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One of the things that I always get asked when I do a "computer training session" is - Why do I have to come? Why can't I just play with it? I am torn on this subject, because to be honest I play with the program to discover how to teach it, so why do I bother teaching it? Why don't I let them play too?
Then I remember a conversation I had with my good friend Amy about Jane Austen. Now I love Jane Austen, and had read all of her novels, but I didn't really take to Northanger Abbey. The book seemed a bit too, well girly. What I had always loved about Austen's novels is that they were very empowering (to the heroine at least), in a time where female empowerment wasn't the most popular topic. Amy (did I mention she was a former English teacher?) was shocked that I didn't like the novel, "She is making fun of gothic novels - it is a parody." Well you could have bowled me over. I hadn't gotten it, and I probably never would have gotten it.
So I think that is the key, sure you can play with a tool, and you may even get it. However, having someone guide you in the process not only save time, but it keeps you from missing the point.
In other words, learning in a vacuum is possible, but not as rewarding.