What Is The Helical Model Of Communication? The Helical Model Of Communication In A Nutshell

The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Understanding the helical model of communication

The helical model of communication was first proposed by Frank Dance in 1967 to offer a more detailed look at the communication process.

Dance equated the functioning of his model with a helix or spiraling curve shaped like a spring that moves upward and downward.

To better explain the helical aspect of the model, Dance argued that an individual begins communicating from the day they are born by crying for whatever they need. This is a simple and very rudimentary form of communication.

As they grow older, the child progresses to more complex forms of communication which are also cumulative.

When they graduate from single words to complete sentences, they are building on what they already know to communicate more effectively.

This process is represented by a helix, with progressively larger circles providing a visual metaphor for the evolution of communication from birth to the present moment. It’s also important to note that communication moves backward in the metaphorical sense.

The child who learns to speak in complete sentences is drawing on memories and impressions from an earlier period in their life. 

This process of looking backward also shapes behavior. For example, a teenager may alter their communication style to avoid swearing after being reprimanded by a parent in the past.

Two people in a romantic relationship may also alter the communication style based on previous arguments or outdated ways of communicating.

The key ideas of the Helical model of communication

Here are some of the key ideas of Dance’s model:

  1. Communication occurs cyclically without ever perfectly repeating itself. When an individual receives information from someone, they will use it to communicate more effectively next time.
  2. The model accounts for the dimension of time in communication to suggest how an individual improves. Instead of communication being a two-dimensional process, it is in fact a three-dimensional process. 
  3. Complex communication grows from simple origins. Although we touched on this concept in the introduction, the cumulative way communication evolves is worth reiterating. Two strangers may meet each other and initially exchange names and occupations to start the communication process. Over time, however, they learn to communicate through more complex channels such as body language, moods, gestures, or mannerisms.

Helical model of communication advantages

In this section, we’ll briefly discuss some of the model’s main advantages over similar communication frameworks:


The Helical model can be used to represent communication in a range of scenarios. These include the act of learning a language or how two people alter their interactions with increasing familiarity. To some extent, Dance’s model can also be used to explain a simple two-way conversation between individuals.


The Helical model of communication is one of the only such models to account for time and the role it plays in the communication process. Time is most associated with learning, evolution, and increasing complexity.


Dance also considered the impact of current experiences on future actions. Most communication models only consider past experiences in the context of feedback.

Limitations of the Helical model of communication

The helical model of communication does possess some limitations. 

While similar frameworks such as the Osgood-Schramm and Lasswell models include clear communication steps, Dance’s interpretation does not outline the processes that are inherent to a cyclical model.

This makes it difficult to validate. There is also debate as to whether the helix shows communication as an evolving ability or as the learning that occurs via the act of communicating itself.

Lastly, the Helical model considers communication to be a continuous process. In reality, however, life is far from linear.

Most will be able to appreciate that life is interspersed with meaningless or unproductive periods where we do not learn from our past or indeed incorporate more complex forms of communicating. 

Modern applications of Dance’s model

Modern applications of Dance’s communication model have been used to describe how societies evolve into knowledge economies.

Instead of the single helix that Dance used, these interpretations include a five helix model which starts with linear communication between academic circles and entrepreneurs.

As information and communication technologies develop over time, the role of knowledge in society becomes more complex and widespread.

Following is a general look at each helix involved in this evolutionary process:

First helix (academia, universities)

The first helix acknowledges that universities, students, researchers, and academic entrepreneurs are responsible for creating new knowledge and technology. That is, they comprise the foundational or generative aspect of a knowledge-based economy.

Second helix (academia, industry, business)

This helix consists of the creative economy and similar industries where knowledge can be utilized to create innovations via research and development.

Third helix (academia, industry, government)

For a knowledge economy to exist, there must be effective governmental policy in place. This means facilitating the development of information and communications technology (ICT) and encouraging investment in human capital, innovation, and knowledge-intensive enterprises.

