So what is the difference between hand editing, and photoshop actions? The ONLY difference is that an action is recorded, and editing without aid of an action is all free hand. Or "Hand Editing" which seems to be the new term these days.
Are using actions a weak way out of learning photoshop?
There is no weak way, in a creative process. There are time savers, and ways to harness other looks you may not have come up with on your own. If someone says it is wrong or lazy to use an action, chances are, they are just trying to sell you something else... I can pretty much guarantee at one point or another in every creative's process, they tried, bought, played with, alternative's to "hand editing" as an aid.
On a side note, the image example below shows this image from Adobe Camera Raw and this other one from Capture One. I am a huge fan of Capture One, and what this software does to your images initially in Raw. Wow. Download your free trial today, you will be blown away.