Ulster University has four campuses across Northern Ireland. In September, it aims to open a fifth - a virtual campus for the health professions, engineering and informatics backed by e-learning systems provider WebCT.
Clive Mulholland, director of UU's institute for lifelong learning, said that among its e-learning pilot projects, the university had successfully launched a virtual school of biomedical sciences.
UU found that despite increasing emphasis on post-qualification training, professionals were less able to take time off to attend courses because of work and family demands.
"We realised that [online learning] was a great way of meeting part of the lifelong learning agenda and improving access to education," Dr Mulholland said. "Until now we've been working through what is basically a home-made website. But we realised that we needed a proper learning environment for students."
UU has chosen WebCT to be the backbone of its web-enabled course management system. It gives students and staff personalised online access to course material, learning resources including libraries, academic and student support programmes, and the counselling service and careers guidance.
UU does not assume that students will be expert in using the technology. It will include an online induction package several weeks before term starts, introducing them to the technology and advising them on learning and time-management skills.
There will also be staff development, with academics working in teams with web designers and graphic artists to create courses, Dr Mulholland said.
The company claims that more than 2,200 colleges and universities across the world use WebCT to offer e-learning.