Communication takes place when one person transmits ideas or feelings to another person or group of people. The effectiveness of the communication is measured by the similarity between the idea transmitted and the idea received. The process of communication is composed of three elements:

  • Source (sender, speaker, writer, encoder, transmitter, or instructor)
  • Symbols used in composing and transmitting the message (words or signs [model prop/desk lamp in Figure 1])
  • Receiver (listener, reader, decoder, or learner)
Figure 1. An aviation instructor communicates with her learner using model airplanes to ensure the learner’s understanding of the principles discussed
The three elements are dynamically interrelated since each element is dependent on the others for effective communication to take place. The relationship between the source and the receiver is also dynamic and depends on the two-way flow of symbols between the source and the receiver. The source depends on feedback from the receiver to properly tailor the communication to the situation. The source also provides feedback to the receiver to reinforce the desired receiver responses.


As indicated, the source in communication is the sender, speaker, writer, encoder, transmitter, or instructor. The effectiveness of persons acting in the role of communicators is related to at least three basic factors.

First, their ability to select and use language is essential for transmitting symbols that are meaningful to listeners and readers. It is the responsibility of the speaker or writer, as the source of communication, to realize that the effectiveness of the communication is dependent on the receiver’s understanding of the symbols or words being used. For example, if an aviation maintenance instructor were to use aviation acronyms like ADs, TCDS or STCs or a flight instructor were to use aviation acronyms like ILS, TCAS, or TAWS with a new maintenance learner or learner pilot respectively, effective communication would be difficult if not impossible.

Second, communicators consciously or unconsciously reveal information about themselves. This includes their self-image, their view of the ideas being communicated, and their feelings toward the receivers. Communicators need to be confident; they should illustrate that the message is important, and that the receivers have a need to know the ideas presented.

Third, successful communicators speak or write from accurate, up-to-date, and stimulating material. Communicators should convey the most current and interesting information available. Doing so holds the receiver’s interest. Out-of-date information causes the instructor to lose credibility, and uninteresting information may cause the receiver’s attention to be lost.


At its basic level, all communication is achieved through symbols, which are simple oral, visual, or tactile codes. The words in the vocabulary constitute a basic code. Common gestures and facial expressions form another, but codes and symbols alone do not communicate complex concepts. These are communicated only when symbols are combined in meaningful wholes as ideas, sentences, paragraphs, speeches, or chapters that mean something to the receiver. When symbols are combined into these units, each portion becomes important to effective communication.

On a higher level, communication with symbols relies upon different perceptions, sometimes referred to as channels. While many theories have been proposed, one popular theory indicates that the symbols are perceived through one of three sensory channels: visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. As discussed in The Learning Process, visual learners rely on seeing, auditory learners prefer listening and speaking, while kinesthetic learners process and store information through physical experience such as touching, manipulating, using, or doing.

The instructor may gain and retain the learner’s attention by using a variety of channels. As an example, instead of telling a learner to adjust the trim, the instructor can move the trim wheel while the learner tries to maintain a given aircraft attitude. The learner experiences by feel that the trim wheel affects the amount of control pressure needed to maintain the attitude. At the same time, the instructor can explain to the learner that what is felt is forward or back pressure on the controls. After that, the learner begins to understand the correct meaning of control pressure and trim, and when told to adjust the trim to relieve control pressure, the learner responds in the manner desired by the instructor. Instructors commonly rely on the hearing and seeing channels of communication. However, using all channels may improve the learning process. For teaching motor skills, the sense of touch, or kinesthetic learning, is added as the learner practices the skill.An instructor should constantly monitor feedback from the learner in order to identify misunderstandings and tailor the presentation of information. Periodically asking the learner to explain his or her understanding of new information while it is being conveyed is one way to obtain such feedback. The instructor may then modify the symbols he or she uses, as appropriate, to optimize communication. [Figure 2] In addition to feedback received by the instructor, learners also need feedback from the instructor on how they are doing. The feedback not only informs the learners of their performance, but can also serve as a valuable source of motivation. An instructor’s praise builds the learner’s self-confidence and reinforces favorable behavior. On the other hand, negative feedback should be used carefully. To avoid embarrassing a learner, use negative feedback only in private. This information should be delivered as a description of actual performance and given in a nonjudgmental manner.

Basic Elements of Communication, aviation instructor
Figure 2. The instructor realizes from the response of the learner that “stall” has been interpreted by the learner to have something to do with the engine quitting. Recognizing that the learner has misunderstood, the instructor is able to clarify the information and help the learner to obtain the desired outcome

For example, it would be appropriate to tell a maintenance learner that a safety wire installation is not satisfactory. To refer to the work as careless would not be good and could do harm to the learner’s feeling of self-worth.

The parts of the total idea should be analyzed to determine which are most suited to starting or ending the communication, and which are best for the purpose of explaining, clarifying, or emphasizing. All of these functions are required for effective transmission of ideas. The process finally culminates in the determination of the medium best suited for their transmission.


The receiver is the listener, reader, decoder, or learner—the individual or individuals to whom the message is directed. Effective communicators should always keep in mind that communication succeeds only in relation to the reaction of their receivers. When the receiver reacts with understanding and changes his or her behavior according to the intent of the source, effective communication has taken place.

In order to understand the process of communication, three characteristics of receivers need to be understood: abilities, attitudes, and experiences.

First, an instructor needs to determine the abilities of the learner in order to properly communicate. One factor that can have an effect on learner ability is his or her background. For example, consider how familiar the learner may be with aviation. The familiarity may range from having grown up around aviation to absolutely no familiarity at all. Some learners may have highly developed motor skills, and others have not had opportunities to develop these skills. These factors should be taken into consideration when presenting information to a learner.

The instructor should also understand that the viewpoint and background of people may vary because of cultural differences. The instructor should be aware of possible differences, but not overreact or make assumptions because of these differences. For example, just because a learner is a college graduate does not guarantee rapid advancement in aviation training. A learner’s education certainly affects the instructor’s style of presentation, but that style should be based on the evaluation of the learner’s knowledge of the aviation subject being taught.

Second, the attitudes learners exhibit may indicate resistance, willingness, or passive neutrality. To gain and hold learner attention, attitudes should be molded into forms that promote reception of information. A varied communicative approach works best in reaching most learners since they have different attitudes.

Third, instructors in aviation enjoy a unique advantage over other teachers, in that an aviation learner is usually an adult willing to expend time and money to further knowledge. The typical aviation learner exhibits a much more developed sense of motivation and self-concept than a typical school learner. Additionally, he or she usually comes into the learning environment with a significant amount of prior knowledge, many life experiences, and a number of decision-making skills. The learner’s knowledge, abilities, and attitudes affect the instructor’s communication strategy.