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The Wake Forest PA Program curriculum is centered around inquiry-based, small-group, self-directed learning based on real patient medical problems. In inquiry-based learning (IBL), learners are progressively given more and more responsibility for their own education and become increasingly independent of the teacher for their education. IBL produces independent learners who can continue to learn on their own in life and in their chosen careers. The responsibility of the teacher in IBL is to provide the educational materials and guidance that facilitate learning. The remainder of this web page and the video directly below describe IBL in greater detail.

Real-world problems

In our IBL groups, learning is based on the messy, complex problems encountered in the real world as a stimulus for learning and for integrating and organizing learned information in ways that will ensure its recall and application to future problems. The problems in IBL are also designed to challenge learners to develop effective problem-solving and critical thinking skills.

Benefits of IBL

Students benefit from IBL by:

  • Developing a sound, clinically relevant knowledge of the basic and clinical sciences
  • Learning the importance of good interpersonal skills such as communication
  • Developing independent learning skills
  • Accepting responsibility for their own learning

The IBL process

In the IBL groups, students encounter a problem and attempt to solve it with information they already possess, allowing them to appreciate what they already know. They also identify what they need to learn to better understand the problem and how to resolve it.

Once they have worked with the problem as far as possible and identified what they need to learn, the learners engage in self-directed study to research the information needed by finding and using a variety of information resources (books, journals, reports, online information, and a variety of people with appropriate areas of expertise). In this way learning is personalized to the needs and learning styles of the individual.

The learners then return to the problem and apply what they learned to their work with the problem in order to more fully understand and resolve the problem. After they have finished their problem work, the learners assess themselves and each other to develop skills in self-assessment and the constructive assessment of peers. Self-assessment is a skill essential to effective independent learning.

The curriculum and IBL

The series of problems encountered by learners with this process make up the core pre-clinical curriculum. The problems are put together as a group to stimulate learning of content appropriate to the course. Via this process, learners characteristically learn far more in areas relevant to their personal needs.

The role of the IBL facilitator

The principle role of the facilitator in IBL is to guide the learners in the process. As learners become more proficient in the process, the facilitator becomes less active. This type of facilitation is a new skill for many teachers, and specific training is required.

The objectives of IBL are to produce learners who will:

  • Engage the problems they face in life and career with initiative and enthusiasm
  • Problem-solve effectively using an integrated, flexible, and usable knowledge base
  • Employ effective self-directed learning skills to continue learning as a lifetime habit
  • Continuously monitor and assess the adequacy of their knowledge, problem-solving, and self-directed learning skills
  • Collaborate effectively as a member of a group

The instructional method used at the Wake Forest School of Medicine Department of Physician Assistant Studies has a number of unique factors.

  • The problems used are ill-structured and messy, like those the learner will encounter in the real world.
  • The learning process requires the skills expected of learners when they encounter problems in their lives and careers.
  • The learning process is supplemented by lecture and lab sessions to enhance the learning.

Quick Reference

PA Studies

Phone 336-716-4356
Fax 336-716-4432

Mailing Address:
Wake Forest School of Medicine
Department of PA Studies
Medical Center Boulevard
Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1006 

525 Vine Street, Suite 540
Winston-Salem, NC 27101

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Last Updated: 05-27-2016
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.

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