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5 Communication Models 2023
Communication Models – Past and Future
This lesson, "Communication Models- Past and Future" provides the necessary background to help us develop Communication "Best Practices" for our 21st Century Hyper-Connected Digital World. (Updated August 2023)

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History of Communication Models
(Updated August 2023)

There are many definitions of Communication. Here are just a few:

  • The action or process of transmitting something, or the state of being transmitted.
  • The action of imparting, conveying, reporting, presenting, and relaying.
  • A means of sending or receiving information, such as phone lines or computers.
  • The act of transferring information from one place, person, or group to another.
  • The act of giving and/or receiving information.
  • Transferring information to produce greater understanding.

However, we define it, “Communicating Effectively” is one of the most important life skills to learn!

Communication Models

In order to understand something, it is sometimes helpful to make a model of it.

And, just as the model of the solar system evolved from an earth-centered solar system to a sun-centered solar system when we learned new things, so have models of communication evolved as we have learned new things.

Solar System Models
Solar System Models

Throughout history, we’ve found “models” of a thing essential for focusing attention on relevant variables and causal relationships, which will, in turn, help us make better predictions about the future.

By studying different communication models and their predictive causal relationships, we can use that learning to develop communication “Best Practices.”

By studying the different communication models, we can learn the different parts of the communication process and how they are related so we can create more effective communication.

By studying the history of communication models, we can learn how our understanding of communication has evolved so we can better predict how it will evolve in the future.

This lesson has two parts: #1 – “History” of Communication Models and #2 – “Current” Communication Models.

“Summary” of the History of Communication Models

The history of communication models can be divided into three “Ages:”

  • Age 1 – Linear Communication Models
      • Starting with Aristotle and going all the way through Shannon-Weaver.
      • One-Way – Source to Receiver.
      • Shannon added “Noise” to the Model.
    • Age 2 – Interactive Communication Models
        • Two-Way, but only 1 iteration.
        • Added “Feedback to the Model.
      • Age 3 – Transactional Communication Models
          • Two-Way but adds more than 1 iteration to the model.
          • Adds “Fractal Thinking” to the Model.

        Linear Communication Models

        Aristotle – 300 BCE

        The first communication model (that I can find) is by Aristotle.

        There are a couple of different ways to look at Aristotle’s Communication Model.

        Aristotle Model of Communication
        Aristotle’s Model of Communication

        Aristotle proposed his communication model around 300 BCE.

        His model is more focused on public speaking than interpersonal communication. This makes perfect sense given the time he was writing.  To Aristotle, the receiver was just a “passive” vessel to be filled by the eloquence and persuasiveness of the speaker.

        Democracy was a new thing and being able to persuade others to your point of view was crucial for success in those early Greek City States.

        Aristotle’s Model of Communication is formed with 5 basic elements:

        • Speaker
        • Speech
        • Occasion
        • Audience
        • Effect.

        Aristotle advises speakers to build different speeches for different audiences at different times (occasions) and for different effects.

        In essence, every speech would be unique, since every audience and every time is different.

        Aristotle’s Model of Communication


        Alexander gave a speech to his soldiers before the battle at the City of Issus to defeat Persian Empire.

        Speaker           –    Alexander
        Speech            –    about his invasion
        Occasion        –    Battle for Issus
        Audience        –    Soldiers
        Effect              –    To defeat Persia

        Shannon & Weaver – 1948

        Systematic empirical research on communication began in the 20th Century, inspired by the technical improvements to wireless and wired networks during the World Wars.

        One man stood out in the development of the next Model of Communication – Claude Shannon.

        Claude Shannon took Aristotle’s model and added an important element – Noise. 

        (Noise means obstacles in the communication process. Noise refers to any interference in the channel or distortion of the message.)

        Shannon Transmission Model of Communication
        Shannon Transmission Model of Communication

        A couple of things to notice in Shannon’s Model of Communication:

        • Notice that Shannon only includes “Noise” in the “Channel.”
            • This makes sense because Shannon worked for AT&T. He was mostly concerned with Noise in the AT&T Network.
            • However, it didn’t take long to realize that Noise exists in every element of the Communication Model.
          • Shannon added Concepts like Entropy and Redundancy.
              • By Including Entropy, Shannon offered a way to measure information as the “Reduction of Uncertainty.”
              • By Including Redundancy Shannon offered a way to reduce noise by increasing redundancy.

            Linear Models are fairly simple models in which a message is simply passed from sender to receiver. In real life, however, communication involves a give-and-take between senders and receivers.

            Listeners are not simply passive receptacles for a sender’s message.

            Linear Models are limited because they provide only one channel for only one message at a time.|

            The reality is that we receive many messages on many channels simultaneously.

            A Linear Model implies that messages are clear-cut, with a distinct beginning and end.

            The reality is, at least with human communication, messages most often build on one another.

            Communication is rarely, if ever, as neat and tidy as a linear model would suggest.

            Hence the need for a better model.

            So, it is not surprising the next evolution in Communication Models was the “Interactive Communication Model.”

