Comparing Online vs In Class
programs for divorcing parents
Donald A. Gordon, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Ohio University
Director, Center for Divorce Education
Karen R. Blaisure, Ph.D.
Professor, Western Michigan University
Laura Backen Jones, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, Oregon Research
Children In The Middle (CIM)
(Overview & Brief History)
 The Developer 's background
 30 Years, Clinical Psychologist
 Delinquency prevention and treatment
 Ohio University & Colleagues
Research Shift – work w/divorcing
families as way to reduce or prevent
Children In The Middle
Developing Divorce Education
 Starting from what we know:
 Divorcing Parents + High Conflict =
Ability to parent well reduced
 Child(ren) + loss of 1 parent from home
Child(ren) more likely to
Act out and be Maladjusted
What Previous Research Shows
 Parenting Deficits During Divorce:
 Attention to child and support declines
 Discipline becomes inconsistent
 Supervision of child declines
 Disruptions in communication
 What can be done to contain the conflict,
promote productive co-parenting skills, and
reduce harm and hurt to children?
CIM Program Development – Research Shift:
Review of the Literature – Building on Past Evidence
 Structure of Existing Parent Education Programs
Length variation: 2-14 hours in one to seven
3 Models of delivery
Information/Lecture Based = Provides
information only (most prevalent)
Affect Arousal = Elicits strong emotions, feel
bad, heightens awareness.
Skills Based = Learner Centered, engagement
w/curriculum, tools + skills learned
Children In The Middle -- Program Development
Review of the Literature – What research says:
 Which Model of Delivery Changes Behavior?
Information/Lecture & Affect Arousal
Parent satisfaction, while easily attained, is
not related to behavior change
No evidence this approach works
Skills Based = direct link to behavior change.
Children In The Middle -- Program Development:
Review of the Literature – What research says (Continued)
 Critical Skills to Teach in Divorced PE:
Minimizing children’s exposure to conflict
 Controlling parental anger
 Sensitivity and empathy
 Support for other parent’s relationship with
 Supervision, involvement with child
 Discipline
Children In The Middle -- Program Development:
The Interviews (Children of Divorce)
What was most painful and difficult during the
 5 Common Themes = 5 Scenes/Vignettes
matching results from young people:
Carrying Messages
Quizzing youth re: personal life of other parent
Put downs (of other parent)
Money complaints (how other parent spends)
Problems related to long-distance parenting
CIM Development Strategy
(What Will Change Behavior?)
Target Risk and Protective Factors
 Decrease parental conflict involving children
 Loyalty binds most damaging
 Show videos of parents creating loyalty
 Motivate change by detailing why
 Instill hope by showing simple skills to
reduce harm to children
 Handouts with additional protective steps
parents can take, and skill practice exercises
Importance of “Sound Research”
Sound Research =
 Peer Reviewed
 Adequate Control Groups
 Experimental Design (Random Assignment)
 Independent Replication
“Sound Research” Continued
 Professional:
National Review Boards and
Designation as a “Model Program”
 Independent Review Boards:
Review existing programs; ID those that
meet criteria for “Sound Research” (e.g.
National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs &
Adequate control group
 Random Assignment
 Independent Replication of Studies
CIM Evaluations & Distinctions
 “Model Program” Designation
by US Dept of Health & Human Services,
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration (SAMHSA)
 Only program for divorcing parents so
CIM Evaluations & Distinctions
 Re-litigation reduced:
(due to skills taught)
Parental conflict reduced (parent & child
 Parent-child communication and access
 Parental Satisfaction High
 Decreased child behavior problems, risk for
CIM Online Program Design
 Interaction required with Q&A format
 All text is narrated, controlled by user
 Immediate feedback and interactive teaching
 Multiple choice quizzes after each of five
scenarios (high interest w/relevant video scenes)
 User tested on booklets downloaded
(70% to pass)
 Monitoring of parent compliance by
professionals, courts
Why brief programs can be effective
– Principles of neuroscience incorporated:
• Reducing influence of amygdala and
automatic “fight or flight” reactions
• Increased activation of prefrontal orbital
cortex leads to emotional regulation and
conscious decision making
• Mirror neurons and the social brain
Advantages to CIMO Instructional
Design over CIM Group Class
 Video memory superior to auditory memory
 Interaction required, improves retention
 Defensiveness is minimal since no reaction to
a professional or self-consciousness with
other parents
 User controls pace of program, can repeat
 User is accountable for learning via testing
Research: Online vs. In-person
Parent Education Classes
NIDA funded grant compared CIM in class to CIM
 Random assignment through courts (MI, OR)
 Both approaches equally effective
 Parents strongly preferred online
 Parents using online more likely to support child's
relationship with other parent than group parents
 Latino parents showed better outcomes for online
Comparison of Online programs (U.
Four online programs reviewed
Content—child, adult, court focused
Conceptual/empirical foundation
Instructional design
Evidence: CIM only program with evidence
Evaluation of parents performance: CIM only
program with parental competence requirement
Upcoming Grant Proposal
Possible Participation by
Multnomah & Clackamas Counties
Research Question:
What effect do parent education programs for
divorcing families have on parent conflict,
co-parenting ability, and child adjustment?
Upcoming Grant Proposal
Participation by
Multnomah & Clackamas Counties, Portland, OR
 Methodology:
 Comparing three approaches, w/random
assignment to each group.
 3-Prong Approach
 2 In-Class Approaches
 1 = Information/Lecture Based
 1 = Skills Based
 1 Online, Skills Based Approach
 Voluntary participation by parents
Parenting Wisely
Interactive CD-ROM, self-administered
Extremely low cost
Online parenting skill training
SAMHSA and OJJDP Model Program
Don Gordon, [email protected]
Lisa Horwitch, [email protected]
Center for Divorce Education, HQ
1005 E. State St., Ste G, Athens, OH 45701
Phone: (740)594-2526
West Coast Office:
583 Prim St., Ashland, OR 97520
Phone: (541)201-7680

Comparing Online vs In Class programs for divorcing parents