In regards to student skills in a virtual education environment, we come to one that is problematic but essential to getting the most out of what a virtual education environment has to offer.
Collaboration and leadership among students all focused on a specific task has been seen in varying degrees of effectiveness in the brick and mortar schools. However, in an online environment where students may be spread across the globe, the asynchronous nature of the environment presents a problem when you want to have students gather to be involved in a moderated debate or discussion. So what is a possible solution or "work around" to this problem?
One possibility is that when a student registers, a notice is presented on their desktop environment that on a certain date, at a certain time, they are expected to login to the discussion area and be prepared to contribute in a collaborative and leadership capacity. To make this possible, we take some guidance from gaming theory and what is observed. In large open online game environments, young people login and take on specific roles or characters who then interact with each other and the environment that they are a part of. Their decisions affect how the story progresses and also the potential outcome. In interacting with other young people who also have roles to play, they learn how to collaborate and problem solve on a level that is above what normally happens in the classroom. The potential of gaming theory as it applies to online education is exciting. Given the great advances in HD graphics and the sophistication of gaming engines, we have the tools to change online education in tangible and motivating ways.
Consider this scenario: You login to the online education interface and specifically your world history course. You are studying the race to develop the atomic bomb during World War II. You enter a virtual world portal where you have a choice: become a Nazi scientist who has been asked to develop an atomic weapon to further the goals of the Third Reich or become an American scientist assigned to work on the Manhattan Project in the U.S. Which ever character you choose, you will make decisions individually and in collaboration with others that determine the outcome of the project. In preparation, you access biographies, scientific reports, ..etc. As a result of the decisions of others, events happen that cause you to re-think your approach and plans. The central concept of History, "cause and effect", is played out throughout the project. This just a simple rendition of the potential of gaming theory for online education. You can probably think of many other possibilities that apply to other courses.
The point is that collaborative and leadership skills are honed in virtual simulations. Consider the popularity of an online world such as "Second Life". I have not accessed this simulation in awhile so I don't know if it is still popular but it does demonstrate some of the possibilities.
Imagination is the key to developing online education to where it should be and it does spell the demise of the idea of taking exactly what you do in the classroom and transferring it to an online environment. Learning should not only enrich the student's education experience but it should also be exciting to the student.