The last time I went to an event for the sake of learning about GSDs was probably in 2008 or 2009. It was an AKC conformation event (something I'm personally not interested in) so I didn't learn much, other than I knew American showlines weren't going to be for me. (But that in itself was valuable!)
I went to watch the NARA championship (Ring III dogs) because I wanted to see if it'd be something I want to do with my GSD.
Let me tell you - even though I only watched malinois competing, the people I talked to, what I saw, and what I learned in those few hours was FAR more valuable than what I could have learned after weeks/months and hundreds of questions from any forum.
Yes, forums are an excellent tool, but getting to talk to local people who are decoys, trainers, breeders, owners, handlers, trailers, etc. can give you FAR more insight to what you will really NEED to know for when you are going to bring home a puppy.
Even though no GSDs were there competing, someone who trains/decoys for all of the breeder I've chosen's dogs were there and he gave me some awesome pointers. Not only about the breeder and her dogs, but GSDs in French Ring in general.
You can only learn so much from reading, watching videos, and looking at photos. It's a totally different ballgame when you go out and actually experience it for yourself.
When members on the forum tell you to go to local clubs, shows, and trials, they're not saying it for no reason.
I'm looking forward to going to more (because lurking on a few sites, there are a lot more protection trials out here than I thought!)
It's one thing to hear people's experiences on a forum where everyone is all over the world. It's another when you go somewhere local and talk to them about what's going on in YOUR AREA.