I would not put learning an IDE as my 2nd step. Yes they are very useful and honestly I could not go back to SQL*PLUS. But I think sometimes they make you very lazy and give you bad habits sometimes. They create the entire syntax so you dont have to think, but if you ever need to add a column to a database without an IDE, you're not going to remember how to do so.
IDE's are like calculators - yes in the longrun they are necessary, but for simple blocks, not necessary. I do however think SQL*PLUS could be improved to allow for at least syntax highlighting and the ability to select and delete text easier.
And my third rant is that if you are learning anything, you dont need to be plunking down $600 for a stripped down TOAD version when you will use 5% of its available features.
Though yes I cant remember what life was like before TOAD...LOL
There definitely are free tools out there, but I wouldnt deem it a necessity to download one to learn. For application development absolutely. I still maintain that if you learn things the tough way, you will have a better mindset and be more productive when you move over to a GUI tool. Its like when you learn to ride a bike, you dont start with a 21-speed mountain bike. When you get the basics down, you graduate. Same concept.
Funny how Lynden mentions being a TOAD salesman - I was actually thinking expert-database is a DreamCoder salesperson because I must see dozens of posts a month on the OTN forums about that product. How it will save the world and so forth. I have never heard of this product, nor anyone actually using it, outside of forum posts.
ss is absolutely right ... i'am a kinda beginner @ pl/sql, initially i was using sqlplus but then i started using toad (part of my job trng), and i really got addicted to the ide ... if i need to look for some record in the DB i use the schema browser !!! .. not a very good habit is it ? tryin' to get rid of it anyway .. (LORD gimme strength !). also ss mentioned abt improving the sqlplus, the sqlplus-worrksheet tht u get with 9i fits the bill i think.