Re: is there a correct learning path?
I think studying Aikido is much like studying in a spiral, in that you always get better the more you study, but you always come back to what you thought you knew and relearn it...but this time with a bit more experience and looking a little bit deeper into the technique.
I know this sounds weird, but something that you are trying to figure out when doing a technique is not the same thing that someone else is trying to figure out while doing the same technique, even if they are doing it with you. This is particularly true when a person who's been practicing for many years works with a beginner. You are both "doing" the technique but the beginner is probably trying to get their feet in the right place while the more experienced person is probably trying to figure out how to move this new aikidoka where they want them to be. Different points being studied at the same time.
One of the neat things about Aikido is that you can work with anyone and learn something from them. This is probably why mixing up classes with beginners/seniors is often a good thing for everyone - not always...but often. Don't feel bad about being there, but instead consider yourself an object of curiousity that all your seniors are going to try and test themselves on.
And when you're a senior, don't forget that.