Morse may seem to be outmoded — and if you read around, you'll find a lot of people who think it's an unnecessary relic. But it remains the one mode that will get through if anything can.
Although it is no longer required to learn the Morse Code to get a U.S. Amateur Radio License, it is still widely used and will continue to be in use for a long time to come. In fact, there are in actually more Amateur Radio Operators using Morse Code today than ever before. Morse Code or CW is a preferred favorite of many Amateur Radio Operators because of how very effective it is at long distance communications. CW is 100 times more effective in getting through the noise than any other form of communicating. Consider the fastest CW signal may have a band width of 30 Hz where a SSB voice signal could have a bandwidth of 3,000 Hz. The same power output is spread out over an area 100 times as wide making it that much less efficient. This long distance efficiency makes Morse Code often a preferred method of communication for distant stations on expeditions to very remote parts of the world such as the South Pole. The best explanation I have read on the efficiency of CW over other forms of radio transmission is written by W8JI here.
CW transmitting equipment is easier to build than any other equipment. Many Hams build their own radios that can send and receive Morse Code, and since they can be low power (or QRP) stations they are simple to build and easy to transport out into the field for backpacking or operating from a park bench. New Hams are encouraged to study and learn the Morse Code because it will open up many doors for communication in this incredible hobby.
A good read about learning Morse Code is The Art and Skill of Radio-Telegraphy by William Pierpont, N0HFF, now a silent key. You can download it as an Adobe PDF file here.
A key point is to learn the sound as "a unit", so writing the character becomes reflexive response to the group of sounds, almost like a musical language. Thinking in terms of dots and dashes will cause problems in your head and doing some sort of counting will cause problems and keep you from being able to get past very slow code speeds.
The best way to learn CW has been proven to be learning the individual characters at their FULL speed of your target, such as 15-20wpm. Then learning to copy these characters by adding additional space between them to slow the speed down to an effective speed much lower and then keep practicing to work your full speed up higher and higher. This keeps you from the temptation of learning to count dits and dahs and just "hear" the letter as a grouped together series of sounds associated with that letter.
In this new high tech world, code practice is available on mp3 files, podcasts and computer programs for PC's, iPhones, Blackberry's and just about any other computing platform that you can download for free that generate code practice.
Here are some good programs for Windows PC's for learning CW:
K7QO developed a MP3 based learning corse that is quite good for learning CW. These MP3's are very good to load into an ipod and listen to while driving in the car.
Recently a new web based learning site dedicated to learning CW has appeared called Learning CW Online (lcwo.net) and it is quite good. You have the ability to track your progress online and you can continue where you left off from anywhere you can access the web via a web browser. This also works inside many mobile phone browsers so you can also practice anywhere you have internet connectivity with lcwo.net.