All 8 Models of Communication, Explained!

Since 300BC, theorists have developed communication models in attempts to explain and understand how to improve communication and rhetoric. As time has passed, we have developed increasingly more complex models to explain how we communicate.

decorative text that reads: 8 models of communication

Today, the main models of communication are can be split into three categories:

  • Linear models – only looks at one-way communication.
  • Interactive models – looks at two-way communication.
  • Transactional models – looks at two-way communication where the message gets more complex as the communication event (e.g. conversation) progresses.

This article will outline all 8 major models of communication currently studied in communications courses at college. Here’s a quick summary to get started:

#Model of CommunicationType of ModelBrief Description
1.Aristotle’s ModelLinearAristotle argues that we should look at five elements of a communication event to analyze how best to communicate: speaker, speech, occasion, target audience and effect.
2.Lasswell’s ModelLinearLasswell’s model is a basic framework for analyzing one-way communication by asking five questions: Who, said what, through which channel, to whom, with what effects?
3.Shannon-Weaver ModelLinearThe Shannon-Weaver model is the first to highlight the role of ‘noise’ in communication, which can disrupt or alter a message between sender and receiver.
4.Berlo’s S-M-C-R ModelLinearBerlo’s S-M-C-R model explains communication in four steps: Source, Message, Channel, and Receiver.
5.Osgood-Schramm ModelInteractiveThe Osgood-Schramm model looks at reciprocal communication, showing how we have to encode, decode, and interpret information in real-time during a conversation.
6.Westley and Maclean ModelInteractive The Westley and Maclean model shows that our communication is influenced by environmental, cultural and personal factors.
7.Barnlund’s Transactional ModelTransactionalBarnlund’s Transactional Model of Communication highlights the role of private and public cues that impact our messages.
8.Dance’s Helical ModelTransactionalDance’s Helical Model sees communication as a circular process that gets more and more complex as communication occurs, which can be represented by a helical spiral.

Related: A to Z List of Mass Communication Theories

The Linear Models

Quick Summary: Linear models explain one directional communication processes.

1. Aristotle’s Model

One Sentence Overview: A framework for thinking about how to improve your communication abilities, by looking at key aspects underpinning a situation.

Aristotle’s model of communication is the oldest communication model, dating back to 300BC. The model was designed to examine how to become a better and more convincing communicator.

Aristotle argues we should look at five elements of a communication event to analyze how best to communicate: speaker, speech, occasion, target audience and effect. He also identified three elements that will improve communication: ethos (credibility), pathos (ability to connect) and logos (logical argument). Aristotle’s model does not pay attention to the role of feedback in communication.

2. Lasswell’s Model

One Sentence Overview: A basic framework for analyzing one-way communication by asking five questions: Who, said what, through which channel, to whom, with what effects?

Lasswell’s model of communication tries to understand a communication event by asking five important questions. It looks at who created the message (and what their bias may be), what they said, the channel they said it through (e.g. TV, radio, blog), who they said it two, and what effect it had on the receiver. This model is effective as it provides a very simple and practical way of critiquing a message and exploring five important elements that can help explain the event under analysis in more detail.

QuestionComponentHow to AnalyzeExample of Component
Who?CommunicatorControl AnalysisVacuum cleaner salesman
Says What?MessageContent AnalysisPromotes his brand of vacuum as the best brand
In Which Channel?MediumMedia AnalysisOn television
To Whom?AudienceAudience AnalysisTo evening TV viewers in the United States
With What Effect?EffectEffects AnalysisAchieving brand awareness, promoting the belief that this is the best vacuum, leading to increased sales revenue

3. Shannon-Weaver Model

One Sentence Overview: The Shannon-Weaver model is the first to highlight the role of ‘noise’ in communication, which can disrupt or alter a message between sender and receiver.

The Shannon-Weaver model sees communication occurring in five key parts: sender, encoder, channel, decoder, receiver. It emphasizes the importance of encoding and decoding messages for them to be sent (e.g. turning them into written words, morse code, etc.). During the process of encoding, sending and decoding, ‘noise’ occurs that can disrupt or cloud a message. In the most traditional sense, this may be static on a radio broadcast, or even extend to mishearing a conversation or misspelling an email. This model was the first to introduce the role of noise in the communication process.

The idea of feedback was retroactively introduced to this model.

A diagram of the shannon-weaver model of communication. It shows a one-way loop of the five components of the theory (going from sender to encoder to channel to decoder to receiver and then back to sender). At the 'channel' step is an arrow showing noise can be inserted here. Between receiver and sender is a sign that reads 'feedback'.

