Getting active: using activity theory to manage change

Jenny Johnston*, Helen Reid

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


With its focus on how humans act within social, cultural and historical frameworks, activity theory (AT) is highly relevant to researching healthcare and health professions education. AT is dynamic and can be used as a form of action research to engender change in real-life contexts. This chapter introduces key underpinning principles, focusing on how to recognise and interpret activity systems, and how to use an associated methodology known as Change Laboratory. Activity theory is a little unusual in becoming trans-disciplinary; while Vygotsky's theory of cognitive development is still popular in social psychology, it is equally useful in education and in areas such as management studies. In the sense that AT is built on the human need to progress, it is a dynamic and optimistic theory. In terms of limitations, a common criticism is that AT lacks ‘explanatory’ (theory-building) power.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationResearching medical education
EditorsJennifer Cleland, Steven J. Durning
PublisherJohn Wiley & Sons Ltd
ISBN (Electronic)9781119839446
ISBN (Print)9781119839415
Publication statusPublished - 23 Dec 2022


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