In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Action Research in Education

  • Introduction
  • Theory and Ethics
  • Action Research in Teacher Education
  • Action Research in Graduate Education
  • Critical Participatory Action Research
  • Critical Youth Participatory Action Research
  • International Perspectives
  • Exemplary Case Studies
  • Action Research Organizations

Education Action Research in Education
Mary Beth Hines, Kerry Armbruster, Adam Henze, Maria Lisak, Christina Romero-Ivanova, Leslie Rowland, Lottie Waggoner
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0140


Educational action research involves participants conducting inquiry into their own practices in order to improve teaching and learning, practices and programs. This means that the researcher is a participant in the activity being investigated, be it in schools or community centers—wherever teaching and learning occur. In Guiding School Improvement with Action Research (Sagor 2000, cited under Collaborative Inquiry and School-Wide Teams for Administrators and School Leaders), Richard Sagor describes action research as “a disciplined process of inquiry conducted by and for those taking the action . . .[in order to] assist the “actor” in improving and/or refining his or her actions” (p. 3). The term “educational action research” encompasses a variety of approaches with different goals (see Historical Overviews of Educational Action Research). While no consensus exists on a taxonomy that best describes its variations (modes, goals, epistemologies, politics, processes), most analyses identify the following types: (1) “Teacher research” signifies P-16 teacher-conducted inquiry designed to explore research questions related to educational improvement. It is often used interchangeably with “practitioner research/participant inquiry,” although this is a broader term that also refers to projects initiated by others in the educational experience (e.g., administrators, staff, community members). (2) “Participatory action research” (PAR) emphasizes equal, collaborative participation among university and/or school personnel and/or others with vested interests in education, working toward the shared goal of producing educational change. (3) “Youth participatory action research” (YPAR) includes young people as research partners and agents of change. (4) “Critical action research” refers to investigations of underlying power relations present in one’s situated educational practices. All educational action research is designed to impact local policy and practice. Critiques of action research object to this focus on the micro level, claiming that it does not impact education beyond the immediate audience. However, this viewpoint obscures the fact that qualitative action research case studies and cross-case analyses are generalizable to theory, thus carrying the potential to create widespread change. Another critique centers on the limited effectiveness of connecting action research with social justice. However, others argue that social justice is inextricably woven into action research because the inquiry stems from grassroots movements that emphasize social change (Cochran-Smith and Lytle 2009, cited under Books) and privileges the educator’s “insider” knowledge alongside the outside researcher’s formal academic training. The following criteria were used for selecting the texts cited in this article: (1) texts that were peer-reviewed, (2) texts explicitly described as action research (or a synonymous term) by the writer or other scholars, (3) texts cited more frequently than other texts on the same issue, (4) texts originally written in English. These criteria guidelines eliminated the use of dissertations, conference papers, blogs, or pedagogical narratives that were not described as action research (or a comparable term), or reports written in other languages.

Historical Overviews of Educational Action Research

This section contains key texts in defining and outlining the history of educational action research. The scholars whose works are included are among the most cited, recognized, and respected in this field. These articles and books will aid in understanding the spectrum of issues that led to action research’s inception as well as its implementations, changes, and ideologies. This section is broken into shorter works (Chapters and Articles) and longer works (Books) that will guide the reader in gaining a better understanding of action research’s past and its growth as an area of study.

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