Hi, Margaret. I tend to use the autorouter as an idea tester: what happens to the routing if I arrange things like this? How does the routing change if I add more layers? Etc…
In the sense of using it for learning, then I think autorouters aren’t a good idea. The quality of their results is very dependent upon how you setup their parameters. If you don’t have much experience, then that’s difficult to do and you end up learning from a bunch of poor examples.
With layout, you’ll go through the same three learning stages that you did with writing programs:
Does it compile? Or, in the case of PCBs, does it pass the design rule checker? This involves knowing the syntax of a PCB: i.e., how close can this thing be to that thing?
Does it meet the specs? Or, in the case of PCBs, is it manufacturable, economical and realizes the necessary performance? This is where the majority of your learning will occur. Books by Howard Johnson and Eric Bogatin cover the principles of building high-speed circuitry. There are handbooks on principles of PCB design for manufacturability. The backs of datasheets often provide advice and layout tips for specific types of chips like ADCs and switching regulators.
Is it elegant? Most of us never reach this point, but we know it when we see it.
With programming, the best way to learn is to read other programs. With PCBs, you need to start looking at other people’s layouts. Luckily, this is easy to do now: google for images of “PCB layout”. Try to see if some layouts look better than others, sort of like wandering through an art museum. Once you see a lot of examples of how PCBs are arranged, then you can start to backfill your intuition with information from texts, datasheets and blogs.
I wish there were an automated tutor for this, but I don’t know of one. However, if you record the steps you take on the way to mastery, others could benefit from the path you’ve blazed.