Communication is a broad and diverse discipline studied in various departments, for example Communication, Speech Communication, Mass Communication and Journalism and in various colleges through Arts & Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences, Fine Arts and Communication. There are a number of different definitions of the discipline depending on the point of view of the scholar who gives the definition. According to a definition by US communication theorist Robert T. Craig (1947-), cited in Teaching Communication: Theory, Research and Methods (1999), communication is "a practical discipline with the essential purpose of cultivating communication as a practical art through critical study." Scholars who study communication do it in order to understand the structure, patterns and effects of human communication but also to help individuals and society achieve a higher quality of communication.
According to Gustav W. Friedrich and Don M. Boileau in Teaching Communication: Theory, Research and Methods, there are three key assumptions in communication education and research. First, communication professionals believe that communication is an individual's most distinctive and significant behavior and it is the basis of literacy. Second, instruction in communication is seen as a lifelong process that should continue after basic speech and language skills are acquired. This means that throughout their lives people should expand their vocabulary, develop distinctive patterns of speaking and learn how to use communication to achieve goals. Thirdly, improving people's speaking and listening skills is seen as a concern of both the whole educational community and the communication discipline.
Higher education in general has four primary goals, as defined by Jo Sprague in Teaching Communication: Theory, Research and Methods. These goals are to transmit cultural knowledge, to develop students' intellectual skills, to provide students with career skills and to reshape the values of society. According to Sprague, communication education shares the same goals.
When setting their personal goals communication educators face a number of problems. First, they have to decide how much to focus on theory (knowing about communication) and how much to focus on skills (being able to communicate effectively). Some students may be superb at understanding principles but at the same time have problems applying them, while others may have great communication skills without knowing how and why it is so. Another issue to be considered is how to balance between process and product goals. Communication education, as all kinds of education, requires the creation of certain products, for example speeches, papers, answers to test questions. On the other hand, instruction is actually aimed at teaching students how to organize ideas, a skill they can use outside the class. Products are easier to evaluate while assessment of processes is more difficult. When defining his or her goals in a course, a communication educator should be aware of the tension between content goals and presentation goals. For example, a student may have nothing important to say, but he or she may be a skillful speaker/presenter. Another important point to be considered is that there are different goals for senders and for receivers of communication. This means that communication education should be aimed at developing competent speakers and debaters but also good listeners and critics.
According to Graeme Burton and Richard Dimbleby in Teaching Communication (1990), communication education teaches us several types of skills. Communication skills have to do with how one communicates effectively; these skills, or lack of, may aid or impede communication. Intellectual skills are also developed via communication education as most intellectual activities require the ability to acquire, understand and use information. Some examples of intellectual skills include selecting, comparing, ordering, prioritizing, categorizing, analyzing, summarizing, problem-solving and decision-making. One way to develop many of these skills is via exercises in gathering, processing and representing information.
In addition, instruction in communication enhances one's interpersonal skills - both social, perceptual, listening and presentation skills. Examples of social skills include the abilities to control non-verbal behavior, to offer recognition and empathy to others and to give feedback in conversation. Perceptual skills are used to notice and analyze verbal and non-verbal behavior in others. Communication is a mutual process so listening skills (such as paying attention), giving positive feedback to the speaker, and asking check questions, are also considered central. Good presentation skills require control of our verbal and non-verbal behavior in order to make ourselves attractive and likable to others.
Communication education also helps develop good group skills, or skills to have an active and effective role in a group. These skills include offering ideas and approval of others' ideas, evaluating and summing up.