Monday, April 1, 2013

A Revolution in Parenting

Parents around the world had been buzzing for months about massive open online parenting, or MOOPs: Internet-based parenting programs designed to raise thousands of children simultaneously, in part using the tactics of social-networking websites. To supplement video parenting, much of the learning comes from online comments, questions, and discussions. Children even evaluate one another's behavior, relieving the online parent of the tedium of correcting them.

MOOPs exploded into parenting consciousness in summer 2012, when a free parenting platform offered by Cranford University in California attracted 160,000 children from around the world — 23,000 of whom finished it. Now, Parentsera in Valley View, California — one of the three researcher-led start-up companies actively developing MOOPs — is inviting star parents to submit parenting courses for broadcast on its software platform.

Self-esteem boosting, tender loving care, and homework help courses have been in the vanguard of the movement, but offerings in bedtime reading, discipline, and moral guidance are growing in popularity. “In 25 years of observing parenting, I've never seen anything move this fast,” says Dr. Benjamin Mock, a parentologist and leading MOOP entrepreneur at Cranford.

The ferment is attributable in part to MOOPs hitting at exactly the right time. Our increasingly competitive and flat world cannot take the risk of allowing individualized parenting, which is often done by people with less than spectacular parenting skills. Traditional parenting is simply too inefficient and not cost effective. Bricks-and-mortar homes are unlikely to keep up with the demand for advanced parenting. In-home parents are also under tremendous financial pressure, especially in the United States, and unable to provide the kind of hands-on parenting of previous generations. With MOOPs, however, the cream of the parenting crop — parents who otherwise might have only raised three or four (at most maybe eight or nine) children — can reach thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of children.

Dr. Mock got involved in because he wanted to bring quality parenting to “the people who otherwise would never be able to get good parenting,” he says. Following a path blazed by the open-source software movement, he started a project to post online free parenting videos and handouts. His approach was fairly crude, he admits: just record the parental lectures, put them online and hope for the best. But to his astonishment, strangers started coming up to him and saying, “Are you Professor Mock? I've been taking ‘Do Your Homework’ with you!” He began to grasp how far online parenting could reach, and started working on a scaled-up version of his system. “When one parent can raise 50,000 children,” he says, “it alters the economics of parenting.”

Since even the best parents don't have a clue about how to exploit the online medium, companies develop their courses in-house, working with parenting experts to make the child-rearing as effective as possible.

MOOPs address the problem of a lack of the individual attention normally associated with traditional parenting with support discussion forums, video feeds and other basic online services, so that an instructor parent only has to provide the content.

Online discussion forums are a good way to bring communities of children together — for 100 or so users. “With 100,000 children it gets more complicated,” he says. Hundreds or even thousands of children might end up asking the same question. So the developers implemented a real-time search algorithm that would display related questions and potential answers before a child could finish asking.

Mock also let children vote items up or down, much like on the link-sharing website Reddit, so that the most insightful questions would rise to the top rather than being lost in the chatter. “No more ‘Why is the sky blue, Daddy?’ in these discussions!” Mock exclaims.

Virtually everyone participating in this upheaval agrees on one thing. In-person parenting will change — perhaps dramatically — but it will not entirely disappear. “No one says that all parenting has to be online,” says Mock. “Sometimes — though admittedly rarely — a home is better. But a home really isn’t at all profitable, is it?”

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