            Interactive Communication Models

            Model of Communication

            In the move to a more dynamic view of communication, Interactive Communication Models add another channel, in which communication and feedback flow back to the communication “Initiator”.

            In addition to the 2nd communication channel added the Interactive Communication Models add Feedback.

            • Feedback is the new term added to the Interactive Communication Model.
            • Feedback is the response the receiver gives to a sender.
            • Feedback can be verbal (i.e. “yes”) or nonverbal (i.e. a nod or smile).
            • Most importantly, feedback indicates comprehension. It helps senders know if their message was received and understood.

            In networking, there are specific terms “ACK” (positive Acknowledgment), “NAK or “NACK” (negative acknowledgment). This is a signal passed between communicating entities (or devices) to signify either acknowledgment or receipt of the message, rejection of a previously received message, or indicating some kind of error.

            Acknowledgments and negative acknowledgments inform a sender of the receiver’s state so that the sender can adjust its own state accordingly if desired.

            By focusing on flow and feedback, interactional models view communication as an ongoing process.

            One notable feature of these models is the move away from terms like “senders” and “receivers” and toward using terms like communicators, actors, or “initiators.

            This implies that communication is achieved as people both send and receive messages.

            Transactional Communication Models

            Fundamentally, this model views communication as a transaction.

            In other words, communication is a cooperative activity in which communicators co-create the process, outcome, and effectiveness of the interaction.

            Transactional Communication Model 8-11-22
            Transactional Communication Model 8-11-22

            In the Linear model in which meaning is sent from one person to another, there is only 1 iteration. Once the receiver decodes the message the communication is completed.

            In the Interactional model, there are 2 iterations, Sender to Receiver, and then Feedback from the Receiver to the Sender.

            In the Transactional Communication Model, people create shared meaning in a more dynamic process. And there can be any number of iterations.

            This model also places more emphasis on the field of experience.

            Transactional Model of Communication
            Transactional Model of Communication

            The Transactional Communication Model sees Communication as an “ongoing” process with no specific Start or Stop.

            While each communicator has a unique field of experience, they must also inhabit a shared field of experience.

            In other words, communicators must share at least some degree of overlap in culture, language, or environment if people are to communicate at all.

            This model also recognizes that messages will influence the responses, or subsequent messages, produced in the communication interaction.

            This means that messages do not stand alone, but instead are interrelated.

            The principle of interrelation states that messages are connected to and build upon one another.

            The transactional model forms the basis for much communication theory because:

            – People are viewed as dynamic communicators rather than simple senders or receivers
            – There must be some overlap in fields of experience in order to build shared meaning
            – Messages are interdependent.

            Fractal Communication Model

            Transactional Communication with Fractal Thinking
            Transactional Communication with Fractal Thinking

            In the 1960s Benoit Mandelbrot developed a cohesive “fractal theory.”

            Fractals provide a predictive model of iterative stability.

            Here is the Mandelbrot Set formula:

            f(c) = Z2+ c

            Here is the result of that formula iterated over many times.

            Mandelbrot Set
            Mandelbrot Set

            By using “Feedback” as the “f(c)” function, the efficiency of communication as the “Z2” variable, and the initial starting point of the communication as the “c” variable, Communication fits nicely into Fractal thinking.

            Here is the formula.

            Fractal Communication Formula

            f(e) = eC((t+i)-n) + Starting Point

            f = Feedback, Fractal, Function
            e = Efficiency as measured by the distance to the Endpoint (or Goal)
            C = Communication = ((T+S)-N) – ((Technical Value of the Communication + Information Value of the Communication) – Noise)

            In words this would be:

            “Fractals” describe the chances of reaching our goals.

            Reaching our Goals are dependent on our Communication Efficiency. 

            Our Communication Efficiency is based on our ability to maximize the technical and informational aspects of communication and minimize the noise in our communication. (Which, by the way, is exactly what Shannon did with his groundbreaking 1948 paper.)

            Here is the result.

            Double Helix Fractal Communication Model 2023
            Double Helix Fractal Communication Model 2023

            In a perfect world, every communication act – “iteration” – would move us closer to the end goal. However, we don’t live in a perfect world. Therefore we need to check our position after every iteration.

            After every iteration, the question should be: Have we moved closer to the goal?

            This movement could be “positive or “negative.” With positive communication, the iteration moves us closer to the goal. With negative communication, the iteration moves us further from the goal.

            Communication, as a thing, is measured by the interaction between, technical communication -bandwidth -, Informational communication – shared code -, and Noise.

            The “Fractal” formula for Communication applies the communication thinking developed by Claude Shannon in his work on the “The Mathematical Theory of Communication” and iterates it over time.

            Over time, certain combinations of communication can be stable over time in the sense that the parties reached their goals.


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            For Further Reading

            Anderson, J.A. (1996). Communication theory: Epistemological foundations. New York: Guilford Press.

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            During, S. (2005). Cultural studies. New York: Routledge.

            Griffin, E. M. (2009). A First look at communication theory (7th ed.) New York: McGraw-Hill.

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