Action research is a form of research in which practitioners reflect systematically on their practice, implementing informed action to bring about improvement in practice and add to a body of knowledge.
According to Dick (1999):
Bassey (1998, p.93-95) describes educational action research as follows:
"Educational action research is an inquiry which is carried out to understand, to evaluate and then to change, to improve some educational practice."
Following are some more basic differences between action and research:
The three main types of action research are:
Technical action research is guided by an interest in improving control over outcomes. The task for the participant-researcher is to improve the means (his/her practice) to achieve the outcomes. In technical action research, there is an asymmetric, one-way relationship between the participant-researcher and the others involved in or affected by the research.
In TAR, it is important to keep a researcher’s three roles separate. And those three roles are:
One might choose to opt for conduction technical action research because:
One might have come up with a new technique/instrument and wants to apply it to real situations to evaluate its effectiveness. Additionally, techniques/instruments now obsolete, if modified by contemporary social practitioners, might need to be tested in realistic situations. That is where action research like technical action research comes in.
Participatory action research is guided by an interest in educating or enlightening practitioners so they can act more carefully. The focus is on long-term improvement. The practitioner, in such a case, might still be the one who decides what is to be explored and what changes are to be made.
However, in participatory action research, a researcher remains open to the views and responses of others, as well as to the consequences that others experience as a result of the practice. In this type of AR, there is a symmetrical, reciprocal relationship between the practitioner and others involved in and affected by the practice.
In PAR, all the parties and stakeholders involved are interested in the research topic.
Critical action research is guided by an interest in freeing people and/or groups from irrationality, injustice and the like. In this type of AR, the reciprocity between practitioner-researchers and others in a setting is amplified still further.
Responsibility for the research is taken collectively, by people who act and research together in the first person (plural) as ‘we’ or ‘us’. Consequently, based on this ‘us’ or ‘we’ approach, decisions about what to explore and what to change are taken collectively. CAR tries to empower the less privileged or those at a political disadvantage. Because of this reason, CAR is also called emancipatory action research.
Scope of CAR: In recent times, critical participatory action research has attempted to take account of disadvantage attributable to gender and ethnicity as well as to social class, its initial point of reference, and to issues of unsustainability in contemporary times(Kemmis, McTaggart & Nixon, 2014, p.12).
In a nutshell, the three types of action research are present on a spectrum. It starts with technical and ends at critical action research. The three types differ from each other in the following ways:
Type of action research
Aims and objectives
An experimental product/process/service
Improved and effective change in social practices
Teachers are supporters as well as consumers of certain software used in classrooms.
Long-term change in social practices
Teachers that have co-created a certain software used in classrooms.
Freeing and/or helping others
Emancipation of oppressed/unjustly treated groups
Teachers have designed and advocated a certain software used in classrooms to help students learn better.
In the same context, the three types of action research resemble each other concerning open-ended objectives, active participation and high levels of commitment from the researcher and participants involved. These similarities in the three methods of AR are further explained below:
It does not matter which type of AR one is conducting. In all three types, participants/employees are just as involved in the research process as researchers/leaders of an organization are. Therefore, all types of AR are collaborative research designs.
Furthermore, a researcher does not necessarily study themselves in AR research types. He/she can also be under study by another group within the AR process. In other words, an active researcher might be observed by another active researcher within the same research. Hence, active participation is involved once again.
Research involves the input and involvement of employees, including leaders, in designing the process with researchers. This is done as a group by implementing the results together. On the other hand, active research—regardless of type—involves those greatly affected by a problem by engaging them in planning, implementing and applying results of the research.
In light of these facts, it is claimed that AR is wholly based on active participation, in every sense of the word.
When research begins the process of AR—regardless of the type of AR—the research objectives are not set in stone before research. Rather, they are developed and modified along the way. This is done to ensure that problems an organisation is facing are met with solutions that are not rigid, but developed in response to the problems simultaneously. In other words, real-time problems call for real-time solutions. Such solutions, according to active researchers, are ‘open-ended objectives.’
This is how action research helps create skills in individuals to solve real-world business solutions, even. Where research allows employees to influence and create solutions to a business problem, AR invents new knowledge while inventing solutions to those problems. And in doing so, it also improves individuals' capacities within their organizations.
Last but not the least, all three resemble each other in high levels of commitment. These high levels of commitment and involvement are required from the organizations/employees and researchers involved in the AR process. And expected levels of commitment and involvement are regards to the research problem at hand. And to the results and knowledge gained thereof from that research, too.
Every form of AR focuses on the result that an organization or its participants become empowered. Empowered enough to be able to improve their social standing where before they were powerless. General well-being for communities involved, therefore, is a major goal of every active research method.
The researcher guides and controls the process differently in all three types of AR. However, in all three methods, a researcher aims to create a process that will somehow benefit an entire group or community of individuals, including an addition to existing knowledge and perceptions.
Groups that are otherwise isolated or powerless are unified through the process that is active research (with all its types). As a result, new, context-dependent understandings about other individuals and organizations are born.