Doing vs. Thinking: A False Dichotomy

Although I've long favored group work in learning to write, I wonder if much of that group work has been wasted because the students didn't have sufficient guidance, but were "discovering" how writing worked. Richard Mayer (professor of psychology at UCSB) in "Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning" (pdf) argues that students need guided discovery. He writes:

The research in this brief review shows that the formula constructivism = hands-on activity is a formula for educational disaster.

And concludes with:

Activity may help promote meaningful learning, but instead of behavioral activity per se (e.g., hands-on activity, discussion, and free exploration), the kind of activity that really promotes meaningful learning is cognitive activity (e.g., selecting, organizing, and integrating knowledge). Instead of depending solely on learning by doing or learning by discussion, the most genuine approach to constructivist learning is learning by thinking. Methods that rely on doing or discussing should be judged not on how much doing or discussing is involved but rather on the degree to which they promote appropriate cognitive processing. Guidance, structure, and focused goals should not be ignored. This is the consistent and clear lesson of decade after decade of research on the effects of discovery methods.

Mayer's article concurs with Laurence Musgrove's advice on designing writing assisgnments (see "Pitching Writing") and Anderson's work on effective time on task (see "Learning with Examples"). That is, insufficient guidance can promote time off-task, that is, wasted time. Still, I have a problem with this dichotomizing of "learning by doing" and "learning by thinking". Imagine a surgeon who could cognitively select, organize, and integrate knowledge about the correct surgical procedure but couldn't physically do it. Knowledge is embodied, not embrained. So I might rephrase one of his sentences as:

Methods that rely on thinking, organizing, or integrating knowledge should be judged not on how much thinking, organizing, or integrating is involved but rather on the degree to which they promote appropriate doing.