This article was written as an assignment in EME6606 Advanced Instructional Design at the University of Florida in Fall 2014.

Compare and contrast the alternative views of communication, including the transmission, behavioral, interactive, and transaction emphasis.

Before looking at alternative views of communication we should start with a look at the various parts of communication.  These include the source (creator or origin of the message), destination (receiver of the message), the message itself and the transmission medium (how the message is formatted and transmitted).  We also need to take into account the environment (is there anything that might impede the communication such as white noise, attenuation, interference); Language (are we using the same language, technology, or communication protocols?) and Culture (are there differing understandings or experiences that may change the way an individual understands a particular communication).

Richey, Klein & Tracey  (2001) present four alternative perspectives of communication originally discussed by Littlejohn (1989).  They are the transmission perspective, the behavioral perspective, the interactional emphasis and transaction emphasis.  In the transmission perspective we look at the system and how the message travels from its source to its destination.  We also consider how noise in the transmission path may garble or alter the message.  In the behavioral perspective we look at stimulus-response where the sender is stimulating a meaning or response in the receiver. In interactive emphasis, we look at the effort to establish a commonness, or connection with someone that allows us to share information, an ideal or an attitude.  In this model, senders and receivers are operating at the same time.  In transaction emphasis, communication is creating, not just delivering a meaning.

What is the role of communications theory in the field of instructional design? Provide an example to illustrate your ideas.

In just thinking conceptually, it would seem that communications theory would be a huge part of instructional design.  Instruction starts with communication.  Communication of information, ideas, processes, methods, or whatever it is we want to accomplish in our instruction.  In looking at the four alternative perspectives, we need to think about what it is we want to accomplish.  If we just want to convey information, than a transmission perspective would be sufficient.  If we want to affect change in our participants, we need to look at the behavioral perspective.  If we want to have an exchange of ideas, or common understandings we need to look at interactive or transaction emphasis.

Mayer & Estralla (2014) seek to expand upon the basic theories of communication in multimedia instruction to include emotional design to increase a learner’s engagement and motivation. In this area of research we begin to look at how communication methods can be designed to more fully engage the learner in a way that communication is more effective.

An example I am thinking of is one I am working with in my classes.  We use a wiki style discussion tool called Piazza.  I can see a big value in using this tool as it fosters collaboration, and allows students to work together to create meaning and value.  It is essentially based on the interactive and/or transaction theory of communication. 

Working with the ITE students at Santa Fe in Piazza has been interesting.  You can see that many of our students do not have a conceptual idea of what it means to edit in a wiki space.  Many students still try to post like they would in a threaded discussion board, or add their information to the bottom of the post instead of integrating it in to the post.   They are essentially operating in a transmission perspective of communication.  We’ve developed an instructional model to help them with their understanding of collaborative wiki style editing, but many students can’t seem to get outside of their own prior understanding to hear, or understand a new way of communicating.  Our challenge as the instructional designers, and instructors, is to figure out how to communicate the concept in a way that they can understand it and change their behavior.

What role does the communication channel play in the theory and practice of instructional design? Provide examples to illustrate your points.

There are many ways in which we can communicate information.  Text, sound, video, animation, to name a few.  In (Richey, Klein, & Tracey, 2001) they discuss several studies which seem to indicate that learners can only handle a limited amount of stimuli, multiple-channels of information work up until the point the system capacity overloads. In looking at instructional design we need to look at the ways in which multiple-channels of redundant information are beneficial, how we can give the learner more control in the rate and types of instructional presentations, and take in account the learner’s past experiences with technology and instructional delivery systems.

To use my previous example, we’ve created an instructional module which provides both written instructions and a video where the same instructions are provided with a demonstration.  Students can choose which instructional method to use. We’ve then created a series of activities within an introductory course where students have multiple opportunities to practice using the wiki editing space.  Instructor’s will then provide one on one feedback to students as they learn to use this tool.  We’ve now given them three channels for learning the information (written, video, hands-on) and a progressive series of assignments which will allow them to practice and demonstrate.  In this model, we are applying the concept of using multiple channels along with scaffolding of concepts that give students some flexibility and control over how they choose to learn the material. 


Estrella, G., & Mayer, R. E. (2014, March 19). Benefits of emotional design in multimedia instruction. Learning and Instruction, 12 – 18.

Littlejohn, S. (1989). Theories of human communication (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.

Morrison, G., Ross, S., Kemp, J., & Kalman, H. (2012). Designing effective instruction. New York, New York: Wiley.

Reigeluth, C. (1983). The elaboration theory of instruction. In C. Reigeluth, & T. Frick, Instructional design theories and models: An overview of their current status. (pp. 335-381). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Richey, R. C., Klein, J. D., & Tracey, M. W. (2001). The Instructional Design Knowledge Base. New York, N.Y.: Routledge.

Shannon, C.E., & Weaver, W. (1949). The mathematical theory of communication. Urbana, IL: The University of Illinois Press.

Smith, P., & Ragan, T. (2005). Instructional Design (3rd Ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.