Action Research

What is Action Research?

Action a direct and logical outcome of the progressive position. After showing children how to work together to solve their problems, the next step was for teachers to adopt the methods they had been teaching their children, and learn to solve their own problems co-operatively. (Hodgkinson, 1957)

According to Cohen and Manion (1994), action research may be defined as a "small-scale intervention in the functioning of the real world and a close examination of the effects of such intervention" (p. 186). Although the ultimate objective of this practical type of research is to improve practice in some way, Stenhouse (1979) stressed that action research should exceed the improvement of practice by contributing to "a theory of education and teaching which is accessible to other teachers." Cohen and Manion identified tangible features of this approach:

It is situational, concerned with the diagnosis of a problem in a particular context and attempting to solve the problem in that context;

It is participatory. The researcher becomes involved, directly or indirectly, in implementing the research; and,

It is self-evaluative. Within the ongoing situation, modifications are continuously assessed.

Rather than seeking generalizable scientific knowledge, as in the case of applied research, action research interprets the scientific method quite loosely by focussing on a specific problem in a specific setting. Cohen and Manion delineated the purposes of action research in the school and classroom into five categories:

  1. It is a means of remedying problems diagnosed in specific situations, or of improving in some way a given set of circumstances;
  2. It is a means of in-service training, thereby equipping teachers with new skills and methods, sharpening their analytical powers and heightening their self-awareness;
  3. It is a means of injecting additional or innovatory approaches to teaching and learning into an ongoing system which normally inhibits innovation and change;
  4. It is a means of improving the normally poor communications between the practising teacher and the academic researcher, and of remedying the failure of traditional research to give clear prescriptions;
  5. Although lacking the rigor of true scientific research, it is a means of providing a preferable alternative to the more subjective, impressionistic approach to problem-solving in the classroom. (pp. 188-198)

Off-Line Resources

Studying Your Own School by Gary L. Anderson, Kathryn Herr, & Ann Sigrid Nihlen (Corwin Press, Inc., Thousand Oaks, California, 1994)

The Art of Classroom Inquiry by Ruch Shagoury Hubbard & Brenda Miller Power (Heinemann, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1993)


Stenhouse, L., What is Action Research? (C.A.R.E., University of East Anglia, Norwich [mimeo. 1979]).

Hodgkinson, H.L., Action Research: A Critique, Journal of Educational Sociology, 31(4) (1957) 137-53.

Cohen, L. and Manion, L. Research Methods in Education (4th Edition) (London, Routledge, 1996).