helical-model-of-communication

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 Two people in a romantic relationship may also alter the communication style based on previous arguments or outdated ways of communicating.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

Versatility

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.

Time

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.

Interconnectedness

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.

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