Action Research

{Scales, Pickering, & Senior, 2011. Continuing Professional Development in the Lifelong Learning Sector.}

Daily, we are doing research by questioning ourselves about our teaching and our students’ learning and then adapting or changing our practice to improve.

Action research and reflective practice are the most valuable methods for improving practice in specific contexts.

There are four defining characteristics of action research:

Practical, which deals with real-life problems.

Change; provides a solution to the problem.

Cyclical; includes an evaluation of the solution with a view to further research.

Participation; active, not passive.

Teachers actively recognize problems to be solved and apply and refine the results in their context. The research activity is part of a continuous cycle of research, experimentation, and improvement in which participants continue to review, evaluate, and improve teaching and learning.

Consider your teaching role:

What information could you collect from your learners to help you evaluate your classroom effectiveness?

In what other ways could you involve your learners in your research?

What might benefit your learners when participating in the project?

What difficulties might there be in involving learners?

The action research process

Review your current practice,

identify an aspect you want to investigate,

imagine a way forward,

try it out, and

take stock of what happens.

Modify what you are doing in light of what you have found, and continue working in this new way; try another option if the new way of working is not right. 

Monitor what you do,

review and evaluate the modified action, and 

continue the cyclical process.

As a practitioner undertaking research, your main aim is to improve learning and teaching practice.

Collect and analyze data from classes, including observations of class reaction and achievement;

reflect upon practice and personal assumptions and beliefs;

determine questions to be answered or problems to be solved;

identify activities or actions that would allow you to respond to questions or create solutions;

complete activities;

review findings following activity completion;

evaluate the outcome of your chosen activity;

disseminate the results of your research.

A working example

Identify an aspect you want to investigate:

in a current program, I want to strengthen my subject specialism;

Imagine a way forward:

my plan of action will be to

introduce subject specialism screening at interview,

introduce a specific individual learning plan for each student to assess their subject knowledge,

create a timetable of milestones that students need to achieve within their subject,

create a subject network, making use of peer groups and learning communities;

Try it out, and take stock of what happens:

I implement the action plan;

Review and evaluate the modified action:

Following implementation, I evaluate the outcomes through individual case studies of impact evaluation.

All research starts with a research question.

What am I trying to achieve? Why am I doing this? How will it improve my practice?

This is followed by the actual design of the research.

Who will I consult? What are methods of collecting information most appropriate for my question? When and how will I collect the information?

Data collection could be through questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, and observation.


Informed consent is the main principle in action research, along with confidentiality, privacy, consent, consequence, harm, and the power relationship.

Be clear about the nature of the agreement you have entered into with your research subjects or contacts.

Contracts involve getting informed consent, reaching agreements about the use of this data, and how its analysis will be reported and disseminated.

Keep agreements.

Provide brief oral statements before interviews or other face-to-face settings explaining why you are doing this research, how you will carry it out, and how it will be used or disseminated. Reassure that participation is confidential and will be made anonymous, and explain that you will not use names in transcripts, and recordings will be destroyed once transcribed.


Consider an issue that is currently affecting your work or workplace.

What could be the objective of any proposed study?

What research questions are you seeking to answer?

What type of research approach (qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods) would be best suited to answer your questions?

What research methods are most appropriate to collect data?

Who will you select to be part of the study?

What constraints or ethical issues could your study raise?