You don't need a learners permit to take the basic MSF course. It's all done in the classroom and in a big parking lot.The MSF runs two courses. The Basic course can be taken either before or after you get your license. You need a lerner's permit if you aren't licensed yet. If you pass the test, some states will issue the license without taking the state test.
Maybe not everywhere, but you certainly do need the learners permit to take the basic class in New Jersey. They will send you packing if you show up without it... and it was done in a classroom and a big parking lot.You don't need a learners permit to take the basic MSF course. It's all done in the classroom and in a big parking lot.
Actually, here in Virginia, successful completion of the MSF course does get you out of having to take the riding test at the DMV. I did the MSF course in June and suggest ALL aspiring or current motorcycle riders take it at some point....So the MSF doesn't get you out of taking a riding test, but they do teach you the skills you're expected to demonstrate before testing you. So it's easier than testing at the DMV from that perspective.