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How Computers Work: Demystifying Computation

Explore the fundamentals of computing: computer architecture, binary logic, data processing, circuits & more. Supported by Google

15,377 enrolled on this course

How Computers Work: Demystifying Computation
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    2 hours
  • 100% online

    Learn at your own paceHow it works
  • Unlimited

    $15.83/monthLearn more

Understand computation, the basis of every computer system

On this course, you’ll gain an understanding of how computers work at a fundamental level.

You’ll explore system architecture, along with how computers use binary and logic. Once you’ve examined the von Neumann model of computer architecture and the Fetch-Execute cycle, you’ll learn to build a range of simple circuits for maths, and then simulate various logic gates.

Ultimately you’ll complete the course with an understanding of the processes that underpin every modern computer – from supercomputers to smartphones, and everything in between.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 1 second You probably use a computer every single day. From smartphones, to laptops, games consoles, to cars. Even your fridge might have a computer inside it. Have you ever wondered how computers work? Perhaps you’re an educator teaching computer science to your own students. If so, this course can help. (SINGING) Yeah! So join us for the next four weeks as we explore the mathematics, electronics, and history of computing. Sign up now at rpf.io/howcomputerswork.


  • Week 1

    What is a computer anyway?

    • Introduction

      An introduction to the course, the education team and your fellow learners.

    • What is a computer?

      What do we mean by the word 'computer', and how has that meaning changed over the years?

    • How computers count

      An introduction to binary mathematics and switches.

  • Week 2

    Logic Gates

    • Welcome to Week 2

      An introduction to what you will be learning in Week 2

    • NAND gates

      How transistors can be used to create NAND gates

    • All the gates

      A brief overview of all the other logic gates

    • Combinational Logic Circuits

      This section will cover how logic gates can be combined to perform unique operations

  • Week 3

    Mathematics with circuits

    • Binary mathematics

      An introduction to addition and multiplication of binary numbers.

    • Binary multiplication

      Another important mathematical function that may need to be performed inside a computer is multiplication. Learn how multiplication works in binary.

    • Maths with logic gates

      How does a computer use logic gates in order to perform mathematics in binary?

  • Week 4

    How Computers Work

    • Welcome to Week 4

      Welcome to Week 4

    • Von Neumann architecture

      Find out how the CPU and memory work together to run stored computer programs.

    • The Little Man Computer

      Learn how to program the Little Man Computer, an instructional model of a computer.

    • Peer Review

      Test your understanding by creating a learning resource, and reviewing those created by your peers.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explain how transistors can act as digital switches and be combined to create logic gates
  • Produce truth tables for AND, NOT and OR gates, individually or combined
  • Explain how computers use binary arithmetic
  • Describe how logic gates can be combined to produce digital circuits that can perform a calculation
  • Describe Von Neuman Architecture and the Fetch-Execute cycle

Who is the course for?

This course would suit teachers of KS3 and GCSE Computer Science - plus educators from other countries that teach at an equivalent level.

What do people say about this course?

It really helped join some parts of my learning together

"I enjoyed the course, even the really challenging part about logic gates in the middle. I'm undertaking the CAS for teachers and this really helped join some parts of my learning together. "

Who will you learn with?

Who developed the course?

Raspberry Pi Foundation

The Raspberry Pi Foundation works to put the power of digital making into the hands of people all over the world, so they are capable of understanding and shaping our increasingly digital world.

National Centre for Computing Education

This course is part of our professional development teacher programme for the National Centre for Computing Education (NCCE). Our nationally-recognised certificates cater for all levels of teaching.

Funded by the Department for Education and supporting partners, we aim to transform the way computing is taught in schools across England, and enable more young people to benefit from studying this important subject.

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

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Billed at $189.99 for a year

Endless possibilities!

  • Access to this course
  • Access to ALL eligible short courses with additional benefits, for a year
  • Discuss your learning in comments
  • Digital certificate when you're eligible

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  • All of the above* for this course only, plus a printed certificate when you’re eligible

*Excludes access to all eligible short courses with additional benefits for a year

Basic access


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  • Limited access to course content for 6 weeks

Find out more about certificates, Upgrades or Unlimited.

Sale price available until 6 December 2021 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Find out more about certificates, Upgrades or Unlimited.

Sale price available until 6 December 2021 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps, but you can complete them as quickly or slowly as you like
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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