The goal of communication is to convey meaning and information between people. With that in mind, modeling this process has taken two forms over the years as our knowledge and understanding of the field has changed, as well as how technology has changed.
Linear Model of Communication
The linear model of communication is an early communication model created by Shannon and Weaver which visualizes the transfer of information as an act being done to the receiver by the sender. Understanding several key terms is important in order to follow the model. These terms are:
Sender: the message creator.
Encoding: the process of putting thoughts into messages through the creation of content and symbols.
Decoding: the process of interpreting and assigning meaning to a message.
Message: the transmitted information.
Channel: the medium through which the message passes.
Receiver: the target of the sender and collector of the message.
Noise: those distractions which interfere with the transmission of the message.
This linear model is great for electronic media, such as radio and television, because of its one way nature, but it encounters several problems when looking at other channels.
As we all know, conversations with your friends and others are never one way, but rather they are back-and-forth, which is a problem with the linear model. A second problem is that encoding is typically done unconsciously. And finally, a third problem is that other factors like culture, environment, and relational history often come in play to affect the message.
Due to these problems, a better model was created: the transactional model of communication.
Transactional Model of Communication
The transactional model, unlike the linear, recognizes that communication is a simultaneous process and therefore switched both the terms “sender” and “receiver” to “communicator.”
It also adds “environment,” which embraces not only physical location, but also personal experiences and cultural backgrounds.
These changes can be seen in the model.
Another change you will notice in the transactional model is the overlap between each communicator. This recognizes similarities between each communicator’s environment. The model displays how communication becomes more difficult when communicator’s have less in common.
In addition, the transactional model recognizes how the type of channel can affect meaning. For example, the words “I love you” have a much different meaning if they are said through a billboard than through a voicemail.
In the linear model, noise is solely external noise; for example, loud music while trying to converse. The transactional model says that two other types of noise exist:
Physiological Noise: biological factors that interfere with communication (i.e. illness, fatigue, etc.)
Psychological Noise: the forces within that interfere with communication (i.e. an unwillingness to listen)
Overall, the transactional model realizes that it is not what we do to each other as senders and receivers, but it is what we do with each other as communicators.