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Action Learning and Action Research

Even though Action Learning and Action Research may look like similar topic at the surface. The two have fundamentally different approach.

(Zeichner, 2001) and (Hopkins, 2002) provided with an overview of how action research developed as a research tradition. The work of Kurt Lewin (1946), who researched extensively on social issues, is often described as a major landmark in the development of action research as a methodology. Lewin’s work was followed by that of Stephen Corey and others in the USA, who applied this methodology for researching into educational issues.

(Koshy, 2005) defines action research as an enquiry, undertaken with rigour and understanding so as to constantly refine practice; the emerging evidence-based outcomes will then contribute to the researching practitioner’s continuing professional development. He further commented that Research is about generating new knowledge. Action research creates new knowledge based on enquiries conducted within specific and often practical contexts. Figure below illustrates the spiral model of action research proposed by Kemmis and McTaggart.


The first glance of the action research spiral gives a quite high resemblance to the action learning cycle presented by (Zuber-Skerritt, 2000), but there are quite few fundamental differences between the two methodologies.

According to (Zuber-Skerritt, 2001), ‘Action Learning’ means learning from and through action or concrete experience, as well as taking action as a result of this learning. Similarly, ‘Action Research’ is a cyclical iterative process of action and reflection on and in action. He further emphasized that, the main difference between ‘Action Learning’ and ‘Action Research’ is the same as that between learning and research generally. Both include active learning, searching, problem solving and systematic inquiry. However, Action Research is more systematic, rigorous, scrutinized, verifiable, and always made public (in publications, oral or written reports). Figure : Commonalities of Action Learning and Action Research shows where Action Learning and Action Research overlap.


According to (Dick, 1997), Action research is a process by which change and understanding can be pursued at the one time. It is usually described as cyclic, with action and critical reflection taking place in turn. The reflection is used to review the previous action and plan the next one. It is commonly done by a group of people, though sometimes individuals use it to improve their practice. It has been used often in the field of education for this purpose. It is not unusual for there to be someone from outside the team who acts as a facilitator.

(Dick, 1997) further mentioned the difference between action learning and action research that in action learning, each participants drew different learning from different experience. In action research a team of people drew collective learning from a collective experience.


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