Within the wider drive in higher education to promote students' use of information and communications technology (ICT) it is assumed that the Internet will be a key application. Popular conceptions of a ‘wired’ generation of students at ease with on-line learning persist through official literature and the media. From this basis, the present paper takes an empirical perspective in students' use of the Internet, via focus group interviews with 77 students in two UK universities, and explores the factors underlying their use (and non-use) of the Internet in university. Four crucial themes were identified, namely: (i) the ways in which students were introduced to using the Internet; (ii) operational problems encountered when using the Internet as an information resource; (iii) treatment of information retrieved from the Internet; (iv) the social element of learning in on-line environments. These factors are examined in detail and discussed in relation to the future presentation and organisation of students' Internet use in university settings. Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 2000.