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5 Communication Models 2023
History of Communication Models
This lesson, "History of Communication Models," provides the necessary background to help us develop Communication "Best Practices" for our 21st Century Hyper-Connected Digital World. This lesson provides the support for Fractal Quantum Communication Models. (Updated Feb 2024)

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Ira Gorelick

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February 22, 2020

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History of Communication Models
(Updated Feb. 2024)

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, communication is defined; “Communicating Effectively” is one of the most important life skills to learn!

History of Communication Models

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

And, just as the model of the solar system evolved from an earth-centered model to a sun-centered model and from Newtonian to Einsteinian to Quantum models, so have communication models evolved from linear one-way to transactional two-way to fractal Quantum models.

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 relate 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.

The Three Ages of the History of Communication Models

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

  • Age 1 – Linear Communication Models
    • It starts with Aristotle and goes through Shannon-Weaver. One-Way – Source to Receiver.
    • Shannon added “Noise” to the Model.
  • Age 2 – Interactive Transactional Communication Models
    • Added “Synchronous” back-and-forth communication.
    • Added “Feedback to the Model
    • Allowed for more than 1 iteration.
  • Age 3 – Iterative Communication Models
    • Adds “Fractal Thinking” to the Model.
    • Adds Shared Intentionality
    • Adds Quantum Thinking to the Model

Linear Communication Models

Aristotle – 300 BCE

Aristotle provides the first communication model (that I can find).

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 (and Plato) are still used today as the model for “persuasive” communication. It must be studied along with the Sophists.

Greek Rhetoric
Greek Rhetoric

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

  • Speaker – The initial source of the message.
  • Speech – The Message.
  • Occasion – The context surrounding the message.
  • Audience – The receiver of the message.
  • Effect – The goal of the message.

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 the Persian Empire.

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

He also defined three core elements that improve communication.

  • Ethos – The credibility of the speaker and the authority they have in their space.
  • Pathos – The emotion of the speaker and the emotional connection to the audience.
  • Logos – The logic of the message.

Lasswell – 1948

Harold Lasswell added to Aristotle’s model by using the word “Channel” instead of “occasion.” They are the same thing, but by calling it a channel, we can begin to narrow the description.

  • Who – Speaker
  • Says What – Speech
  • In Which Channel – Occasion
  • To Whom – Audience
  • With what effect?

Notice that “with what effect” did not change from the Aristotle model. And, “spoiler alert” it will not change in any future model.

The foundation of all communication is knowing and working toward a “goal.” How closely the actual effect reaches the desired effect measures communication effectiveness.

Another addition Laswell made is to point out that every aspect of the communication process can impact the resulting “effect.”

Similar to Aristotle, Lasswell pointed out that since the speaker is the constructor of the message, the speaker should always consider their audience in constructing that message.

This makes the sender primarily responsible for the effectiveness of the communication.

In business, we had a saying, “If it is to be, it is up to me.”

Speakers should not “blame” the audience if the speaker’s message does not have the effect the speaker wanted. In the case of misunderstanding, the speaker has most of the responsibility.

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

Here are 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.
  • Shannon added Encoding and Decoding.
    • By having to convert analog communication to digital communication, the importance of “shared codes” was highlighted.
    • Shannon highlights the importance of a recipient being able to make sense of the message through decoding.

Berlo’s model of communication – 1960

Berlo breaks communication down into four steps, with core components included in each of them:

  • S: Source: The communication skills, attitudes, knowledge, societal system, and culture of the person sending the message.
  • M: Message: The structure, elements, content, and management of the message, as well as any code, jargon, or specific language that may be used.
  • C: Channel: How the message is transmitted and how it affects the senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.
  • R: Receiver: Who encounters the message, their attitude, knowledge, communication skills, societal system, and culture.

According to Berlo’s model, the source and the receiver need to have some commonalities in order for communication to be effective.

The commonalities include:

  • Communication Skills
  • Attitudes
  • Knowledge
  • Social System
  • Culture

This builds on Shannon. Shannon identified three levels of Communication:

  • Level A. How accurately can the symbols of communication be transmitted? (The Technical Problem.)
  • Level B. How precisely do the transmitted symbols convey the desired meaning? (The Semantic Problem.)
  • Level C. How effectively does the received meaning affect conduct in the desired way? (The Effectiveness Problem.)

