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PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) originated in the early 1960s as a distributed computer-based learning system at the University of Illinois and was the first generalized computer assisted instruction system. It was developed by a team of many people, initially led by Donald Bitzer. Once PLATO was established, users and developers were able to add more functions (see PLATO’s Impacts). By the late 1970s, PLATO was comprised of several thousand terminals worldwide. PLATO functioned for four decades and its list of innovations and seminal influences is considerable including:

  • Computer-Based Learning
  • Online Networking
  • Plasma Flat-Panel Displays
  • Interactive Touch Screens
  • Many Software innovations

PLATO was a precursor to today’s online world, with a thriving online community which predated today’s social media by decades.


PLATO’s History On Campus: A Tour of Important Sites and Displays

Visit PLATO displays on campus, view artifacts from early development, and explore the sites that were once the labs and offices where PLATO was developed and used. Click here to view the PLATO tour map. There were PLATO labs in the Digital Computer Laboratory, Loomis Laboratory, and the Foreign Languages Building.


Above are two screenshots from PLATO programs. On top is a teaching program showing the anatomy of a human eye. On the bottom is the start screen for Avatar, a popular multiplayer game.

– Digital Computer Laboratory. PLATO was developed using ILLIAC which was located in the Digital Computer Laboratory. This is where PLATO was created.

– Mechanical Engineering Laboratory. Historical Marker outside on the northeast corner of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory.

– Mechanical Engineering Laboratory. The first full PLATO computer lab was located in the northeast corner of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory.

– Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science. PLATO Computer Learning System display located in the central hallway on the first floor.

University of Illinois Archives. PLATO IV terminal. Ask at the front desk to see the terminal.


Adults using PLATO terminals at Parkland College. (1969). Photographic Subject File. Record Series 39/2/20, Box COL 13, Folder COL 13-13. University of Illinois Archives.

Computer History Museum. (2010, Jun 10). PLATO@50 PLATO Computer Learning System. Retrieved from

Contributors: Tom Ackerman