Computational Theory of Mind


Sense-making activity in the brain

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … digitally encoded information
  • Knowing is … activated networks
  • Learner is … a computational system (brain)
  • Learning is … elaborating possibilities through symbolic processing
  • Teaching is … transmission (of information)




Computationalism is more a philosophical positioning than a practical theory. Its grounding premise is that the mind is an information-processing system, and so perception, thought, consciousness, and so are all forms of computation. By implication, learning is seen as a matter of rule-based symbolic manipulations within neural networks.


Even though it is a philosophy of mind, Computationalism is sometimes invoked as if were a theory of learning. That’s unfortunate, because the perspective has little to offer by way of human learning. In fact, it has been cited as one of the great obstacles to Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, prompted as it was by early successes with electronic computers on matters that humans found difficult (e.g., repetitive calculations), which prompted over-confident predictions that machines would quickly surpass their flesh-based counterparts. Those hopes were frustrated for decades. Somewhat ironically, one of the most significant shifts in the advancement of artificial intelligence was to reverse the “brain as computer” metaphor. As researchers began to emulate the structures and strategies of the human brain, machine intelligence began to progress much faster.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Hilary Putnam; Jerry Fodor

Status as a Theory of Learning

Computationalism is not intended as a theory of learning – but, insofar as it is taken up to inform discussions of learning, it is sufficiently aligned with Cognitivism to be subjected to the same criticisms.

Status as a Theory of Learning

See Cognitivism.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

See Cognitivism.

Status as a Scientific Theory

See Cognitivism.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Computationalism” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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