EVE Online may be a skill-based system for character improvement, but it doesn't preclude gaining experience. The experience gained is of the more traditional type, learning from the mistakes and wisdom of others, as well as your own.
When I became a space cadet it was difficult to get an appreciation for the different ships and weapons initially, not to mention the myriad different modules available to fit. There is a lot of information to take in all at once. Whilst the modules and ships you can use is limited by your skill training levels the availability of them is not, and having to wade through an entire market bristling with new and second-hand equipment, including the Tech II equipment, is a daunting process.
That is not to say there are not aids. Each item, however big or small, has a fully detailed data sheet available to view, probably being required by galactic law. It is easy to look at all the numbers and notice some are bigger here and there without really getting an appreciation by how much they differ in real terms, or what effect the increases would have on combat performance. Bigger numbers always look good, but how much bigger does a number need to be to justify the disproportionate price increase. On top of that, there are CPU and power consumptions to bear in mind, as well as capacitor usage. All this and you also need to juggle high- mid- and low-slots on the ship, with modules only fitting in a certain slot and different ships having different quantities of each type of slot. If that's not enough, it's not possible to fit the exact module to suit your needs if you don't know it exists.
It was all quite an information dump when I was recruited. Since my early days I have looted many a wrecked ship hull and found some interesting recoverable modules, from afterburners to shield boosters and hardeners, as well as the Salvaging module that has helped me boost my ISK flow considerably. By making good use of the information data sheets available with the modules I have been encouraged to trawl through the market to find what other kinds of equipment is available in the same class, and have been able to find what skills I've needed in order to use certain equipment, which has also led to find intermediate skills to train in.
In my attempts to survive for longer during sorties, I found the combat log to help me analyse the damage done to my ship, which helps me gain a posteriori knowledege on what preparations are needed for certain missions. Not content with knowing only what has been punching holes in my shields I also found out how to gather intelligence on rats before a mission, offering a priori knowledge that I can use to make a mission run more smoothly from the start. Even my use of the tactical overlay and decoding the wealth of information it can offer in a simple interface has helped make better use of my ship's capabilities and systems.
The modules looted from wrecks combine with finding out about rats to produce the end result of practical use of shield extenders and hardeners, different launchers and ammunition. Without the intelligence on rats I might not think there could be more efficient weapons of the same basic type, and without picking up serendipitous loot I might not know that various weapons or defences even exist.
There are also all the other capsuleers in the galaxy, with many being helpful and offering good advice on how to equip ships and what to train in. All of the advice offered to me has been gratefully received and researched, and most of it has already been used to my benefit.
All the previously hazy numbers and figures come together during combat, even if it is generally learnt the hard way. The amount of capacitor charge the reheat uses is learnt when your computer tells you 'your capacitor is empty' as you try to outrun hostile ships to the acceleration gate. The damage certain weapons do is plainly seen when a single missile destroys a small frigate, or when a large dent appears unexpectedly in your own ship's armour. The benefits a shield extender and harderner present become clearer after you've survived some challenging dogfights. The utility of learning certain skills to a higher level is much more apparent when you find you need just that little bit more from your systems.
Relevant for the current time, I can see now how much more able my Drake is compared to the Caracal. I look at the same numbers and compare them, but now I see the greater number of module slots for weapons and equipment, the huge reserves of CPU and power it holds, and how it all can be used to extend the shield to be far stronger, to harden it to last longer against attacks. The numbers drift down the screen until I just see blonde, brunette, redhead. Or at least the EVE Online equivalent.
Cripes, it looks like I'm learning.