Three years ago, fewer than a million people in this country made use of the Internet - around 2 per cent of the population. Since then, growth has been dramatic: one estimate suggests nearly 20 million people are now online, and National Statistics says 6.5 million households in the UK have access.

It means there are millions of people out there who have never really been shown how to make the best of what's available. As net virgins, most of us find out how it all works by trial and error, following interesting-looking links and other people's recommendations. But it doesn't have to be like that.

Though random clicking serves its purpose, many people are too timid, or simply don't fancy footing the phone bills involved in getting really competent. What they need is an intelligent guide that can do a bit of hand-holding as they build confidence and expertise.

So step forward the Virtual Training Suite - with its free, self-directed and interactive web tutorials, all written by academics claiming specialist knowledge of both their subject and the Internet. At present you can choose from 11 tutorials aimed at, among others, business managers, historians, doctors and politicians. From May next year the company behind VTS promises a further 27 tutorials, including modules for social statisticians, vets, philosophers and even theologians.

The tutorials are well thought out. After a bit of introductory information, each offers a quick tour of the key sites for each subject area, suggests techniques for improving your Internet search skills and ways of evaluating information, and gives opportunities to reflect on the practical applications of it all.

This is also a service you can rely on. The Resource Discovery Network people behind it are run by Bath University's UK Office for Library and Information Networking and King's College London.