Fourth helix (academia, industry, government media, arts, artistic research, arts-based innovation, society)

These are actors that have introduced knowledge societies or democracies and cultures of innovation, creativity, arts, multiculturalism, and innovation systems with universities.

Fifth helix (academia, industry, media and culture-based public and civil society, and societal, natural, and economical environments)

In the fifth helix, knowledge, and innovation are framed in terms of benefits to society, the economy, and the environment. Knowledge becomes fully integrated into innovation, entrepreneurship, sustainable development, and social ecology.

In the knowledge economy helix, it can be useful to think of universities as the individual in Dance’s model whose communication evolves over time. 

Indeed, universities are involved in each of the five helixes. They play an important role in visualizing a cooperative knowledge system and providing the know-how for innovation that adds value to society.

Key takeaways:

  • The helical model of communication argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience
  • The helical model of communication suggests the evolution of communication in an individual starts the day they are born. As they grow older, they develop progressively more complex communication through experience and feedback.
  • The helical model of communication has some limitations. For one, its abstract nature means it is difficult to validate. The model also assumes communication to be a constantly evolving process. Unfortunately, this notion contradicts the realities of life.

Key Highlights

  • Helical Communication Framework: The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the spiral shape of a helix, representing communication as cyclical, continuous, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.
  • Proposed by Frank Dance: The model was introduced by Frank Dance in 1967 as a more comprehensive way to understand the communication process.
  • Spiraling Evolution of Communication: Dance used the metaphor of a helix to illustrate how communication evolves over time, starting from simple forms and progressing to more complex ones.
  • Early Communication: The model suggests that individuals begin communicating from birth, even in rudimentary forms such as crying to express needs.
  • Cumulative Progression: As people grow and learn, their communication becomes more intricate and accumulative. New forms of communication build upon what has been learned before.
  • Time Dimension: Dance’s model emphasizes the role of time in communication evolution, considering the past, present, and future experiences that shape how we communicate.
  • Backward and Forward Movement: Communication in the model is not strictly linear; it involves looking backward to previous experiences to shape current and future interactions.
  • Adaptation and Change: Individuals adjust their communication based on past experiences, leading to behavior changes in response to feedback and memories.
  • Modern Applications: The helical model’s concepts are applied in understanding the evolution of societies into knowledge economies, involving academia, industry, government, media, culture, and societal aspects.
  • Limitations: While versatile, the model lacks specific communication steps inherent in a cyclical framework and may not fully account for non-linear aspects of life.
  • Universities in Knowledge Economy: In modern applications, universities are compared to individuals in the model, playing a vital role across different sectors of the knowledge economy.

