Learn Better Microlearning

How Tim Ferriss Learns Anything Faster, and How Your Employees Can, Too

Written by Glenda Felden

Tim Ferriss is obsessed with performance. The bestselling author of The 4-Hour Work Week and host of one the top podcasts on iTunes spends his time trying to answer one single, burning question—how can we maximize human potential? His efforts involve probing the world’s greatest minds, hacking his own habits with elaborate experiments (many of which you shouldn’t try at home), and above all else, voraciously learning.

Last week, Ferriss aired a captivating conversation he had on accelerated learning with DonorsChoose.org founder and CEO Charles Best at SXSWedu. For anyone in learning and development, it’s worth listening to in its entirety. (Bonus: Charles Best is one of the most passionate entrepreneurs in education and an all-around wonderful human being.)

Accelerated learning is a topic we’ve ideated and innovated on ad infinitum at Grovo (and even recently wrote a book about), so we couldn’t wait to hear what these two intriguing minds had to say on the matter. And the topic couldn’t be more timely—new data from Deloitte says that 42% of millennial employees are planning to leave their current employers because they’re not learning fast enough.

The conversation is a roller coaster spanning language learning, wrestling coaches, and an imaginary school with subjects like metacognition and stoicism. But our ears really perked up when Ferriss walked through his 4-step process for learning anything better, faster, and more efficiently.

Like Grovo, Ferriss agrees that the way traditional learning happens is in need of a dramatic shakeup. Instead, he uses his own fine-tuned formula, “pieced together over many years of trial and error,” to quickly hone in on the right behaviors to impact performance. Dubbed D.S.S.S., “this basic framework has helped me with all of the skills I’ve learned in the last decade,” he says.

Here is Ferriss’ approach to learning anything more quickly and more deeply:

  • Deconstruction: “This is taking a skill and breaking it into the smallest lego pieces possible,” Ferris says. 
  • Selection: “Selection in effect uses the 80/20 principle of Pareto’s law to answer the question, ‘what 20% of those lego blocks deliver 80% of the results?’ The effects here can be profound.”
  • Sequencing: “Sequencing is the most neglected, perhaps. What is a logical progression in which to lay out the lego blocks I’ve selected—those 20%?”
  • Stakes: “How do you build in incentives and motivations—whether that’s a reward or punishment, or both—so that you or other people will actually do what the plans include?”

Whether he knows it or not, it sounds like Ferriss is a microlearning believer. Over the years refining our microlearning method, Grovo has honed in on a strikingly similar approach: breaking down traditional learning goals into sets of highly targeted micro behaviors, spacing learning moments over time, and tying learning to specific points of need to motivate action. This surprisingly simple formula accelerates learning at some of the world’s most innovative companies, and as it turns out, also for one of the world’s most brilliant individuals—Tim Ferriss.

Learn more about Tim Ferriss’ D.S.S.S. approach by listening to the entire episode of The Tim Ferris Show on iTunes, and download Grovo’s newest ebook, The Art and Science of Learning That Sticks, on our website to learn how to drive employee performance and improve business results with microlearning.

What do you think of Ferris’ D.S.S.S. approach? Tell us in the comments.