Every time I start learning a new craft technique I always have the intention of beginning with the basics and following the instructions step by step to increase the difficulty of the projects. But I never get too far doing this. As soon as I can produce something similar to what is proposed in 'lesson 1' I start dreaming the most ambitious projects and I walk away from the academic path and start exploring the technique on my own. The latest example of this are my kumihimo experiments: on day 1 I learnt how to cast on and make the basic stitch, on day 2 I was incorporating three dimensional objects into it. But I still haven't learnt how to cast off my braid! :-)
I just can't refrain from following the creative impulse when I feel it. And stupidly enough, there is also a little bit of pride in saying, I "discovered" this myself and I didn't need a tutorial! even if the discovery took you 2 hours and the tutorial would have taken you 5 minutes. But on the other hand, things you learn by yourself are supposed to be better fixed in your memory and the process of research, trial and error can be very productive too: it makes your brain more active in working out solutions, you learn a lot from your mistakes and many of them can be turned into a valid and innovative thing.
This way of learning can be very chaotic sometimes. In my opinion there is a risk of jumping from one experiment to the next without really increasing your knowledge significantly. You now make something good but tomorrow you wouldn't be able to do it again. You end up with lots of nice samples but when you want to produce a piece you can't remember how to do it. Maybe there's nothing wrong with this but personally I need to feel that something remains from all the experimentation. For this I find very useful to document the process with pictures and notes, so I keep my camera and my sketchbook on my worktop, and I force myself to stop for a second a take pictures of what I am doing, or write down an observation about the result and a suggestion for a variation or improvement I need to try later. It is useful to write down technical stuff, like '3 metres of xxxx yarn with 3mm core make 25 cm 5 mm diameter braid'. Sounds boring, it is boring, but in a later moment I am always glad that I wrote down this kind of information. It's like tracking a path when exploring the jungle of creativity.
I suppose that in my failed intention of following 'basic' to a'dvanced' instructions I am just reflecting the way standard education is set up. And it is funny because after years and years spent at school learning many subjects in a traditional way -one teacher, several students, one program, one textbook with exercises etc- I know the limits of this. I know how insane it is expecting a group of people (for most of the time in their developing years) to learn the same things in the same way. Obviously what is basic for one person is advanced for the other and opposite, and sometimes the way they try to pass on the knowledge just doesn't work for some people. I think we all have experienced the inadequacy of standard education and later in life we all try to find our own ways.
So what is your experience with this? What is your way of learning new crafts?