Helical Model Applied Strategies

Business ScenarioExplanationImplicationOutcome
Product Development MeetingsOngoing discussions between cross-functional teams to refine product specifications.Improved collaboration and alignment.Iterative product enhancements and quality improvements.
Marketing Campaign AdaptationsContinual adjustments to marketing strategies based on real-time performance data.Enhanced campaign effectiveness.Increased ROI and better-targeted messaging.
Customer Feedback LoopsContinuous collection and analysis of customer feedback to improve products or services.Better customer satisfaction and loyalty.Products and services tailored to customer needs.
Employee Training ProgramsProgressive learning modules that build upon foundational knowledge.Skill development and confidence growth.Skilled and adaptable workforce.
Sales NegotiationsOngoing dialogue between sales representatives and potential clients.Relationship building and trust.Successful sales and long-term client partnerships.
Crisis Management ResponseEvolving communication strategies to address a crisis situation as it unfolds.Crisis containment and reputation management.Minimized damage and restored trust.
Product Launch and UpdatesPhased product announcements, followed by continuous updates and improvements.Sustained customer engagement and excitement.Long-term product success and brand loyalty.
Market Research and Trend AnalysisRegular data collection and analysis to identify emerging market trends.Informed decision-making and adaptability.Competitive advantage and timely market responses.
Supplier Relationships and ProcurementOngoing negotiations and communication with suppliers to optimize terms and agreements.Cost savings and reliable supply chains.Efficient operations and reduced supply chain risks.
Employee Performance FeedbackRegular performance evaluations and feedback discussions between supervisors and employees.Skill improvement and career development.Motivated and productive workforce.
Strategic Planning and Goal SettingPeriodic assessments of organizational goals, followed by iterative adjustments.Alignment with evolving business priorities.Achievement of strategic objectives.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)Continuous monitoring of customer interactions and touchpoints to enhance relationships.Enhanced customer engagement and loyalty.Customer retention and increased lifetime value.
Product Lifecycle ManagementComprehensive management of a product’s lifecycle from ideation to retirement.Maximized product value and ROI.Successful product launches and legacy management.
Social Media Engagement and Content StrategyRegular posting and interaction with followers, with content evolving based on audience feedback.Growing online community and brand affinity.Increased brand reach and customer engagement.
Supplier Performance ReviewsRegular assessments and communication with suppliers to ensure quality and compliance.Supplier accountability and quality control.Consistent product quality and cost-effectiveness.
Employee Onboarding and Development ProgramsStructured onboarding followed by ongoing training and development opportunities.Employee growth and retention.Highly skilled and committed workforce.
Product Quality Control and ImprovementContinuous monitoring and quality improvements based on feedback and data analysis.Enhanced product reliability and customer satisfaction.High-quality products and reduced defects.
Leadership and Team Development WorkshopsLeadership programs that progress from foundational to advanced leadership skills.Improved leadership effectiveness and teamwork.Strong leadership and high-performing teams.
Market Expansion and Internationalization StrategiesGradual expansion into new markets, adapting strategies based on local dynamics.Market penetration and reduced market entry risks.Successful international market presence.
Project Management and Agile MethodologiesIterative project management approaches, adapting project scope and priorities as needed.Flexibility and adaptability to changing requirements.Successful project delivery and stakeholder satisfaction.

Read Next: Lasswell Communication Model, Linear Model Of Communication.

Connected Communication Models

Aristotle’s Model of Communication

The Aristotle model of communication is a linear model with a focus on public speaking. The Aristotle model of communication was developed by Greek philosopher and orator Aristotle, who proposed the linear model to demonstrate the importance of the speaker and their audience during communication. 

Communication Cycle

The linear model of communication is a relatively simplistic model envisaging a process in which a sender encodes and transmits a message that is received and decoded by a recipient. The linear model of communication suggests communication moves in one direction only. The sender transmits a message to the receiver, but the receiver does not transmit a response or provide feedback to the sender.

Berlo’s SMCR Model

Berlo’s SMCR model was created by American communication theorist David Berlo in 1960, who expanded the Shannon-Weaver model of communication into clear and distinct parts. Berlo’s SMCR model is a one-way or linear communication framework based on the Shannon-Weaver communication model.

Helical Model of Communication

The helical model of communication is a framework inspired by the three-dimensional spring-like curve of a helix. It argues communication is cyclical, continuous, non-repetitive, accumulative, and influenced by time and experience.

Lasswell Communication Model

The Lasswell communication model is a linear framework for explaining the communication process through segmentation. Lasswell proposed media propaganda performs three social functions: surveillance, correlation, and transmission. Lasswell believed the media could impact what viewers believed about the information presented.

Modus Tollens

Modus tollens is a deductive argument form and a rule of inference used to make conclusions of arguments and sets of arguments.  Modus tollens argues that if P is true then Q is also true. However, P is false. Therefore Q is also false. Modus tollens as an inference rule dates back to late antiquity where it was taught as part of Aristotelian logic. The first person to describe the rule in detail was Theophrastus, successor to Aristotle in the Peripatetic school.

