How Linking Social Learning to Performance Advances Scientific Knowledge

Organizations spend billions of dollars each year on formal training programs, yet research shows that people learn how to do their jobs through social learning methods (Hunter, 2010; Hashim, 2008; Blair & Sisakhti, 2007; Cross, 2006). A social theory of learning demonstrates that people are social beings who learn through participating in communities in pursuit of a common domain (Wenger, 1998). Although communities of practice have existed for many years and are nothing new, little research has been conducted that links participation in communities of practice with job performance. My dissertation seeks to investigate the relationship between participation of newly hired sales professionals in communities of practice and sales performance. Moreover, I endeavor to explore and understand how participating in a community of practice can help a new sales person learn job skills necessary to achieve sales goals through meaning (experience), practice (doing), community (belonging), and identity (becoming)?

HPT Model
There are very few studies that have investigated the relationship between participation in communities of practice and performance. Exceptions include research that found that the frequency and quality of the interaction an individual has with specific communities of practice is related to his or her individual-level performance (Teigland, 2000). A second study found that communities of practice led to improved performance through "decreased learning curves" for new employees, faster responses to customers, and reduced rework (Lesser & Storck, 2001). Even in the Lesser and Storck (2001) study, which provides a link between communities of practice for new employees and improved performance, performance of new employees was defined as “decreased learning curve,” which many not necessarily mean improved job performance.

Further research is needed to improve understanding about how participation in communities of practice can help newcomer sales people improve sales performance. Therefore, my study seeks to investigate how newly hired sales people learn through participating in communities of practice, and provide a link between a social theory of learning and job performance by studying the relationship between participation in the community of practice and sales results.

To further advance scientific study, I will bring a formal and systematic process of linking business goals with an otherwise informal intervention in the workforce, a community of practice (Van Tiem, Moseley & Dessinger, 2012). The HPT model is such an approach. I intend to apply three of the steps in the HPT model (design, implement, and evaluate) as a means of linking an informal learning process to business goals. The key to the study advancing scientific knowledge is to bridge the gap between an informal learning method (participation in a community of practice) and sales results. Applying the HPT model is the means for studying the gaps and to answering the research questions in my study.


Blair, D., & Sisakhti, R. (2007). Sales tranining: What makes it work? Here's a hint: Money and metrics play their part. T+D, 61(8), 28-33. Retrieved from

Cross, J.  2006.  Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco, CA:  Pfieffer.

Hashim, J. (2008). Competencies acquisition through self-directed learning among malaysian managers. Journal of Workplace Learning, 20(4), 259-259-271. doi:10.1108/1366562081087111

Hunter, C. P. (2010). Ways of learning in the pharmaceutical sales industry. Journal of Workplace Learning, 22(7), 451-451-462. doi:10.1108/13665621011071118

Lesser, E. and Storck, J. (2001), "Communities of practice and organizational performance", IBM System Journal, Vol. 40, pp. 83

Teigland, R. (2000), "Communities of practice at an internet firm: netovation vs on-time performance", in Lesser, E.L., Fontaine, M.A. and Slusher, J.A. (Eds), Knowledge and Communities: Resources for the Knowledge-based Economy, Butterworth-Heinemann, Boston, MA.

Van Tiem, D. M., Moseley, J. L., & Dessinger, J. C. (2012). Fundamentals of performance technology: A guide to improving people, process, and performance. Pfeiffer.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.