4. Berlo’s S-M-C-R Model

One Sentence Overview: Berlo’s S-M-C-R model explains communication in four steps: Source, Message, Channel, and Receiver.

Berlo’s model of communication explains it in four steps: Source, Message, Channel, and Receiver. The unique aspect of Berlo’s model is that it gives a detailed account of the key elements in each step that will affect how well the message is communicated:

  • Source: Elements of the source include communication skills of the sender, their attitude and their culture.
  • Message: Elements of the message include its content, structure and code.
  • Channel: Elements of the channel include the senses of hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, etc.
  • Receiver: Elements of the receiver include their attitude, knowledge and culture.

See a summary of all elements in the image below:

A table with a definition of Berlo's model and four columns. The first column reads 'source' and lists communication skills, attitudes, knowledge, social systems, and culture as sources. The next is medium and it reads content, elements, treatment, structure and code as mediums. Next is channels which include hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting. Last is receiver which includes communication skills, attitude, knowledge, social system, and culture.

The Interactive Models

Quick Summary: Interactive models are best for explaining impersonal two-way communication processes.

5. Osgood-Schramm Model

One Sentence Overview: The Osgood-Schramm model looks at reciprocal communication, showing how we have to encode, decode, and interpret information in real-time during a conversation.

The Osgood-Schramm model explores communication that is equal and reciprocal.

It does not differentiate between the sender and receiver, but sees each as being in an equal position as message encoders and decoders.

This model is best for explaining and examining personal synchronous communication where feedback is immediate (such as face-to-face discussions). As feedback is immediate, noise can be reduced through ongoing clarification of messages during the conversation.

diagram of schramm's model of communication. The left and right show that the communicator is encoder, interpreter, and decoder. There are arrows pointing in both directions (to and from) the communicators. The arrows read: "message" to indicate a message is being sent between the communicators.

6. The Westley and Maclean Model

One Sentence Overview: The Westley and Maclean model shows that our communication is influenced by environmental, cultural and personal factors.

The Westley and Maclean model embraces the importance of feedback in communication. However, it also emphasizes the important role of environmental and cultural factors in influencing communication. It shows that the things we say and communicate are influenced by who we are, what our background is, and what perspective we are approaching issues from. The model takes into account the object of orientation (background, culture and beliefs) of the sender and receiver of messages. It also considers the message to have been received and sent within a broader social context that needs to be considered to know and understand the message.

westley and maclean model of communication diagram. On the left are four boxes that are environmental input factors. They influence why the message was communicated in the first place. They point to a box labeled sender. An arrow points from sender to gatekeeper. On the arrow is a sign sayin "object of orientation" which highlights that the beliefs, culture and background of the sender will influence their message. The gatekeeper box is next. It represents the editor of the message such as a newspaper editor. The gatekeeper can return the message to the sender (indicated by an arrow) or forward the message to the receiver, who is the next box along the path. The arrow from gatekeeper to receiver has a label reading "object of orientation" to show that the receiver is also influenced by their own beliefs, culture, and background. The final arrow points back from the receiver to the sender indicating that they can give feedback to the sender.

The Transactional Models

Quick Summary: Transactional models explain direct personal communication processes where two-way feedback is immediate.

7. Barnlund’s Transactional Model

One Sentence Overview: Barnlund’s Transactional Model of Communication highlights the role of private and public cues that impact our messages.

Barnlund’s Transactional Model of Communication is a model that explores interpersonal, immediate-feedback communication. Central to this approach is the idea that feedback for the sender is the reply for the receiver.

This model also highlights the role of ‘cues’ in impacting our messages. Barnlund highlights the role of public cues ​which are environmental cues, and private cues which are a person’s personal thoughts and background. With this emphasis on cues, Barnlund’s model highlights the factors that influence what we think and say.

8. Dance’s Helical Model

One Sentence Overview: Dance’s Helical Model sees communication as a circular process that gets more and more complex as communication occurs, which can be represented by a helical spiral.

Dance’s Helical Model builds on circular models by explaining how we improve our messages over time by using feedback. When we communicate with others, their feedback will influence our next statement.

We become more knowledgeable with each cycle of communication, enabling up to ‘expand our circle’, as represented by the increasingly wider and wider circles. The movement up the spiral indicates that each communication practice is new and different from the previous, as communication does not ever perfectly repeat itself.

A helix shape that demonstrates that dance's communication model is circular and gets more complex over time.

Final Thoughts

There are many mass communication theories (see for example: media richness theory, relational dialectics theory, muted group theory, and agenda setting theory).

However, the 8 communication models listed in this article are central models of communication that highlight how communication occurs. They are theories that are necessary to know for communication studies students as they help you understand the key components that make up communication in the 21st Century.

Skip to content