PLATO was a digital education system that was developed starting in the early 1960s at the University of Illinois, later adopted by Control Data Corporation. It pioneered such features as graphical interfaces, live chat, gaming, and more. It was an example of an advanced, innovative, hack-able computer system developed with specifically educational purposes in mind, although it served other purposes as well. PLATO relied on a mainframe system, which users interacted with through graphical terminals.

PLATO has been subject to debate about the prevalence of sexual harassment in this early online community.

Use cases

Imagine what a PLATO for today would look like

Have students conceptualize a computer system for education from the bottom up. How would it differ from commercial systems?

Try out the PLATO emulator

Have students experience PLATO directly at and compare to interfaces they're used to today.


  • Dear, Brian. The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture. Pantheon, 2017.
  • Rankin, Joy. A People's History of Computing. Harvard University Press, 2018.

External links