What is the PLATO Society?

The PLATO Society of Los Angeles is a community of approximately 400 members devoted to active lifelong learning. What makes PLATO unique are its peer-led study discussion groups (SDGs). The members of the Society share an interest in learning about a wide range of topics, including history, science, art, literature, music, technology, current events, and many other topics. We study, discuss and explore the world of knowledge - together. PLATO members have access to about 70 courses offered annually and free lectures at the Skirball Cultural Center given by experts in the Los Angeles area. Members often participate in social events, bridge games, and interest groups created by PLATO members.

How long has The PLATO Society been around?

Begun in 1980, as part of UCLA’s Extension, The PLATO Society has evolved into an organization that governs, directs, and sustains itself. In 2013, The PLATO Society became independent of UCLA and continues as a non-profit organization, with its own facilities to achieve our goal of “furthering the intellectual pursuits of its members.”

What will I get out of the PLATO Society?

  • You will have the opportunity to study subjects about which you are curious but have never studied, or you can delve deeply into subjects about which you already have some knowledge.
  • You will be intellectually stimulated by learning from a wide range of viewpoints in a collegial friendly environment.
  • You will make new friends at PLATO; as one member commented “we come for the courses and stay for the friends.”
  • You will have the opportunity to hear speakers at our Colloquia, ranging from university professors to movie producers.
  • You will be able to participate in a wide variety of PLATO activities.
  • You will have fun.

What kind of discussion groups are there?

Topics for discussion groups are suggested and chosen by our members. There are discussion groups on an unlimited range of topics including Quantum physics to European history and modern poetry to Hollywood entertainment. Subjects, old or new, are fodder for us to chew on. We study, explain and appreciate the world of knowledge - together.

Each discussion group has a coordinator and co-coordinator who are responsible for creating a course syllabus and bibliography and overall management of the discussion group. They, however, are not lecturers. In fact, our discussion groups have no lectures; we learn from discussion and we take turns leading the weekly discussions.

How long are the discussion groups? How often do they meet?

We have three 14-week semesters. Each term, members select from about 25 different study groups. Most groups run for 14 weeks, but 7-week and 10-week courses are also offered each semester. Discussion groups meet once a week for two hours from 10:00 AM to noon, and from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. Members may participate in more than one discussion group each term; most members participate in SDGs all three terms.

What does it cost?

The Annual membership fee is $530 which covers participation in our peer-led Study Discussion Groups (SDGs), and all PLATO events.

What is the application process?

Once you complete and submit the online application form, a membership committee person will call you to schedule a time for you to visit with us at the PLATO facility. Sometimes called an “interview.” This meeting is an informal exchange of information to see if there is a fit between you and the PLATO Society. Applicants are invited to observe one session of a discussion group, in order to experience an SDG course in session.

If I travel frequently, can I still take a "class"?

To offer flexibility to members who travel and have other commitments, we provide 7-week and 10-week classes in each of our three terms We do expect members to participate in discussion groups in two of every three terms.

What time commitment does membership entail?

One member of the discussion group leads the discussion each week, and you will be expected to choose a week that you want to lead. The selection is made at a discussion group organizational meeting about a month before the beginning of each term. The coordinator and co-coordinator will lead the first two discussions so everyone will have plenty of time to prepare for the week they are leading the discussion.

When you are not the discussion leader, you will probably spend 2 to 4 hours each week preparing for the discussion.

To prepare to be the discussion leader one week requires additional time from you. Two weeks prior to your discussion, you will provide the members of the group a list of topics you will cover and a set of thought-provoking questions that will guide and facilitate the discussion.

Do you have to be retired or have a college degree to become a member of PLATO?

No, you do not have to be retired nor do you need to have a college degree. Many members are retired, but many are still active in the work-world. You just have-to be willing to learn, grow and be actively involved in the process. Our members:
  • Share a passion for learning
  • Are motivated by curiosity and an intense interest in the world of ideas
  • Enjoy participating in active, informed, collegial discussions
  • Share their talents, skills and expertise to keep our organization strong

Other than the discussion groups, what other types of activities does PLATO offer?

  • Colloquia
  • Day Trips
  • Study Group Trips Abroad
  • Annual Retreat
  • Brown Bag Lunches
  • TGIF (Friday groups: Current Events, Bridge, Films, and Topics of Interest)


PLATO gives me the opportunities to exchange ideas with a variety of interesting people from all walks of life. We are brought together by a shared commitment to active learning, and that is critical for me – being able to participate and discuss a topic from multiple sides. I never leave a discussion session without gaining new insights from fellow members. . It is an amazing organization, completely run by the members, and uniquely different from any other learning opportunity.

If you have any interest in learning more, fill out an application to get the process started.