Learning is such a complex subject that it could spawn endless interesting threads. Not only are different things often learned different ways, but there are different types of learners – visual, auditory, readers, tactile, etc. Each might respond very differently to similar stimuli and do best with different types of lessons. Teaching can be a fairly deep skill, if you really intend to do it well and reach everyone, not just the students who “click” with your style and emphasis.
As far as learning complex skills in small increments goes, I’ve heard and read countless times that anything but doing an exact replication of the skill you want to attain is a waste of time, as it has little or no overlap with getting better at that particular skill. This has always seemed to me an exaggeration at best.
An example is when I learned to do a spinning back kick. Not only does your balance and heading continuously change, but you have to do it quickly and if you don’t do it with good speed and/or timing, it’s pretty much a suicide move because you’re likely to get caught with your back to your opponent … just about the worst possible place to be in a fight, right? All those things have to come together as smoothly as anything else you’ll ever do, if not smoother, because it’s a large, easily telegraphed movement. You can’t half-arse it.
But I benefited a lot by breaking it into pieces when learning. I concentrated on the initial turn, getting my back hip spun forward with strong momentum without having the rest of my legs and body flopping around loose, and without moving much off my initial start point, to keep the movement tight and less telegraphic. I never saw anyone else doing that, but I practiced it a lot. Even while walking back and forth in the yard doing chores, or across the kitchen floor.
After a while I had such good control of the initial momentum, balance, and positioning that learning how the rest of the kick works as you unfold your legs to full extension was pretty easy. The latter turned out to be trivial compared to the former, which is where your power and control really come from. Your deceptiveness too.
Turns out I had been doing what is so often recommended to athletes: Master the basics, and no matter how good and fancy you get later, keep up on them.
I saw a PBS special on Ted Williams, traditionally considered the greatest baseball hitter of all time. He practiced the basics endlessly, with fiendish concentration. Bruce Lee did the same thing with the fencing lunge, which is why people say one of his primary skills was that he could cover ground with astonishing quickness.
If you can do the basics, everything else can come from them. And everything else is bettered by a good command of them. But if you can’t, new skills you don’t have a lucky knack for can stump you even as people who are not as good as you master them quickly.
So I don’t mind working on building up mastery one small piece at a time. It doesn’t mean you’ll never get to a natural flow later. It means you’re building a foundation to work from. And if you don’t have that, I find that skill acquisition can be difficult, anything from random to impossible, hard to keep up, and easy to forget.