Definition: Action Research

Having come across this term in the past, I felt it time to get my head around it once and for all.  What is action research?

I recall in the past, I have described action research as analogous to that of the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC).  In my case, an example of relating new knowledge back to existing knowledge and as I understand, an underlying theme of the constructivist model.  I hope to be discussing that further in the near future.

Getting back to action research,the fountain of knowledge provides some key words around action research. Its major attributes appear to be that of reflection, iteration and problem solving.  It also seems that it is commonly done in groups or teams.  So it seems to be a process of:

  1. identify a problem
  2. implement a solution
  3. reflect on the appropriateness/effectiveness of solution
  4. revise
  5. go to number 2

in a team setting.

There is a parallel here with the definition of a reflective teacher give or take the team aspect. In particular, teachers of levels 2 and 3 of the 3P model (Biggs, 2003).  In fact, Bob Dick has drawn this comparison already.  He contrasts action research and action learning (another popular eduspeak label – for another post) and suggests that:  “Action learning was more often used in organisational settings.  Action research [is] more common in community and educational settings. This distinction, too, is beginning to blur.” (Dick, 1997)  So while action research is a general research methodology, it does overlap well with the education discipline.


Biggs, J., (2003), Teaching for Quality Learning at University, 2nd Edn, Open University Press, Berkshire.

Dick, B. (1997) Action learning and action research [Online].

One thought on “Definition: Action Research

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  1. I agree with your summary. Another component (from memory) is that it is essential that the group of researchers are dedicated to their topic of interest – like us!

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