Computer-Aided Instruction in 1966—SOCRATES and PLATO

SOCRATES (System for Organizing Content to Review And Teach Educational Subjects) and its better-known and longer-lived successor PLATO ( Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) were pioneering computer-aided learning systems developed at the University of Illinois in the early 1960s. Over the years, they employed what were then bleeding edge technologies such as timesharing support of large number of terminals, computer graphics, multimedia with computer-controlled microfiche and film projection, plasma display panels, touch screens, digital audio storage, and voice and music synthesis. A wide variety of courseware was developed for the system.

In 1976, Control Data Corporation, whose computers had been used by PLATO, bought commercial rights to the system and ran it into the ground, discovering that they were spending US$ 300,000 per delivery hour developing courseware.

PLATO created one of the first online communities, with message boards, communication tools, and many games, including some of the first multiplayer computer games.


I entered the University of Illinois as a freshman in 1976, and used PLATO for at least one 1st-year class, though what I remember best was Friday nights after 5 PM when the terminals were opened up for general use… and that meant playing Star Trek and dungeon games on those machines.

Some time back I purchased a hardcover copy of the book “The Friendly Orange Glow” subtitled “The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture.” I see the paperback version has shortened the subtitle, removing reference to PLATO.