Communication Theory

The Oxford dictionary definition of ‘communication theory’ is “the branch of knowledge dealing with the principles and methods by which information is conveyed.” The way information is transmitted and the methods by which it is delivered. In simpler terms who says what to whom by which channel.

Studies of communication theory go back a long way to Aristotle’s Model of Communication circa 300 B.C. With regards developments within media communication, Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver developed a model based on their experience as engineers working for Bell telephone labs in the U.S.A.


As we can see from the diagram there are 6 elements to this model. Noise is the dysfunctional factor which interferes with the message, resulting in distortion. The 1949 model was a linear mathematical theory aimed at developing effective communication between sender and receiver through telephone cables and radio waves. The sender has the primary role and the receiver is passive. However, the model had no provision for feedback. Communication between 2 people involves simultaneous sending and receiving. Human communication is not just the transmission of messages.

This theory was later developed by Wilbur Schramm in 1954 to produce an interactive model in which the receiver provides feedback. Communication is a two-way process. According to Schramm’s model, coding and decoding are the two essential processes. However, he also emphasizes that for communication to be complete the sender must receive feedback from the recipient.


Schramm also believed that an individual’s knowledge, experience and cultural background  play an important role in communication. Individuals from diverse cultures, religion or background tend to interpret the message in different ways. Therefore, the message sent and received might be interpreted differently than intended. Also, this model can’t work  with multiple, complex levels of communication; there can only be two sources communicating.

A third model of communication was proposed by Dean Barnlund in 1970. The transactional model states that giving and receiving messages is reciprocal.Sending and receiving of messages happens simultaneously between people. This means that both the sender and the receiver are responsible for the effect and effectiveness of the communication. This model shifted the trend from a linear model of communication to a more dynamic two-way communication.


In this model communication is simultaneous and fluid, as are conversations. Meanings are negotiated in an active process of understanding.


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