My "experience": I am 73 and have lived through the metal, photo, cut-and-paste, and digital time of type and seen the transitions each technology has caused for both good and bad. I have had formal graphic design and typography training at Carnegie Mellon University [and later Ohio State University]. Since there was no formal specific Typeface design school that I know of back then, I could not attend. At Design school, I did physically set metal type and operate proof presses as well as studied typography and history of letterforms. I also designed a partial alphabet using black and white paint back and forth and later a stat machine. This was not a type design class though. We were learning how to see forms in positive and negative space working with eachother. This class was taught by Ken Hiebert, A Basel graduate and student of Emil Ruder and Armin Hoffman. The two years I spent with Hiebert were the most valuable learning years of my life. I also studied calligraphy, lettering, and History of Letterforms with Arnold Bank at the same time. This was not a type design education but certainly covered some of the same material. I say this to indicate that I consider myself to be some kind of a hybrid in that I am not totally devoid of a type design education as such but I never attended a type design school. I graduated from Graphic Design School in 1966 but did not venture into type design until the digital age when I taught myself to use the current software. Whatever my education was had decades to percolate through my life. I began designing type in 2004 in earnest at night along with my day job as a graphic design manager. When I heard about the fairly new schools in Reading and KABK, I was both thrilled and envious. Since then, I have met many of the faculty, graduates, and students of those schools and been highly impressed. Since retirement from my day job in 2007 until now, I have been insatiably designing type full time.
I do not feel the need to define a formal vs self-taught dichotomy. To me, this is only interesting as an intellectual discussion. There is no "one best way" for any given individual to learn to design type. There have indeed been good work done by those in both arenas, as well as the older apprentice method so popular for centuries. What really matters is a persons growth in whatever path they take. A student of one of the great type design schools we have today who has any drive will, after graduation, soon develop his/her own vision and act on it as they progress. They will also interact with others in the design community and compare their notions. This too is education. Education is not a period of brain washing where an ultimate dogma is permanently injected for life. The student moves on, discovers their own way and evolves. The apprentice becomes the master but not necessarily in the mould of their own master. Free will is an amazing thing. It can and should be used by a student during formal education. Students are free to challenge their teachers and force them to defend their ideas. Both parties learn from this. Solitude is not the only teacher and teachers are not the only source of knowledge. We need not highly rate or diminish any set of experiences based on on our own. We should, however be willing to engage in dialogue to broaden all the knowledge of all those who seek this profession.
Thomas, I used to have a bloodletting problem at work from using an Xacto knife for years until 1987, then we bought a $2,000 Mac and my problems ended. Next year I bought one for home and have been blood free ever since ;-)