I attempted to learn CW on my own about a year ago. I tried using various apps, pod casts, and printed out sheets of CW (graphically displaying the sound patterns as dashes and dots). It should come as no surprise that while I could send it well, I had serious difficulties copying it.
I found out about CW Academy from a QRZ page. I can't remember the operator whose page it was, but I visited their website, and it looked good. The only problem was the very long wait time - I believe it was 9 months! No problem, I thought. I'll sign up. Then I'll see what happens. That was January 2016.
The Wait Is Over
The program is quite simple. You need to practice CW at least 30 minutes each day. Each week, we had two classes conducted via the audio portion of Skype, where we held each other accountable, listened to Steve sending us CW, and where we sent Steve CW. The main training software was the S.C. Phillips Morse Code Trainer, but there were other options (such as Morse Cat - download at your own risk). There were no exceptions. You practiced CW, or it was obvious - if you didn't keep up with it, you fell behind rapidly!
In CW, there are two speeds to be aware of. One is the total WPM, which is the words-per-minute being sent or received. The second is the Farnsworth Speed, which is the speed at which characters are sent. CW Academy Level 1 is a 20 WPM Farnsworth course, and the end result ends up being around 12-15 WPM overall.
This is an important distinction. When you listen to code sent at 5 WPM / Farnsworth, it is very slow. The characters are very slow. When you listen to code sent at 5 WPM / 20 Farnsworth, the characters are fast, but the number of words sent is lessened. Learning the faster character speed makes it infinitely easier to send code at higher speeds, and to head copy CW.
Yes, I said "head copy." For CW Academy, there's no writing anything down. No printouts of the various characters next to your radio. The whole point of CW Academy is to instill good habits of daily practice, use of a high code speed, and forcing your brain to recognize it as head copy. In other words, you are taught to treat CW as a language.
The other focus is on QSOs. There is a pattern to QSOs in CW (you can see it every day on PSK-31, which derives its QSO structure from CW). In fact, your final exam is conducting and receiving a QSO from your advisor!
Did it work?
In fact, I have made many CW QSOs since completing the class. I really enjoy getting on the air, calling CQ, and getting a response. I enjoy responding to CW CQs. Really, sending and receiving CW is a pleasure.
CW Academy has additional classes, which help to prepare you for even higher code speeds (such as 26 WPM in Level 2) and the ability to ragchew better through word recognition instead of just character recognition. I'll be signing up for Level 2 soon.
If you think CW is a mode that you'd be interested in, then sign up for CW Academy. Just relax while you're waiting for the class to start. You'll learn everything you need to know!