I've been taking Aikido for about two months now and I have less than 20 hours of training, so I think I can bring a beginner's perspective to this discussion.
For me, Learning How to Learn is always my first goal. In school, I failed all subjects while teaching myself SDL (Self-Directed Learning) and reading many different advanced subjects on my own even if I could not understand them. By the 10th grade, I had become an entirely independent learner and I suddenly started to get straight A's even though I failed all classes in the previous 9 grades. This was due to SDL. SDL has helped me learn 7 programming languages and many subjects with no instruction. SDL is independent learning without a teacher or instructor (and it's equivalent to RTFM if anyone knows what that means hehe).
So far, I think SDL's effectiveness is very limited in Aikido due to the need for a highly-experienced practictioner from which to learn. Beginners can Learn How to Learn Aikido by watching and listening very carefully for subtle similarities, patterns, and larger ideas that are being taught, but this is not self-directed learning, it is only the familiarization and intellectualization of concepts.
So far I've only used SDL in Aikido to teach myself (at home) the Aikido philosophy and how to count in Japanese, but I must hear the teacher in order to learn how to actually pronounce the words as well as the application of the philosophy. Sooner or later, I may even use SDL to teach myself the Japanese words that are used throughout Aikido. I can forsee limited other uses for SDL in Aikido, at least not for my next decade of training.
So far, in Learning How to Learn Aikido, I've learned the following strategies:
-Watch a few classes while you're a beginner. I injured myself in my third hour of training (strained stomach muscle) so I had to watch Aikido classes for the next 6 weeks. The senior students told me that they were amazed by how much I learned by watching for 6 weeks.
-Early on, find out who the most senior students are and learn primarily from them and the instructor. Also work with them in class as often as possible early on.
-If you get confused, first focus on learning the foot movements. (Sensei explained this.)
-Early on, you cannot do a movement quickly and learn very much from it. You're more likely to get hurt or to hurt someone else. (Sensei explained this.)
-Remember to relax your body and mind or you will not learn anything and, again, you'll hurt yourself or somebody else. (Sensei explained this.)
-Read the Dojo newsletters and speak to the instructor and senior students as often as possible. This will help you to easily realize large concepts that are very difficult to realize on your own. (Don't speak to them during class though! I learned that the hard way! hehehe.)
-DO NOT EVER ask a non-senior student for help learning. If they offer their advice, acknowledge it but do not trust it. Also, DO NOT EVER teach others how to do a move until you're a senior student. Ask sensei or a senior student instead.
-Participate outside of class. I fail to see how one's service to the Dojo is separate from one's training. Yes, you can learn Aikido by vacuuming under the mats. For example, I learned that it's easier to vacuum from your center than with your arm.
My theories may be wrong, but I hope this helps with your discussion.