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Communication Theory

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Background and History

With the advent of WWII, the idea of effectively communicating ideas to the masses moved to the forefront of research in the United States. Wilbur Schramm, considered by many to be the founder of communications as a field of study, served as the director of the Office of Facts and Figures and the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. in the early forties. It was during these years, that he formed his vision of communication study (Rogers, 1994). Later, he would found the first doctoral program in communications.

While Schramm clearly founded communication studies, Claude E. Shannon proved to be the key theorist, conceptualizing the theory in the late 1940s that remains central to communication study today. Published, with Warren Weaver, as A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1948), Shannon's theory was born out of his research at Bell Labs. "Shannon's initial goal was simple: to improve the transmission of information over a telegraph or telephone line affected by electrical interference, or noise. The best solution, he decided, was not to improve transmission lines but to package information more efficiently" (Horgan, 1990).

Shannon defined his problem simply: "to reproduce at a given point in an exact or approximate way a message selected at another point (Mattelart & Mattelart, 1998). With this problem in mind, Shannon developed the linear model of communication, based

"on a chain of constituent elements: the source of information which produces a message, the encoder or transmitter, which transfers the message into signals allowing transmission, the channel, which is the means to send the signals, the decoder or receiver, which reconstructs the message from the signals, and the...

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Whether it is in terms of communication for effective instruction, or theory to enhance technological processes, the communication theory that was developed in the 1940s has had an immeasurable impact on all forms of communication today, both human and non-human.


Heinich, R., Molenda, M., Russell, J., & Smaldino, S. (1996). Instructional Media and Technologies for Learning. Columbus: Prentice Hall.

Horgan, John (June 1990). "Claude E. Shannon: Unicyclist, Juggler, and Father of Information Theory." IEEE Information Theory Society Newsletter.

______ (April 1992). "Claude E. Shannon." IEEE Spectrum. pp. 72- 75.

Mattelart, A. & Mattelart, M. (1998). Theories of Communication: A Short Introduction. London: Sage Publications.

Rogers, Everett M. (1994). A History of Communication Study: A Biographical Approach. New York: The Free Press.

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