The commonalities Berlo listed fit into Shannon’s Level B – The semantic level. The more sender and receiver have “shared codes,” the more likely the communication will be effective.

The chances of communication success are increased to the extent that the sender and receiver have similar knowledge and speak a similar language.

The responsibility of successful communication starts with the sender, who needs to construct the message correctly to suit both the receiver and the channel it will use.

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

The Linear Model suggests listeners are 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 that 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 added the terms “Synchronous” and “Feedback” to the model.

  • Synchronous means “in time.” (As opposed to asynchronous, which means “without time.)
    • Email, text messaging, and voice mail are asynchronous. There is no expectation that there will be an immediate response.
    • Conversations are synchronous. There is an expectation of a response to the message.
  • 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) and “NAK” (negative acknowledgment). This is a message 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.

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

Acknowledgments can be either synchronous or asynchronous. The key is that both the sender and receiver agree, which it is.

When I leave a voice message, I agree that it is asynchronous. I have no expectation I will get feedback at any time.

However, asking how you are doing is synchronous. I expect you will provide feedback on that message immediately.

By including 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 only when people both send and receive messages.

Newcomb 1953

Newcomb’s model was first published by Theodore H. Newcomb in his 1953 paper “An approach to the study of communicative acts”.

It is called the ABX model of communication since it understands communication in terms of three components:

  • Two parties (A and B) interact about a topic or object (X).
  • A and B can be persons or groups, such as trade unions or nations.
  • X can be any part of their shared environment, like a specific thing or another person.

The ABX model differs from earlier models by focusing on the social relation between the communicators in the form of their orientations or attitudes toward each other and the topic.

The orientations can be favorable or unfavorable and include beliefs.

They have a big impact on how communication unfolds. It is relevant, for example, whether A and B like each other and whether they have the same attitude towards X.

Newcomb understands communication as a “learned response to strain” caused by discrepancies between orientations. 

The social function of communication is to maintain equilibrium in the social system by keeping the different orientations in balance. 

In Newcomb’s words, communication enables “two or more individuals to maintain simultaneous orientation to each other and towards objects of the external environment.” 

The orientations of A and B are subject to change and influence each other.

Significant discrepancies between them, such as divergent opinions on X, cause a strain in the relation.

In such cases, communication aims to reduce the strain and restore balance through the exchange of information about the object.

For example, if A and B are friends and X is someone both know, then equilibrium means that they have the same attitude towards X. However, there is a disequilibrium or strain if A likes X but B does not. This creates a tendency for A and B to exchange information about X until they arrive at a shared attitude. The more important X is to A and B, the more urgent this tendency is.

Diagram of Westley and MacLean's model of communication
Westley and MacLean’s expansion of Newcomb’s model.

An influential expansion of Newcomb’s model is due to Westley and MacLean. They introduce the idea of asymmetry of information: the sender (A) is aware of several topics (X1 to X3) and has to compose the message (X’) to communicate to the receiver (B). B’s direct perception is limited to only a few of these topics (X1B). 

Another addition is the inclusion of feedback (fBA) from the receiver to the sender.

Westley and MacLean also propose a further expansion to account for mass communication. For this purpose, they include an additional component, C, that has the role of a gatekeeper filtering the original message for the mass audience.

Schramm – 1954

Transactional Model of Communication
Transactional Model of Communication

The principles of the model include the following:

  • Communication is circular.
    • Individuals in the communication process constantly switch between the roles of “encoder” and “decoder.”
  • Communication should be reciprocal.
    • Every party involved in the discussion is equally engaged and able to share their voice.
  • Understanding is crucial.
    • Having a shared understanding of communication enhances communication.
  • Ongoing clarification and active listening are crucial for positive conversations.

Westley and Maclean Model – 1957

This model adds “Mass Communication.”

This is interesting because this brings us back to Aristotle. Aristotle saw his model as mass communication, not interpersonal communication.

The point of difference between interpersonal and mass communication is feedback.

In interpersonal, the feedback is synchronous, direct, and fast.

In Mass Communication, the feedback is asynchronous, indirect, and slow.

Westley and Maclean suggested that communication starts when a person responds selectively to some stimulus.