Five Cannons of Rhetoric

The five canons of rhetoric were first organized by Roman philosopher Cicero in his treatise De Inventione in around 84 BC. Some 150 years later, Roman rhetorician Quintilian explored each of the five canons in more depth as part of his 12-volume textbook entitled Institutio Oratoria. The work helped the five canons become a major component of rhetorical education well into the medieval period. The five canons of rhetoric comprise a system for understanding powerful and effective communication.

Communication Strategy

A communication strategy framework clarifies how businesses should communicate with their employees, investors, customers, and suppliers. Some of the key elements of an effective communication strategy move around purpose, background, objectives, target audience, messaging, and approach.

Noise if Communication

Noise is any factor that interferes with or impedes effective communication between a sender and receiver. When noise disrupts the communication process or prevents the transmission of information, it is said to be communication noise.

7 Cs of Communication

The 7Cs of communication is a set of guiding principles on effective communication skills in business, moving around seven principles for effective business communication: clear, concise, concrete, correct, complete, coherent, and courteous.

Transactional Model of Communication

The transactional model of communication describes communication as a two-way, interactive process within social, relational, and cultural contexts. The transactional model of communication is best exemplified by two models. Barnlund’s model describes communication as a complex, multi-layered process where the feedback from the sender becomes the message for the receiver. Dance’s helical model is another example, which suggests communication is continuous, dynamic, evolutionary, and non-linear.

Horizontal Communication

Horizontal communication, often referred to as lateral communication, is communication that occurs between people at the same organizational level. In this context, communication describes any information that is transmitted between individuals, teams, departments, divisions, or units.

Communication Apprehension

Communication apprehension is a measure of the degree of anxiety someone feels in response to real (or anticipated) communication with another person or people.

Closed-Loop Communication

Closed-loop communication is a simple but effective technique used to avoid misunderstandings during the communication process. Here, the person receiving information repeats it back to the sender to ensure they have understood the message correctly. 

Grapevine In Communication

Grapevine communication describes informal, unstructured, workplace dialogue between employees and superiors. It was first described in the early 1800s after someone observed that the appearance of telegraph wires strung between transmission poles resembled a grapevine.

ASE Model

The ASE model posits that human behavior can be predicted if one studies the intention behind the behavior. It was created by health communication expert Hein de Vries in 1988. The ASE model believes intention and behavior are determined by cognitive variables such as attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. The model also believes that intention predicts behavior such that one’s attitude toward a behavior is influenced by the consequences of that behavior. Three cognitive variables are the primary determinants of whether the intention to perform a new behavior was sustained: attitude, social influence, and self-efficacy. Various external variables also influence these factors.

Integrated Marketing Communication

Integrated marketing communication (IMC) is an approach used by businesses to coordinate and brand their communication strategies. Integrated marketing communication takes separate marketing functions and combines them into one, interconnected approach with a core brand message that is consistent across various channels. These encompass owned, earned, and paid media. Integrated marketing communication has been used to great effect by companies such as Snapchat, Snickers, and Domino’s.

Social Penetration Theory

Social penetration theory was developed by fellow psychologists Dalmas Taylor and Irwin Altman in their 1973 article Social Penetration: The Development of Interpersonal Relationships. Social penetration theory (SPT) posits that as a relationship develops, shallow and non-intimate communication evolves and becomes deeper and more intimate.

Hypodermic Needle

The hypodermic needle theory was first proposed by communication theorist Harold Lasswell in his 1927 book Propaganda Technique in the World War. The hypodermic needle theory is a communication model suggesting media messages are inserted into the brains of passive audiences.

7-38-55 Rule

The 7-38-55 rule was created by University of California psychology professor Albert Mehrabian and mentioned in his book Silent Messages.  The 7-38-55 rule describes the multi-faceted way in which people communicate emotions, claiming that 7% of communication occurred via spoken word, 38% through tone of voice, and the remaining 55% through body language.

Active Listening

Active listening is the process of listening attentively while someone speaks and displaying understanding through verbal and non-verbal techniques. Active listening is a fundamental part of good communication, fostering a positive connection and building trust between individuals.

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