PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was a computer-based, interactive communication system developed to connect a variety of students, instructors, and resources that was designed by Donald Bitzer.It existed before the ARPANet, which would eventually have much in common in PLATO. Users could communicate with each other asynchronously via a Notes system.

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PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was a computer-based, interactive communication system developed to connect a variety of students, instructors, and resources. It existed before the ARPANet and social media which would eventually have much in common in PLATO.

The system allowed lessons to be stored in the computer and accessed by students at their convenience. It was also a distributed system which allowed access by multiple users in multiple locations. Eventually, a communication element was added called Notes, which allowed user-to-user discussions that didn’t require any action by the administrators.

To aid in learning, two other sensory interactions were enabled. Audio was provided that helped language instruction. Touch was added so students could select words or figures and learn more about them.

PLATO continues to exist in archive sites and in descendants that have evolved into commercial services.

PLATO is equally well known for the consequences of its creation.

Many of PLATO’s connectivity features were eventually echoed in the ARPANet and subsequently the internet. It took ARPANet about a decade to exceed PLATO’s traffic.

The Notes program became one of the first online communities, an ancestor of online bulletin boards and social media. It and its architecture enabled game play among multiple users, similar to today’s online games.

Don Bitzer is particularly known for the invention of the gas plasma display that was developed for PLATO. The addition of touch enabled more direct contact for the student. That ability and technology went on to create the gas plasma display industry. While PLATO’s goal was to improve interactivity, the television and monitor manufacturers were drawn to such displays to be thinner than conventional displays. In that regard, Educational Technology is like any other technology, advances in one field can have far greater impacts on other fields.

From the PLATO History Web Site;
"The PLATO system was created in 1960 at the University of Illinois. Initially it ran as a one-terminal system connected to the ILLIAC computer. By 1963, the system was running on a CDC 1604 with multiple simultaneous users. By 1972, the system had expanded to run a thousand simultaneous users on a CDC CYBER mainframe. Control Data Corporation began marketing PLATO commercially in 1976, resulting in PLATO system installations in dozens of cities around the world. Many of these systems were interconnected, enabling email and remote logins through the network. For nearly ten years, there were more users on PLATO than there were on ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet."

From, comment by David Moursund
"I still remember when I first saw the PLATO computer-assisted learning (CAL) system with touch panel. It was like science fiction coming alive. I think I was most impressed by the interaction provided by the touch panel. A student reading the display could touch a word and get a definition or other information.
Up until that time I thought of in terms of a "clunkity-clunk" teletype terminal. Wow! The PLATO system just blew me away.
Later I learned about a PLATO project developing materials for use in an elementary school. The project included teachers, a curriculum design expert, and an experienced PLATO programmer."

Links: - a living and active archive of a PLATO system
Edmentum - a commercial evolutionary descendant of PLATO
PLATO @ 50 Conference
PLATO: The Emergence of Online Community
Commentary about PLATO on iae-pedia (scroll to Comment by David Marcovitz 6/15/09)
TERM-talk - PLATO's instant messaging
TERM-talk - described from a fictionalized 1980 teenager's memoir
Between PLATO and the Social Media Revolution by David Wolley
A walk through Plato history (social media of 1970s)
PLATO@50: An Early Online Community (video)