Online learningI was having dinner this spring with, among other folks, a couple law school professors who taught at a good state school in the Midwest. I asked them if they had fears and trepidations like lawyers and business people do as to what they future may hold.

One of the law prof’s said absolutely, online education.

Last year he attended a online class on artificial intelligence co-taught by Stanford University computer science professor Sebastian Thrun and Google’s Peter Norvig. He was one of more than 160,000 students who took the class.

What made him most afraid was his belief that we were going to see rockstar professors being paid handsomely for teaching huge online classes. If we can have rock star athletes like LeBron James making millions, he said why not professors making millions by attracting large enrollment.

The U.S. News & World Report’s Ryan Lytle (@rlytle) reports that it’s not just law professors, a recent study reflects that college professors as a group are fearful of online education growth.

The report, which surveyed 4,564 faculty members, reveals that 58 percent of respondents “described themselves as filled more with fear than with excitement” over the growth of online courses within higher education.

The fears of college faculty are sustained by the consistent rise in popularity of online education during the past decade. The number of college students enrolled in at least one online course increased for the ninth straight year, with more than 6.1 million students taking an online course during fall 2010—a 10.1 percent increase over fall 2009, according to a separate Babson report.

Despite the majority of professors believing online classes have resulted in inferior education, 40 percent of full-time professors reported that online courses have the potential to match in-class instruction for learning outcomes.

Like in face-to-face learning environments, the success of the course is dependent on the quality of the instructor, Julanna Gilbert, executive director of the Office of Teaching and Learning at the University of Denver, told Lytle.

Per Dan Johnson, a senior lecturer at Wake Forest University, in order for faculty members to fully embrace online education in traditional settings, they must stop resisting these changes in technology.

The Internet has proven to be a disruptor for all industries and professions. Looks like college education, and law school in particular, is going to be no exception.