What is a Crash Course?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The term crash course refers to intensive or brief learning, which may be taken in emergency situations. Often however, the term applies simply to a brief introduction to material that will allow one to understand more in depth material.

A "crash course" may refer to an introductory lesson in something, such as playing an instrument.
A "crash course" may refer to an introductory lesson in something, such as playing an instrument.

If one looks on the Internet, one will see “crash course” applied to virtually anything one can learn. Usually these courses are free. For example one can find introductory courses on HTML, on French history, Constitutional law, or guitar chords.

Some driving schools teach students how to avoid crashes.
Some driving schools teach students how to avoid crashes.

Such brief introductions are usually meant to give a cursory understanding of a topic. Particularly if someone wishes to do something right away, like try to program a website, a crash course in HTML, or Java, may give just enough information to help one begin.

In contrast, the true crash course is not usually sought. It is often learning that occurs in an emergency situation, forcing a “learn by doing” scenario. For example, if a woman cannot make it to the hospital to have a baby, her husband might be in an emergency situation where he must deliver the baby himself. With help from a 911 operator, the husband may suddenly find himself taking a crash course in obstetrics.

In the above situation, the husband undergoes a crash course that is definitely not of his seeking. He must learn how to deliver a baby, right now! Thus his acquired learning is done quickly and in an emergency situation.

Moreover, driving schools love using crash course to describe driving lessons. Often they may be called “Crash Course” driving schools because the goal is to teach a driver to learn quickly through intensive lessons. Related to the term, the goal is also to teach the driver not to “crash.” Some schools even offer training in what to do if one might have an accident, or a spin out.

Generally, though, one can take crash courses in just about any field. Voluntarily participating in intense studies does not have the negative implications of such courses taken in emergency situations. Though both provide learning experiences, the latter is clearly more stressful.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I had all my kids take a driving test crash course before they went for their test and they all passed the first time. The crash course was for 2 weeks and they had their licenses at the end of the third week.

Our kids already grow up watching us drive and I've always had the habit of explaining driving rules to them while in the car. Driving courses that last for weeks or months is just not necessary and it ends up costing much more. There is no need to drag it out like that. I think the best way to learn is by experience and intensive study. I would take a crash course for everything if I could.


@Alisha -This is what my husband is doing. He has a business trip planned for China and he is currently getting a crash course in Chinese customs and common phrases.

He is trying to understand as much as he can about the culture so that he makes a good impression. Even though he is visiting places like Shanghai and Beijing where a lot of the population speaks English, he still wants to be respectful and learn about this very distinct culture.

For example, there are things that that Chinese find perfectly acceptable that we would not in the United States. For example, in China burping after a meal or spitting on the floor is perfectly acceptable behavior while in the United States this is seen as rude. It is really interesting to learn the customs of other cultures like that.


I try to take a language crash course before I travel to any country, even if it's just for vacation. I honestly don't have the patience to learn a new language, but it's always good to know enough to get by when you're there or if you happen to be in an emergency.

I get the basics down from the crash course. They teach me all the necessary phrases and words I need to know. I usually make a list of them and keep it in my pocket. So when I land at the airport, I can get in a cab, tell the driver where I need to go and ask him how much I owe.


The U.S. government also provides several different crash courses for employees who are going to serve abroad. A friend of mine is currently working in Afghanistan and he went through crash courses on Afghan culture and language, Provincial Reconstruction Teams and even a "crash-bang" course where he had to learn how to use a weapon.

As far as I know, all of these courses are completed in a matter of a week or two. It's a good way to introduce people into the new environment that they are going to be living and working in for the next couple of years. It's not comprehensive, but again, it's not meant to be. Especially because once someone is selected to serve out of country, they are sent off pretty quickly. So a crash course is definitely better than nothing.

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