The creation of technologically-based ‘virtual education’ has been portrayed as a means of widening access to learning opportunities for those currently excluded from participation in lifelong education and training. Now in the UK these claims are being operationalized under the ‘University for Industry’ initiative and associated Virtual College programmes all of which aim to make real the concept of Britain as a ‘learning society’ for all with an emphasis on reaching those traditionally seen as non-participants in learning. This paper examines these claims in the light of current knowledge about the characteristics of non-participants in lifelong learning and the barriers that they face. It is suggested that the application of ‘technological fixes’ to underlying socio-economic determinants of participation will solve some problems, create others, and leave many unaffected. In this way the paper argues for independent research on the impact of the ‘virtual college’ movement, and begins to outline the form such research could take.