• raspberry pi
  • National Centre for Computing Education logo

How Computers Work: Demystifying Computation

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

11,194 enrolled on this course

How Computers Work: Demystifying Computation
  • Duration4 weeks
  • Weekly study2 hours
  • LearnFree
  • Extra BenefitsFrom $44Find out 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.

Download video: standard or HD

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.

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.

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

National Centre for Computing Education courses


supported by

Google logo

Learner reviews

Join this course

Start this course for free, upgrade for extra benefits, or buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year.


Join free and you will get:

  • Access to this course for 6 weeks


Upgrade this course and you will get:

  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • A print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible

Unlimited (New!)
$279.99 for one year

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep access to any course you've achieved a digital Certificate of Achievement on, for as long as the course exists on FutureLearn
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year
Find out more about upgrades or Unlimited.