What is a Linear Model of Communication?

What is a Linear Model of Communication?

Linear models of communication have been largely superseded by two-way, transactional and mutual models, but they still have a number of advantages for businesses

By Carl Stanford

A linear what?

The linear communication model explains the process of one-way communication, whereby a sender transmits a message and a receiver absorbs it.

It’s a straightforward communication model that’s used across businesses to assist with customer communication-driven activities such as marketing, sales and PR.

The sender, channel and receiver play crucial roles in linear communication. The sender puts an idea, thought or feeling into a message, and transmits this message via a ‘channel’. This channel acts as the medium and will change the message into a tangible form, for instance speech, writing or animation. In its new form, the message is transmitted to the receiver, who then decodes it.

According to the model, many things can affect the one-way communication process. For instance, the choice of channel selected may affect the way a receiver interprets a message. Also, a number of disruptions can occur at any point – they're known as ‘noise’. It can include ‘psychological noise’, whereby the psychological state of the receiver will affect the interpretation of the message, including stress, anxiety, anger and so on.

Although straightforward, there are criticisms of the model. The theory assumes communication is a turn-taking process where a person sends and receives at a time. Yet other theorists support the notion that communication is actually a more complicated process, where sending and receiving messages take place simultaneously between both parties.

I'm a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they're interested in Bill Gates

Advantages of a linear model

A linear model of communication envisages a one-way process in which one party is the sender, encoding and transmitting the message, and another party is the recipient, receiving and decoding the information.

Although this model is rather limited and has been superseded by two-way, transactional and mutual models for most purposes, it still has its uses in business.

In marketing, for example, it helps to focus on how an advertising message may be altered and influenced by the encoding process of the business, the effects of the communication channel or medium, noise interference and eventual decoding by the potential customer.

This suits one-way processes such as print and broadcast advertising, where the feedback process is quite separate from the initial communication.