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Different dose-matched, upper extremity rehabilitation training techniques, including robotic and non-robotic techniques, can result in similar improvement in movement ability after stroke, suggesting they may elicit a common drive for recovery. Here we report experimental results that support the hypothesis of a common drive, and develop a computational model of a putative neural mechanism for the common drive. We compared weekly motor control recovery during robotic and unassisted movement training techniques after chronic stroke (n = 27), as assessed with quantitative measures of strength, speed, and coordination. The results showed that recovery in both groups followed an exponential time course with a time constant of about 4-5 weeks. Despite the greater range and speed of movement practiced by the robot group, motor recovery was very similar between the groups. The premise of the computational model is that improvements in motor control are caused by improvements in the ability to activate spared portions of the damaged corticospinal system, as learned by a biologically plausible search algorithm. Robot-assisted and unassisted training would in theory equally drive this search process.