What is a Mode?

Learning Objective

  • Define multimodality

A mode, quite simply, is a means of communicating. According to the New London Group, there are five modes of communication: visual, linguistic, spatial, aural, and gestural.[1]

A mode is different from a medium, which is the substance through which a communication is conveyed. Examples of a visual medium, for instance, would be photography, painting, or film.

When a given text makes use of more than one mode, the text can be characterized as multimodal.

The Five Modes

The five modes of communication: visual. aural, gestural, spatial,. linguistic

Kristen Arola, Jennifer Shepherd, and Cheryl Ball, Writer/Designer, 4

What is the Relationship Between Modes and Media?

A mode is a means of communicating. A medium is the channel or system through which communications are conveyed. The plural form of medium is media. So, for example, if we want to communicate in the linguistic mode, we might choose the medium of print. If we want to communicate in the aural mode, we might choose the medium of a podcast. Both print and podcasts are forms of media.

When analyzing or producing multimodal compositions, it is important to recognize the operation of multiple modes within artifacts. But it is also useful to think about which mode generally predominates in any given medium. Both photographs and films, for instance, employ the visual mode. Films differ from photographs, however, in that they involve movement of bodies and objects through space (spatial mode). We might say, then, that the visual mode predominates in photographs, the spatial mode in film. Being aware of dominant modes within a medium will prove helpful later when choosing powerful claims and persuasive evidence for composing your own multimodal argument.



  1. Kristin L. Arola, Jennifer Sheppard, and Cheryl E. Ball. Writer/Designer: A Guide to Making Multimodal Projects. Bedford/St. Martin's. 2014.