Differences Between Action Research And Traditional Research Methods

Exploring the realm of research methodologies reveals a stark contrast between action research and traditional research methods. Each approach carries its distinct philosophy, purpose, and application, shaping the way knowledge is pursued and utilised.

This article delves into these differences, offering insights into how each method addresses specific research needs, from theoretical exploration to practical problem-solving, and highlights the implications for researchers and practitioners alike in various fields.

Action Research vs Traditional Research

AspectTraditional ResearchAction Research
Purpose and Focus– Advances knowledge in a specific field
– Explores, confirms, or challenges theories
– Solves real-world problems
– Enacts change
Methodology and Approach– Systematic, often linear approach
– Aims for rigour and reproducibility
– Cyclical or iterative process
– Involves planning, acting, observing, and reflecting
Collaboration and Participation– More confined to academic or scientific communities
– Participants often serve as study subjects
– Collaborative, involving researchers, practitioners, and stakeholders
– Fosters a sense of ownership and applicability to real-world context
Data Collection and Analysis– Leans towards extensive surveys and statistical analysis
– Aims for findings that can be generalised to a larger population
– Utilises methods in localised and specific contexts
– Often supplements with qualitative data for a deeper understanding
Outcome and Application– Contributes to academic knowledge
– Findings disseminated through scholarly articles
– Aims for immediate application in real-world settings
– Success measured by problem-solving effectiveness

What Is A Traditional Research?

In the realm of research, traditional methods have long been the backbone of scientific inquiry, particularly in the social sciences.

These methodologies are characterised by a systematic approach to investigating hypotheses through either quantitative or qualitative research methods.

Quantitative methods involve numerical data and statistical analysis to draw conclusions that may be generalised to broader populations.

Surveys and online surveys are common tools here, where researchers collect data that is later subjected to rigorous statistical scrutiny.

Qualitative research, conversely, delves into the nuances of human behavior and social phenomena through methods like ethnography and focus groups.

This approach aims to uncover deeper insights into the topic of study, providing a rich tapestry of qualitative data that offers a better understanding of the subject matter.

Traditional research often adheres strictly to the scientific method, starting with a clear research question that guides the research process. Researchers then:

  • conduct a literature review,
  • formulate a hypothesis, and
  • embark on data collection and analysis.

This method of research is highly structured and aims to ensure the rigor and unbiased nature of the research findings.

An interesting aspect of traditional research is its ability to utilize mixed methods, blending both quantitative and qualitative research methods to provide a more comprehensive view of the research question.

This mixed-method research approach allows researchers to analyse data from different angles, offering a more inclusive and comparative perspective.

Traditional research’s emphasis on a systematic and rigorous methodology ensures that the research process is thorough and the conclusions drawn are based on solid evidence.

Despite its differences from more applied forms like action research, traditional research remains crucial for advancing knowledge and providing foundational insights that can be applied in real-world applications.

What Is An Action Research?

Unlike traditional research methods that often emphasise statistical analysis and the quest for generalisable findings, action research dives deep into specific, localised inquiries.

It’s a hands-on research method that researchers utilize to directly impact their area of study. This could be within a classroom setting, aiming to enhance teaching and learning practices.

What makes action research particularly interesting is its collaborative nature. Action researches can involve stakeholders such as:

  • educators, 
  • students, and
  • sometimes even parents.

This type of research can adopt either quantitative or qualitative research methods, or even a mix of both, known as mixed methods research.

Quantitative methods might include surveys with numerical data analysis, while qualitative approaches could involve focus groups or ethnography, providing rich, descriptive insights into the teaching and learning process.

One juicy detail often overlooked is how action research empowers educators to be researchers in their own classrooms.

They collect data, analyse it, and iterate on their methods in a systematic yet flexible manner. This ongoing cycle of action and reflection is key to its methodology.

Action research’s emphasis on collaboration and the learning process itself fosters a community-oriented approach to inquiry.

This isn’t just research for the sake of research; it’s about making a difference, solving a problem, and better understanding the complexities of educational dynamics.

It’s this blend of rigor, relevance, and real-world application that makes action research a compelling and uniquely impactful research approach.

Differences Between Action Research and Traditional Research

Purpose and Focus

Traditional research often revolves around advancing knowledge within a specific field. Using a hypothesis-driven approach, researchers set out to:

  • explore,
  • confirm, or
  • challenge existing theories.

A traditional study in the social sciences might aim to examine the impact of social media on youth self-esteem, using surveys and statistical analysis to draw conclusions.

Conversely, action research is more pragmatic, designed to solve real-world problems. It’s not just about understanding a phenomenon but about enacting change.

Educators, for instance, might use action research to develop new teaching strategies that enhance student engagement, applying qualitative and quantitative methods to assess the effectiveness of their interventions.

Methodology and Approach

Traditional research methodologies are characterized by a systematic, often linear, approach. Researchers:

  • define their question,
  • conduct a literature review,
  • formulate a hypothesis, and then
  • move on to data collection and analysis.

This process is highly structured, aiming for rigor and reproducibility.

Action research, on the other hand, adopts a cyclical or iterative process. It involves planning, acting, observing, and reflecting.

Researchers might implement a new teaching method, observe its effects, reflect on the outcomes, and then adjust the approach based on their findings. This iterative cycle continues until the desired improvement is achieved.

Collaboration and Participation

A distinctive feature of action research is its collaborative nature. It frequently involves a team that might include not just researchers but also practitioners and stakeholders directly affected by the issue under investigation.

This inclusive approach fosters a sense of ownership and ensures that the research findings are directly applicable to the participants’ real-world context.

In traditional research, collaboration exists, but it’s often more confined to academic or scientific communities.

The research is usually conducted by experts in the field, with participants serving more as subjects of the study rather than active contributors to the research process.

Data Collection and Analysis

Both action and traditional research utilize qualitative and quantitative research methods, but their application can differ markedly.

Traditional research might lean more towards extensive surveys and statistical analysis to ensure findings can be generalized to a larger population.

In contrast, action research may use these methods in more localized and specific contexts, often supplementing them with more qualitative data to gain a deeper understanding of the issue at hand.

Outcome and Application

The outcome of traditional research is typically aimed at contributing to the academic body of knowledge, with findings disseminated through scholarly articles and publications.

These insights might eventually influence policy or practice, but such applications are often a secondary consideration.

Action research aims for immediate application. The goal is to produce actionable insights that can be implemented in the real-world setting where the research is conducted.

The success of action research is measured by the extent to which it solves the problem it was intended to address, with findings often shared directly with the community involved.

Understanding these differences helps researchers choose the approach best suited to their goals. Whether aiming to contribute to academic discourse or solve a practical issue, knowing the right methodology to employ is key to a successful inquiry.

Action vs Traditional Research Methods

Understanding the nuanced differences between action research and traditional research methods is crucial for researchers and practitioners navigating their investigative journeys.

This comparison sheds light on the distinct paths each methodology carves— from theoretical foundations to practical applications. Whether aiming to expand the academic knowledge base or seeking solutions to real-world challenges, choosing the right approach is key.

Embracing the strengths and acknowledging the limitations of each can lead to more informed, impactful, and meaningful research outcomes.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton has a Masters and PhD in Chemistry from the UK and Australia. He has many years of research experience and has worked as a Postdoctoral Fellow and Associate at a number of Universities. Although having secured funding for his own research, he left academia to help others with his YouTube channel all about the inner workings of academia and how to make it work for you.