mc Millan, J. H. & Wergin. J. F. (1998). Understanding and evaluating educational research. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Teacher Action Research

According to Paul Gorski, Action Research for educators meets the following qualifications:

  • a non-traditional and community-based form of educational evaluation;
  • carried out by educators, not outside researchers or evaluators;
  • focused on improving teaching and learning, but also social and environmental factors that affect the nature and success of teaching and learning;
  • formative, not summative--an on-going process of evaluation, recommendation, practice, reflection, and reevaluation; and
  • change-oriented, and undertaken with the assumption that change is needed in a given context

Gorski, P. C. (1995-2018). Teacher Action Research. Critical Multicultural Pavilion. Retrieved October 6, 2018 from