Communication Theory

  • Concept Map--an alternate view (to come)
  • Resources, Links (to come)

Most Prominent Contributors


Robert Clark



Shannon and Weaver

Salomon (symbol systems)

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Definition of Learning

  • While not a definition, learning is influenced by internal and external factors and components.  The communication passes through a host of filters and receptors that help associate it with prior experience and knowledge.

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Description of Theory

  • Students learn from any medium provided the content maintains their attention and the medium is competently used and adapted to learner needs.
  • Learning happens everywhere, at all times (both intended and unintended) and is influenced by multiple factors, leading to a breadth of possibilities.
  • Communications research addresses 3 main perspectives: 1) Technical 2) Psychological (the individual interactants), 3) Social-Cultural (media’s role in society).

    Technical perspective

  • The very linear, Shannon-Weaver model (1949) serves as the basis for media comparison research where the technology is the primary variable.
  • Very behavioral—emphasis on transmission—ensuring that the intent of the source matched the desired outcomes of the receiver as closely as possible—the intended message was received with minimal noise.
  • This perspective’s strong engineering slant is apparent in its language—signal to noise ratio, channels, redundancy, entropy, static, fidelity, source, message.

    Psychological perspective

  • The focus is on the filtering done by individual senders and receivers, and not the characteristics of the technology or the signal itself.
  • Hinting of social constructivism, communication occurs when both sender and receiver arrive at meaning and a balanced state.  When the balance is upset, communication is used to restore it.
  • Individuals communicate with people and attend to things that are consistent with their beliefs and value structures.
  • Cultivation research and agenda-setting research describe the influence of media on aggression, how we perceive the world and on what we think and care about.
  • Media attributes research was not looking for the “best” medium, but rather what symbol systems different media used whether certain attributes facilitated particular cognitive activities.

    Social-Cultural perspective

  • Social communication is the means by which individuals create and negotiate their shared meanings for symbols, events etc.
  • Communication is a unifying force in society
  • Boundry properties make up groups
  • Learners must be active processors, and should have their learning attention activated especially when using media socially conditioned to connote entertainment.

Key terms

  • edutainment
  • interactivity
  • broadcast (centralized production and distribution)
  • narrowcast, peer to peer (decentralized production and distribution)
  • channel and bandwidth
  • multi-media (numerous forms of media interacting)
  • narrative (story)
  • attitudes
  • sender-message-receiver
  • Noise (signal to noise ratio)
  • Persuasion

Relation to other theories

  • Strong notions of intended learning-antithetical to postmodernism
  • Related to critical theory—there is often an intended message and point of view, and learners should be actively critical interactants.
  • Builds on cognitivism’s symbol manipulation and information processing.

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Initial (knee-jerk) Reactions

  • Not as much a learning theory as it is a theory of instruction.
  • Probably more relevant than we think because everything we experience is mediated by our senses—do we “hear” ourselves when we read silently?  When we think, do we see images (in our mind’s eye)? 
  • Most learning is facilitated by multiple media--with our aural and visual senses playing arguably the most significant role in what most people can learn.
  • This is a very metaphorically-minded group.  Is this accidental?

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Relevance to Instructional Systems Design (ISD)

  • Media selection issues
  • Edutainment appears to allow for a good deal of learning to ride its coattails.
  • New knowledge must be linked to experiences largely held in common by communicators.
  • Because certain media can be so persuasive, care should be taken to make learners aware of point of view (POV).
  • Media is increasingly less centralized, is being generated and distributed by individuals and smaller groups, and
  • Learners expect media environments to be responsive to their needs, and be highly interactive.

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What I Don’t Know yet / Questions

  • I am interested in better understanding the nature and activities of active (critical) receivers and interactants vs. passive receivers/viewers.
  • What theories directly address teaching learners how to really (meaningfully) see, hear, taste, touch, feel and experience their environments and the messages that bombard them both in and out of school?  Critical theory seems to get the closest (albeit agenda-laden!)
  • What is the relationship of media to arousal, attention, motivation and generative learning?

Source: K. Krendl, W. Ware, K. Reid, R. Warren (1996). Learning by any other Name: Communication Research Traditions in Learning and Media
ch. 4 in Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology
. D.H. Jonassen (ed.) NY: Simon & Schuster

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Page last modified: Tuesday, December 10, 2002