At the beginning, it helps greatly to have someone show you the basics. You could figure things out on your own, but it's much faster, safer, and better to learn from someone who knows what they're doing. Once you have those basic tools, I think the joy in the sport comes from using them (the most important of which is judgment). Classes should be used to learn specific things that will allow you to go do something new. They're not a substitute for practice and reflection, they don't replace critical thinking and studying. Ultimately, you have to be able to do it on your own.
Here's where the conflict comes in. In order to keep getting paid to teach kayaking, it's in my best interest to get students to keep taking classes. Not just me, this is true for all instructors and instructional programs. On the books, we love perpetual students. The ones who take every course on the schedule and come back for more, maybe set up some private lessons, maybe ask for classes on specific things. They keep pumping money into the system.
It's not that I don' like money. And I understand that some people feel more comfortable learning from watching others than exploring on their own. But I just can't get myself to teach to that mentality. Maybe if you have the money to spend it's no big deal, but most people don't. And it isn't necessary. Kayaking, like most things in life, is built upon fundamental principles applied to various situations. Learn the principles and then apply them in ever more challenging environments. If you know how to do rescues on flat water (properly), then you know how to do rescues in rough water - you just need to practice. If you can paddle class III well, you can paddle class V - once you have the experience.
Lumpy Waters Symposium this weekend). Those classes are fun, and they can definitely be worthwhile, but I always worry the students are expecting that the class will make them a better paddler. It won't. Paddling makes you a better paddler. Classes just teach you what you need to do when you go paddling.
Maybe it's just me. I certainly have lots of friends who teach advanced stuff and work with the same students repeatedly. I know quite a few paddlers who have done many different classes and seem to enjoy the experience. Maybe I'm just shooting myself in the foot by not getting my students to depend upon me. Maybe I'm old and cranky and set in my ways. But if you end up in my class, I will do everything I can to make sure you don't need to take another one. I do love seeing my students again, but hopefully it's when I run into them out paddling on their own.