This model also added some new terms:

  • Gatekeepers
  • Opinion Leaders

These terms will come in handy when we get to the next evolution of models.

Transactional Communication Models

Transactional models of communication are interesting because they begin to add the concept of “iteration.”

These models see communication as a “transaction.”

They see communication as a cooperative activity in which communicators co-create the interaction’s process, outcome, and effectiveness through a series of transactions.

They begin to identify communication as a series of transactions that move toward a goal.

Those transactions include forming bonds, unlocking value, and creating relationships.

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

In the Linear model, messages are sent from one person to another, and there is only 1 iteration. Once the receiver decodes the message, the communication is completed. Any message back to the sender would be considered a new message.

In the Interactional model, there are two iterations:

  • Iteration #1 is the Sender to the Receiver
  • Iteration #2 is the Receiver back to the Sender.

The Transactional Model calls groups these two iterations and calls them a “transaction.” Then, communication becomes a series of transactions.

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

However, there appears to be an agreement as to the goals of the transaction.

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 a good basis for 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.

Dean Barnlund – 1970

Dean Barnlund’s model of transactional communication explores immediate feedback (real-time) communication between people. 

It is the first model I can find that introduces the idea of transactions over time, where the starting point for the next transaction is the ending point from the last. (This is directly related to the Fractal Communication Model I talk about below.)

It suggests that communicators can be a sender and a receiver simultaneously. (Perhaps this relates to Quantum Theory.)

Barnlund introduced the idea that there are different kinds of stimuli. He called an individual stimulus a “cue.”

For instance, cues, such as private cues (a person’s background), public cues (environmental context), and so on, can influence how we speak.

Barnlund introduces the concept that communication is enhanced if both the receiver and sender take responsibility for ensuring the communication leads to the right outcome. 

Barnlund reinforces the idea that communication aims to arrive at a shared understanding. 

Shared understanding is in constant flux since the interpretation of stimuli is in constant flux.

Barnlund’s model is based on a set of fundamental assumptions holding that communication is dynamic, continuous, circular, irreversible, complex, and unrepeatable. 

Cues are of central importance in Barnlund’s model. 

A cue is anything to which one may attribute meaning or which can trigger a response. 

Barnlund distinguishes between public, private, and behavioral cues. 

Public cues are available to anyone present in the communicative situation, like a piece of furniture or the smell of antiseptic in a room. 

Private cues are only accessible to one person, like sounds heard through earphones or a pain in one’s chest. 

Behavioral cues are under the direct control of the communicators, in contrast to public and private cues. 

They include verbal behavioral cues, like making a remark about the weather, and non-verbal behavioral cues, such as pointing toward an object. 

Barnlund also introduced the idea that both an intrapersonal and an interpersonal model exist. 

The intra-personal model shows the simpler case where only one person is involved in the decoding and encoding processes. 

For the inter-personal model, two people participate. They react to public and private cues and the behavioral cues the other person produces. 

Dance’s Helical Model

The Dance Helical model suggests that communication is a circular process, wherein conversations become more complex as we dive deeper into the interaction.

It’s often represented visually by a helical spiral.

The model indicates that we gradually improve how we communicate over time by responding to the feedback provided by the people we communicate with.

As we communicate with each person in our team, we learn more about the situation in question and the person we’re connected with. This allows us to expand our circle and build on the information we’re sending to achieve specific goals.

Dance’s Helical model also suggests that communication is constantly evolving. As we learn and develop alongside our team members, our understanding of them and the world we’re operating in continues to evolve, allowing us to achieve goals more effectively.

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 other words, this would be:

“Fractals” describe the chances of reaching our goals.

Reaching our Goals is dependent on our Communication Efficiency. 

Our Communication Efficiency is based on our ability to maximize communication’s technical and informational aspects 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, Informational communication, and Noise.

  • Technical Communication
    • Measured by “Bandwidth.” The maximum amount of information possible.
    • The ability of the receiver to “physically” connect to the sender.
    • The degree of “shared codes.”
  • Informational Communication
    • The effectiveness of communication to affect change in a desired way.
  • Noise
    • Anything that reduces effective communication.
    • Static in radio systems is an example.

The “Fractal” formula for Communication applies the communication thinking developed by Claude Shannon in his work on “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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I found this website that pretty much copies my post here.

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