If you check the ARRL web site, you can easily find amateur radio clubs in your area. Like sailing, most involved in the hobby are very willing to help newcomers into the field. Like anything, you can get book smart, but there's no substitute for having a mentor (elmer, as ham mentors are called) who can answer all the simple questions that many books gloss over.
As mentioned above, Morse code is no longer required for licensure. Many old hams beefed about this, however, since eliminating the requirement, I have noticed a huge surge of interest in code. It is certainly a reliable way to communicate if band conditions are poor. Lots of fun too.
But to answer your question, it sounds like "using the phone" is referring to a repeater patch, which allows VHF and UHF (mostly in the form of small, mobile radios akin to CBs, or walkie-talkies) to "patch" into phone lines. You must be within range of a repeater (VHF line-of-sight) usually 5-10 miles depending on terrain and radios. Otherwise, "phone" is referring to vocal communications in the form of am, fm, or SSB.
Good luck with the exams. Feel free to PM if you have any other questions.